Skipped Step Results In Mass. Police Writing 896 Illegal Speeding Tickets

It’s a pretty big case of “Ooops,” on the part of the Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation, which forgot to follow its own regulations when it determined the speed limit on a new stretch of road in Salem. Now, nearly 900 speeding tickets could be reversed — if the drivers are willing to go to court.

After receiving a $170 speeding ticket for allegedly driving 52 mph in a 35 mph zone, a local man pointed out that the Mass. DOT did not conduct a required traffic engineering study to determine an appropriate speed limit. This was enough to have the judge toss out the ticket.

Boston’s WBZ-TV got curious and looked into how many people had been illegally ticketed on that stretch of road. In 2010 and 2011, the station’s I-Team — led by someone with the completely rad name of Joe Shortsleeve — found 896 tickets handed out on just that stretch of road — a grand total of more than $175,000.

The Mass. DOT administrator admits that, legally speaking, the tickets handed out during the time in question are not legit. He’s apologized, but he’s not handing out any refunds just yet. The DOT says if you want your money back, you’ll have to take your case to court.

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  1. Hi_Hello says:

    how did he know there was no study done?

    and wth… you can just give people tickets and not refund them unless they go to court 0-o. What to stop them to giving speeding tickets to every car that are registered in MA? Call it a glitch, come to court to avoid paying it.

    • josephbloseph says:

      Maybe he was a traffic engineer who noticed he wasn’t consulted on the road.

      • clippy2.1 says:

        See, that’s what happens when you don’t bribe the locals. This is why no one likes big government!

    • Random Lurker says:

      I would assume that records of actions taken by the DOT regarding that stretch of road would be part of public record. Also, IANAL, but I think a class action would be required to overturn the tickets for everyone.

    • milkcake says:

      I’m curious about that too. Anyone??

    • Traveller says:

      Because that’s how it works. If you want to challenge the ticket you go to court. Just as if you were charged with anything else.

    • Chmeeee says:

      You can request backup from MassDOT to verify that a speed limit is legit. All speed limits statewide must be approved by them with a corresponding study. Always a good idea to check that if you get a ticket and think the sign might be suspect.

    • LuzioFantazmic says:

      All of that stuff is public record can be requested through the MA DOT.

      Before you can right any tickets on any roadway, all the signage, lines, speeds ect all need to be certified as within DOT guidelines. . Everything is documented right down to stop signs.

    • dangermike says:

      Paying the fine is akin to pleading guilty.

  2. dpeters11 says:

    I’m sure the studies are public record.

  3. Remmy75 says:

    The reason Mass DOT isnt handing the money back is because Rich Davey, the adminstrator, knows how bad they need the money. He is playing the odds that most people cant afford to take the time off work to fight it!

    • That guy. says:

      Since it’s one large group with all the same issue, can’t they form a class action suit? Save money on legal fees.

      • FatLynn says:

        You don’t need a lawyer to appear in traffic court.

      • Scooter McGee says:

        Lawyer not needed and in a class action, most of the settlement goes to the attorney anyway. They would be lucky to get a $10 payout on a $170 ticket.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          Do you have any evidence that “most of the settlement goes to the attorney anyway?”

        • cyberpenguin says:

          Yeah right. A $10 payment.

          More likely an agreement will be reached like the Microsoft settlement. Of a $180 ticket, $90 goes to the lawyer, $90 goes to the State, and the person entitled to $180 receives a $10 coupon off their next speeding ticket.

          • Scooter McGee says:

            Yeah, $10 was optimistic. Reminds me of the lawnmower settlement I got, a $25 off coupon for a new lawnmower. Mine worked just fine.

        • regis-s says:

          I guess if people don’t want to give the lawyers a percentage of the settlement they can always hire them on a per hour basis. Then pay what they owe win or lose.

      • Jawaka says:

        I guess that having to personally challenge each and every ticket is the Mass. DoT version of forced arbitration. No class action for you.

  4. cara says:

    I drive down this road all the time, and I’m not shocked by this. The speed limit on this road is just all sorts of wrong, and Salem likes to think they’re super special snowflakes. Thank god I’m moving.

    • Darkrose says:

      Well they DID save us from those nasty “witches”, right?

    • chiieddy says:

      The study was done and the speed limit is now legit. Still 35 mph

    • drewsumer says:

      Given the number of cars that had spun out from that curve crashing into the Jefferson apartment/townhouses, something needed to be done. My house overlooks the Bypass and on a warm summer night, there’s nothing like sitting on my porch with a beer watching the cops pull over idiots.

  5. Sian says:

    This is typical. many, many issued tickets have some technicality keeping them from being valid. Law enforcement knows this. The courts know this. They don’t stop it because people pay them anyway.

    Always fight your ticket, even if you feel like you totally deserve it. Because they often don’t deserve your hard earned money.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      If you go to court, you can at least try to get the point removed or reduced if not lower the fee of the ticket itself. That can save you money on insurance.

      I had a ticket I felt I couldn’t fight, since it would have been my word over the officer, and pled no contest. At the time it didn’t occur to me that it would still cost me hundreds in insurance premium increases over the course of the 4 years it would be on my record.

    • Doubting thomas says:

      Who exactly is this “they” you feel doesn’t deserve it.

    • jeffbone says:

      What Sian said. Always make the revenue collectors work for it if at all possible…and support the NMA, too:

      http://www.motorists.org

  6. Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

    “Now, nearly 900 speeding tickets could be reversed — if the drivers are willing to go to court.”

    Bullshit. Are they going to pay for any lost wages incurred by those drivers that have to take off from work to go to court? Yeah, didn’t think so.

    How about this: since YOU f*cked up, YOU deliver the notice of reversal (or whatever the f*ck) to my door with a bouquet of flowers (or pizza — victim’s choice) and then kiss my bare ass on camera so I can post the video on YouTube?

  7. ThinkingBrian says:

    I live in Massachusetts and this doesn’t surprise me. I’ve seen this movie before and this isn’t going to end good. What’s going to happen is, after our Governor (Mr. Patrick) says he wouldn’t do anything about it nor will any Federal level deal with this, its going to take a class action lawsuit to bring this to life. And in the end no one will be held accountable and the taxpayers will pay the bill to fix this. That about sums that up.

  8. Benny says:

    Traffic tickets = revenue generators for the police department,

    • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

      Naw, the money goes to the City. I realize the department is funded through the City but it’s not quite the same thing.

    • Libertas says:

      It is an additional layer of tax.

      How many times will the sheep be fleeced before it ends up skinned?

  9. Emperor Norton I says:

    Here’s another one people should look out for.
    Federal law require stop signs not only to be octagons, but to appear as octagons at all times.
    So all those cities that place a square sign on the back of the stop sign [Do Not Enter is the most common], have invalidated the stop sign.
    The same goes for stop signs that have had the words, Two Way, Three Way, Four Way or All Way placed on the octagon. That must be a separate sign & not cover any of the octagons The octagon may only have the word “Stop” on it, except for the small lettering that indicates the owner & the date of it.
    Both of these are from long ago federal court rulings regarding the US DOT Manual of Uniform Traffic Control.
    It’s amazing how many cities violate this!

    • Scooter McGee says:

      What about black backgrounds instead of red? There’s an office park close to where I work with stop signs like this and people constantly blow through them. My guesses are either because they just don’t notice it, or they think it doesn’t require stopping since not red.

      • Bladerunner says:

        the office park is probably not a government maintained road, as such all traffic control signals are just suggestions (though they can always catch you for reckless driving).

        • Scooter McGee says:

          I looked it up on the Indiana drivers manual…It actually refers to Stop signs as octagonal signs. No mention of color. I guess that argument is invalid.

          • Bladerunner says:

            I believe the stop sign requirements are federal, to give drivers consistency across states…

            • binkleyz says:

              I’m shocked, but yes, there indeed IS a federal-level rule covering traffic control signs.. see http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/

              • Chmeeee says:

                Just think about how confusing it would be driving across the country if this stuff wasn’t regulated federally. Connecticut could follow the current standard while in New York, a stop sign would be a purple triangle and the centerline a triple dotted green line.

        • Chmeeee says:

          This.

      • scoosdad says:

        Maybe those black stop signs are on private property so they are not the official red color?

    • Scoobatz says:

      I could be wrong, but I also recall someone telling me that Stop signs with white lines around them are optional.

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      Interesting, I didn’t know that. But that does explain why all the 4-way stop signs I see in this area (MD) have the “4-WAY” or “ALL WAY” as a separate sign right below the stop sign.

  10. StarKillerX says:

    While I could understand needing the study, sort of, I have to question why not having it would negate the posted speed limit?

    If the new speed limit is invalid, is the old one still in effect and if so would it apply in both directions? For example if the speed limit on a road was 35 and they raised it to 55 could the state then say the change wasn’t legit and ticket anyone driving over 35 mph?

    • Bladerunner says:

      The thing a lot of people forget is that it isn’t technically illegal to drive faster than the posted speed limit. It’s only illegal to drive faster than is safe. The speed limit is considered “prima facie” evidence that someone is driving too fast…if the state hasn’t done its due diligence to confirm that that is, indeed, the generally fastest safe speed, then it can’t be used as prima facie evidence anymore, thus invalidating the tickets based on that evidence alone.

      • StarKillerX says:

        Well, that explains it perfectly!

        Thanks!

      • huadpe says:

        Your statement is only true in a few states (I know of only RI and Texas). Most states have made it illegal to drive over the speed limit regardless of safety. Not sure what the law is in MA.

        • Bladerunner says:

          Apparently you are correct that most states do that, which is ridiculous, but apparently MA doesn’t, it has the prima facie rule:
          http://www.motorists.org/ma/ma2.html

          Arizona does as well.

          • Bladerunner says:

            Found a good list of which states have absolute and which don’t. The ones with asterisks have general maximum speeds, and things below that are prima facie.

            http://www.mit.edu/~jfc/laws.html#types

            Looks like a little less than a quarter of states have speeding laws that make sense. How very sad, and good to know since I’d apparently only previously looked at states with prima facie.

            Also? Oregon has this: “Embracing another while driving is illegal, 811.19″

          • SissyOPinion says:

            WA speed law resembles what you described. The words “reasonable and prudent” are used when describing adherence to posted speed limits.

            • Bladerunner says:

              It does, but it also says:

              ” (2) Except when a special hazard exists that requires lower speed for compliance with subsection (1) of this section, the limits specified in this section or established as hereinafter authorized shall be maximum lawful speeds, and no person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed in excess of such maximum limits.

              (a) Twenty-five miles per hour on city and town streets;

              (b) Fifty miles per hour on county roads;

              (c) Sixty miles per hour on state highways.

              The maximum speed limits set forth in this section may be altered as authorized in RCW 46.61.405, 46.61.410, and 46.61.415.

              That makes the limit absolute, and changeable by local authorities. http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=46.61.400

              States like Az have clauses like:

              “B. Except as provided in subsections C and D of this section or except if a special hazard requires a lesser speed, any speed in excess of the following speeds is prima facie evidence that the speed is too great and therefore unreasonable:”

              (http://www.azleg.gov/ars/28/00701.htm)

              The big difference being that in Washington, “no person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed in excess”, while in Az “any speed in excess of the following speeds is prima facie evidence”.

  11. mischlep says:

    Actual traffic speeds used to be part of the consideration for duration of yellow signal time for traffic signals.

    http://www.thenewspaper.com/rlc/reports/rlcreport5.asp

    • Chmeeee says:

      It still is. You need to take speed measurements on the road and base your design off that, not the speed limit (at least in most jurisdictions).

  12. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    So, will if you go to court will you get a refund for your time as well?

    • ooklamok says:

      Or any insurance premiums you may have had to pay as a result of the ticket?

    • DraconWolfX says:

      In Massachusetts, not only do you not get a refund for your time but you have to pay a fee just for the right to appear in court. The best part? Even if you’re found innocent of all charges against you, the fee is non-refundable.

  13. Phildogger says:

    I travel this road a few times a week, as I live in the next town over. The problem isn’t even the amount of money that the ticket was issued for, it’s the amount that your car insurance will go up for any moving violation in Massachusetts. In MA, there is no traffic court, or forgiveness for one speeding ticket (which many other states offer). In MA, get found responsible for a moving violation, your insurance is going up for no less than 3 years.

    So if these 896 people do manage to get the tickets reversed, the real question is how do they get the insurance carriers to refund the difference in yearly premiums that they have been paying? I’m betting on the fact that they will get shafted on both ends. Until you have lived in MA, you have NO IDEA of the depths of corruption in this state.

    • ajv915 says:

      if there is no traffic court then how did the OP get it thrown out by a judge?

    • Chmeeee says:

      What are you talking about with this no court business? If you contest a ticket, you go before a magistrate. If you don’t like his decision, you can appeal it and get another hearing before a judge. If a ticket is BS, you absolutely have the opportunity to get it tossed. Not saying you’d be successful, but the process is there.

    • Phildogger says:

      My mistake, sorry. I meant to say Traffic Class. Some states allow you to attend a class to get rid of the ticket. Not here.

      Also, it costs $20 for a hearing with a magistrate, and then another $50 to appear before a judge. All of it non-refundable, win or lose.

      http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/35/3592.asp

  14. ajv915 says:

    The MA DOT is not part of the Judiciary process; therefore they cannot issue a refund for a ticket. I don’t see the big deal.

  15. scoosdad says:

    Joe Shortsleeve has been a reporter for WBZ TV forever (well since 1990).

    There are a few other Shortsleeves in the US so I’m betting this is his real name. After all, who would ditch their real name to use a name like Shortsleeve on TV and expect to be taken seriously? But he is; his work on local TV is well-respected and he’s got to be one of the longest running personalities on Boston TV today.

  16. lupis42 says:

    Even if everybody does dispute the ticket, there’s a $25 fee for the privilege.

  17. MJDickPhoto says:

    this just happened in Wichita KS 2 weeks ago. there was a 55 MPH zone that was marked 45 MPH and 1 person fought it and had researched that the zone was mismarked and now Wichita is going to have to void lots of tickets, but only unpaid fines.

    http://www.kake.com/news/headlines/East_Kellogg_Speed_Limit_Signs_To_Change_From_45_MPH_To_55_MPH_149948685.html?storySection=story

  18. cyberpenguin says:

    At least they can fight the ticket at their own expense and time.

    In Albuquerque they weren’t so lucky. At an intersection that had a green right-turn arrow installed on the side of the pole, Redflex aimed the camera at the upper light without the right-turn arrow. Thousands of tickets were issued, but were unsuccessful when Redflex showed the video of a stream of vehicles turning right without stopping while the upper light was red.

    This continued until a KOAT (ABC affiliate) news van got a ticket. They went back out with a camera crew and filmed the van turning right on the green arrow and waited for their ticket. Then they went into court and showed their film vs. Redflex’.

    The judge ordered that Redflex and the City of Albuquerque would keep all money from paid tickets, and paid tickets could not be contested or refunds requested. However, the City of Albuquerque had to void any unpaid tickets and Redflex had to cease collection efforts.

    In a way they were pretty lucky, because down here in Las Cruces not only do they wreck your credit, they’ll turn off your water, sewer & gas and cease garbage collection.

  19. Papa Midnight says:

    “The Mass. DOT administrator admits that, legally speaking, the tickets handed out during the time in question are not legit. He’s apologized, but he’s not handing out any refunds just yet. The DOT says if you want your money back, you’ll have to take your case to court.”

    Oh, that’s just great. Now that we’ve wasted tax payer dollars on a multitude of illegitimate speed camera tickets, let’s waste even more on unnecessary litigation and court fees.

  20. discounteggroll says:

    I got a ticket from a mass state trooper for “impeded operation”…even the judge shook his head and asked “whadya do…take a picture of the cop?”.

    Yes I admitted truthfully, but only because the jerk was riding my ass under normal traffic in the right hand lane. Any sour taste in the MASS state trooper barracks is a plus in my book.

  21. watchwhathappens says:

    I travel this road all the time. Surprised I wasn’t stopped, since I’m a ticket magnet. But forcing people to come to court to recoup money they shouldn’t have paid to begin with: very MA

  22. Jerem43 says:

    The reason they want you to go to court is to get the $40 non-refundable court filing fee.

  23. mcgyver210 says:

    OK you have to go to court to get money back that was taken illegally. I’m fine with that as long as they also pay interest & damages as they would demand from us.

    Today’s Totalitarian Government is no better than any other CRIMINAL Enterprise.

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      “Today’s Totalitarian Government is no better than any other CRIMINAL Enterprise.”

      Hyperbole is both insulting to those who have and do suffer at the hands of truly totalitarian governments, and completely unhelpful.

  24. drewsumer says:

    Holy shit, Joe Shortsleeve was standing 30 ft away from my house! THE Joe Shortsleeve! My property values are gonna go up now!

  25. DraconWolfX says:

    Massachusetts is in a gotchya situation anyway. In this state you have to pay a fee for the “right” of getting your ticket heard in court. The kicker is that whether you win or lose, you still have to pay this fee. So even if an officer was way off base and made a huge mistake ticketing you, too bad, you’re still out the money for the hearing fee.

  26. dchs says:

    Wouldn’t that violate the right for a fair trial? Innocent until proven guilty. Why do you have to go to court to prove you are innocent?