Local traffic program gives motorists 2nd chance

Rock Hill officer Jeremy Messinger hands a motorist a ticket.
Rock Hill officer Jeremy Messinger hands a motorist a ticket.

Gwendolyn Spurlock was driving to work down Rock Hill's Constitution Boulevard when a police officer ticketed her for speeding. Less than 30 minutes later, another officer stopped the Rock Hill woman and ticketed her for following too closely.

Now, Spurlock faces a $230 fine and six points on her license -- points that will not fall off her driving record for three years.

But it doesn't have to be that way, thanks to a traffic education program geared toward providing defensive driving education to motorists. Spurlock, 41, considered the program but is opting to fight the tickets in court.

Still, officials hope most people will want to take advantage.

"This program will allow people to avoid the consequences of a traffic conviction," 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said. "By successfully completing the program, the ticket will be dismissed. That means nothing will be reported to your insurance."

The new program is mandated by state law, Brackett said. The law, passed last spring, requires that the program be established in each judicial circuit in the state.

"It provides an alternative to simply paying the ticket," Brackett said. "By going through the program, the offender has to do a little more and pay a little more, but they end up saving when their insurance premium comes due."

Program participants pay $280 for the class, and they have 120 days to complete it. Participation includes four hours of community service with an approved nonprofit organization.

The four-hour class, to be taught at Rock Hill's York Technical College, is restricted to those who do not have outstanding points on their driving record. Tickets must be for traffic offenses, such as speeding, running red lights or following too close. A driver can only take the class once.

"These are minor offenses, but the impact on your insurance premium is major," Brackett said. "This gives those people with no points on their license a second chance."

No one locally has signed up for the class, Brackett said.

Through October, the Rock Hill Police Department had written more than 10,400 traffic tickets, according to police records. The York County Sheriff's Office has doled out nearly 2,200 minor traffic violations this year.

Motorists ticketed for driving up to 15 mph over the speed limit can expect to pay up to a $133 fine in addition to monthly, semi-annually or annual insurance hikes.

"The consequences of getting a ticket can be very dramatic financially," Brackett said. "The purpose of this program is to help people avoid that while ensuring that they learn from their poor driving choice."

Magistrate Lynne H. Benfield favors the program.

"Once you go through all the requirements the ticket is expunged," Benfield said. "It would benefit a lot of people jobwise, especially truck drivers. If they get any kind of violation, they could lose their job."

Still, the program comes on the heels of an ailing economy, she said.

"It's a good thing for those who can afford it," she said. "You have single parents and people who can't afford to do the diversion program, and they just pay the ticket."

Said Brackett, "It's a one shop deal. You can only take advantage of this program once."

The Rock Hill Police Department and York County Sheriff's Office have written more than 25,000 traffic tickets between January 2007 and Nov. 14. Those tickets include speeding, disregarding traffic signals and following too close. Here's a look at how the numbers break down.

Rock Hill Police Department
Total York Co. Sheriff's Office 2007 Total

If you are thinking about participating in the traffic education program, here's what you need to know.

• Cost is $280, payable in two $140 money orders.

• Participants cannot have outstanding points on their driving records.

• Participants must complete the four-hour class and four hours of community service with an approved nonprofit agency.

• Program must be completed within 120 days or tickets will be referred back to court.

Call the York County Solicitor's Office at 628-3059 for more information.