It’s possible that I might have been speeding. It’s possible that on East Platte, where the speed limit is an inexplicable 35 mph, I might have been going 45, along with every single other vehicle.
So I ended up in traffic court for a long morning of bureaucratic silliness that, if you’ve never experienced it, is worth talking about just a little bit.
It is very easy to get pulled over in Colorado Springs: Lots of random speed limits that change abruptly. I’ve lived in other cities where speeding or rolling stops are just not very high on the police priority list. Other cities, where police are busy with things like solving crimes. According to the National Motorists Association, in a CNBC report, Colorado Springs is the nation’s fourth-worst city for speed traps with 186 of them (Houston is first; Denver is sixth, by the way).
“Speed limits are supposed to be based on factual studies of traffic and what the majority of motorists deem as a safe speed,” said Chad Dornsife, director of the Highway Safety Group . “Now, the posted limit has become a revenue generator – not a safety device.”
There’s one speed trap I notice every night coming home from work. Each night between 10:30 and 11:30, there are police on Nevada Avenue between Boulder and St. Vrain hiding in parking lots. Sometimes two cars are parked there, and the police are just talking to each other for a long time. Wonder what they’re talking about. Important Cop Stuff, probably.
View One speed trap in a larger map
Anyway, if you’re in Colorado Springs for very long, you can probably bet on ending up in traffic court at some point. What to expect? Good question.
I’m a big fan of paying things online and being done with them. That’s why I love the new red-light cameras: You get caught running a red light, they send you a picture, you pay the fine, and everyone moves on with their lives. It’s quick, efficient, convenient. You get punished, the city gets money. Win-win.
With traffic court, if you’re unfortunate to end up in this morass of ridiculousness, bring a book (or a smart phone with a cool game like blackjack on it). You’ll be here a while. It will go like this:
- At check-in, you’ll walk up to the bench and the clerk will pull your paperwork. If you didn’t have proof of insurance when you were pulled over, this is where you’ll provide it.The clerk delivers all the paperwork to the prosecutors.
- Have a seat. Relax. Text your friends. Post on Facebook. And be sure to check out all the fun people. It’s a good opportunity for people-watching.The court has a television in the room that will play a video explaining your rights. You probably won’t be able to hear it, and it’s all the stuff you already know, unless you’ve never seen any prime-time crime drama. It’s the court equivalent of your flight attendant explaining how your seat belt works.
- At some point, the prosecutors return your paperwork to you. Typically, there is a “plea agreement” being offered. But don’t get all excited thinking that you’re going to get out of this without paying the exact same amount you would have otherwise. They’re getting their money. But as a reward for sitting through all this silliness, you don’t get as many points taken off your license.
- You’ll have some time to look over the deal they’re offering you. In my case, for example, the city prosecutors wanted me to lie and plead guilty to having “obstructed windows.” A fellow speeder next to me was being asked to plead guilty to a “defective headlamp.” (Sidenote: Some curious language on the paperwork. Some violations are the violations themselves: defective headlamp; unsafe vehicle. But others are the opposite: “reasonable and prudent speed”; “windows unobstructed” — so technically I’m pleading guilty to having unobstructed windows.) There’s a box on the paperwork detailing the fine. For speeding, it’s $10 per mph over the speed limit. So in my case, it was $100. So even though I wasn’t pleading guilty to speeding, I’m still paying the fine for speeding. It’s all just some silly bureaucratic sleight of hand. What’s the point? Who knows.
- After what seems like hours and hours, the judge will finally come in to lend some kind of credibility to this whole farce. Today’s judge was a William Cogswell, who kept having to tell people to remove their hats. I find it kind of interesting that he is concerned about Joe Mechanic’s ballcap, but Shredded-T-Shirt Teenager with Spiked Collar doesn’t faze him. Whatever.
- The judge will call you up to the podium one by one. One by excruciating one. He will read off a script: Shredded-T-Shirt Kid, you are charged with violating 10.5.104 of Colorado Statute blahblahblah, how do you plead? (Guilty) You’ve seen the video and understand your rights? (Yes) Do you have anything to say to me before I pronounce sentence? (No). The court accepts your guilty plea and requires you to pay $100 fine, $20 court costs, and a $15 surcharge (true). You can pay the fine in room 108. Multiply this by 87 people (I counted). And this is just the morning session. There’s an afternoon. So let’s say this is an average number. This means that Colorado Springs is rolling through about 900 people a week. And I didn’t see a single person whose fine was less than mine. So let’s be conservative and say the city’s pulling in at least $6 million a year from traffic court alone. This isn’t counting those who are allowed the mercy of paying online. That’s some pretty good cash.
- At this point, you’re free to go. What took two-and-a-half hours could have taken 10 minutes online. Basically, you go in, the city asks you to lie, then they take your money, and you go home — or like most of the people there, back to work. I’m sure everyone’s jobs are flexible enough to allow for hours sitting in court. And I’m sure everyone’s bosses are totally reasonable and understanding.