Pa. police gave 650 erroneous traffic tickets

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH — Everybody makes mistakes, but when the Police Bureau makes 650 of them in six months, it creates a lot of problems.

Some Pittsburgh police officers who were supposed to be testing new speed detectors relied solely on information from the devices to cite motorists for breaking the law, and that meant at least 650 tickets were issued in error.

In October, the Police Bureau received two Light Detection and Ranging systems for testing and evaluation because the state Senate is considering authorizing them for second-class cities. The plan was to have police use them in conjunction with two already-approved timing devices.

The bureau apparently didn't learn officers had been using LIDAR alone until calls came from news reporters, who heard from a few alert motorists who saw LIDAR on their tickets and knew the system had not been OK'd.

It pays to be diligent because speeding tickets are expensive. A driver going only 10 miles over the posted speed limit faces a $138 fine, once court costs and other fees are added up.

Officials at the Police Bureau are going through records of 11,000 citations from October to April 10 to weed out the invalid ones and notify their recipients within a month.

Once that's done, there still won't be a simple solution for everyone.

If cases haven't been processed yet, police may be able to withdraw the citations. Some drivers who have appeared for hearings had their citations dismissed. But in cases where people already pled guilty and paid their fines, they may have to appeal. The county court administrator is working out ways to facilitate those cases and waive any costs associated with them.

Some drivers may have been assessed surcharges from their insurance companies as a result of guilty pleas, too. The Police Bureau has promised to help resolve those discrepancies. Motorists with questions should call 412-350-6720.

One thing certain is this situation has created hassles all around. But at least the affected motorists — the ones hit in the wallet — are being promised relief. And, since no one is challenging the validity of LIDAR results at this point, it could mean they're getting away with speeding.

Seems like officers and drivers alike would benefit from slowing down and being more careful in the future.

Copyright 2008 The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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