When it comes to traffic violations, are plea bargains that ticketed drivers often accept compromising safety on our roads? A very effective argument can be made that they are, especially in communities which rely on the revenue that traffic tickets generate.

A 2017 Newsday expose’ estimated that $146 million in traffic court fines and fees were collected on Long Island in 2017. And though traffic laws are represented as an incentive to keep our streets safe, plea deals that drivers pay, which let municipalities keep all the money, have an onerous impact on safety. By accepting plea bargains to lower offenses – with the caveat that drivers may be able to avoid points against their driving record (and insurance companies will not learn of their offense) – there is actually less incentive for motorists to drive safely. Newsday’s editorial board calls these kinds of plea bargains “dangerous money grabs.”

There are many reasons why traffic offenders consider a plea bargain, especially if they’re charged with speeding, driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs, or reckless driving. Defendants jump at the opportunity to negotiate a plea bargain, and the court system tacitly encourages them. The court dockets are crowded. Prosecutors and judges are obliged to move cases quickly through the system. Trials can be delayed, then take several days, making guilty pleas which can be reached in minutes preferable to crowded court dockets.

Defendants receive lighter sentences accepting a lower offense instead of going to trial and losing. And since both sides know that the outcome of any given trial can be unpredictable, a plea bargain offers both prosecution and defense some perceived control over the result. But many times these “arrangements” leave injured victims and family members disappointed.

Other reasons defendants will often jump at a “sweet” plea bargain include:

  • They save money on attorneys’ fees and often pay smaller fines when they accept a guilty plea on reduced charges.
  • It’s possible they will either stay out of jail altogether or do less time for a lesser offense. This outcome certainly appeals to offenders who have previous convictions for serious traffic offenses.
  • Pleading guilty or no contest in exchange for a reduction in the number of charges or the seriousness of the offense benefits the defendant’s driving (and/or criminal) record. This is important if the defendant is convicted again down the road. For example, a second DUI conviction often requires mandatory jail time. But if a defendant accepts a plea deal that’s bargained down to reckless driving, he or she may avoid jail altogether.
  • For many, accepting a plea bargain on a serious traffic offense could allow defendants to keep their driver’s license. This means the unrepentant driver is again unleashed on an unsuspecting public.

Where’s the Incentive for Plea Deal Defendants to Drive Safer?

Although we could find no data to indicate how many defendants who accept plea deals for traffic violations are actually “rehabilitated,” common sense tells us that those who “dodged the bullet” of a serious traffic conviction by taking the plea aren’t likely to change their behavior.

There’s a certain psychological empowerment someone feels when they have essentially “beaten the rap.” They don’t have any new points on their driving record. They stayed out of jail. Their insurance company can remain unaware of this lesser conviction, so their premiums don’t go up. And the fine they paid is less than it might have been. What’s not to like? So, why do they need to change their behavior? Some might feel obligated to do so, for awhile anyway. But eventually, most don’t — especially since they “got over” on the law. How does this make our roads safer?

Sadly, they’ll likely end up in traffic court again – eventually. And there’s a good chance some other innocent victim will be killed or injured because of their unrepentant, dangerous, behavior behind the wheel.

If you’ve been injured by any negligent driver, Kaplan Lawyers PC can help you punish the defendant who injured you or needlessly killed your family member. By forcing them to pay your fair injury claim, you can get justice if you contact our legal team. Reach out to us anytime by phoning the office nearest you, or use this website to schedule your free case evaluation.