April 7, 2012

Wichita doesn’t double fines for violations in school, work zones

The signs are common around orange construction cones: “Traffic fines double in work zones.”

The signs are common around orange construction cones: “Traffic fines double in work zones.”

Although the state’s double-fines-in-construction-zones law has been in effect since 1994, drivers in Wichita have never faced the double penalty. And unlike drivers in many other jurisdictions, Wichita drivers also don’t face double fines when they’re caught speeding in school zones.

City and state officials said that when the Kansas Legislature amends a state traffic law, the Wichita City Council must write the changes into the city’s traffic ordinances before they take effect in the city.

City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf said he wasn’t sure why the City Council didn’t follow the state’s lead in 1984 when the construction zone law took effect.

Kansas Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Swartz said his department doesn’t track which cities have adopted the law on work zone fines.

“There’s no law that requires municipalities to do it,” he said. “Not even on a state highway.”

The fact that the law isn’t enforced in Wichita is apparently not widely known among Wichita drivers.

“That’s news to me,” said City Council member Pete Meitzner, whose east Wichita district includes a stretch of East Kellogg that has seen plenty of construction in recent years.

Council member Jeff Longwell, whose district takes in much of West Kellogg, said he assumed the double fines were in effect in the city whenever a “traffic fines double in work zones” sign was posted.

A proposal before the Kansas Legislature this year makes it possible to double traffic fines in designated “traffic safety corridors,” with the surplus money going into a special fund that would pay for signs, traffic enforcement and education in the corridors.

Swartz said that in state courts around Kansas, the extra fines generated by the construction zone law are treated as ordinary traffic fines. About 11 percent goes to the state’s crime victims compensation fund, 7.65 percent goes to the Department of Corrections alcohol and drug abuse treatment fund, and smaller percentages are distributed among eight smaller funds. The bulk of the money goes into the state general fund.

If Wichita should decide to double the work zone fines, Swartz said, the extra money would all go to the city of Wichita.

Although the double-fine law is not enforced in Wichita, Wichita police issued 8,468 “speeding in a construction zone” tickets from 2005 through 2011 that resulted in $1.232 million in assessed fines and court costs. The number of construction zone tickets has declined in recent years, dropping from 2,154 in 2009 to 91 in 2011.

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