Your chances of getting a traffic ticket in Wichita keep falling. Police are writing fewer tickets, even though the reason isn’t totally clear.
It may not be because Wichitans’ driving has improved. One 17-year-old was caught driving 90 miles over the speed limit twice in the same night on the same highway last year. Another man was pulled over for driving under the influence four times in 2016.
The Eagle analyzed traffic tickets issued in Wichita in 2016 and found some patterns. Drivers were much more likely to get a speeding ticket on a Thursday than a Friday and were many times more likely to get a ticket driving 9 mph over the limit than 8 mph. Kellogg and Webb Road are some of the mostly likely spots for getting a ticket.
Click here to see who received a ticket from Wichita police in 2016.
Fewer and fewer traffic tickets
The number of traffic cases is declining in Sedgwick County. In 2011, there were more than 26,000 district court cases, but in 2016, there were fewer than 20,000 cases.
One reason for this, according to District Attorney Marc Bennett, is that police agencies “are spending so much time answering calls that the time to make traffic stops is down.”
This appears to be true across the state. The agency that certifies law enforcement officers receives its funding from municipal court fees. But the number of cases where court fees have been collected have fallen every year since 2011, from about 270,000 to about 210,000, prompting the licensing agency to increase the amount of its fee to stay afloat.
“I think many agencies may be less focused on traffic enforcement and more on gang enforcement and have reassigned” officers, said Gary Steed, the agency director.
The Eagle reported that the number of overall citations (including all traffic tickets and parking tickets) declined from about 93,00 to 85,000 from 2014 to 2015. It continued to decline to about 75,000 in 2016.
In 2016, the number of speeding tickets in Wichita declined from the first half of the year to the second half of the year. A spokeswoman for the Wichita Police Department, Sgt. Nikki Woodrow, said there hadn’t been any decreased emphasis on traffic enforcement.
“Traffic safety is a high priority throughout the year,” she said.
But the general trend is clear: fewer traffic tickets.
When are you most likely to be cited for speeding?
Speeding was the most common reason for being issued a ticket, with about one in every three stops resulting in a speeding citation.
Very few tickets were given for driving 7 mph or less over the limit – less than one per week. About two tickets a day were issued for driving 8 mph over the limit.
But once you hit 9 mph over, officers started writing tickets. There were nearly 20 times as many tickets issued for driving 9 or 10 mph over the limit than for driving 8 mph over the limit.
Although officers have discretion about when to pull someone over, drivers could be issued a ticket any time they go over the speed limit, according to Woodrow.
“There is no command staff direction to only write tickets at a certain speed over,” Woodrow said. “If you are going over the speed limit, you have the potential for being stopped and issued a citation.”
The middle of the week is by far the most common time to get a speeding ticket. Nineteen out of the 20 most common hours for speeding tickets occurred between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. between Tuesday and Thursday.
You were about half as likely to get a speeding ticket on Monday or Friday as on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, and about one-fifth as likely to get a speeding ticket on a Saturday or Sunday.
On weekends, you were most likely to get a speeding ticket on Saturday between 10 p.m. and Sunday at 1 a.m. But none of those three hours even cracked the top 60 most-ticketed hours overall. You are much more likely to get caught at night on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.
There are traffic officers on patrol at all times, according to Woodrow, so the variation can’t be explained by how many officers are on duty, she said. One possible explanation might be changes in call volume, but there were no obvious reasons for the variation, she said.
“All four bureaus have traffic officers assigned to all shifts,” Woodrow said. “The traffic officers are not tied to 911 calls but will be utilized as needed. If they are close to a 911 call, they might take it. But their main objective is to do traffic safety.”
The most common time of day Wichitans were ticketed for speeding was between 8 and 11 a.m. and noon and 3 p.m. It’s not clear why there are so few tickets between 11 a.m. and noon. There is a drop-off in the late afternoon, and then the number of tickets rises again between 6 and 7 p.m., with another small spike between 10 and 11 p.m.
Myths vs. reality
The common truism that young people between the ages of 18 and 25 get the most speeding tickets holds up in Wichita: They accounted for about a quarter of all tickets. But 26- to 35-year-olds are not far behind, accounting for about another quarter of all tickets.
Another common bit of street lore is that the number of speeding tickets goes up toward the end of the month as, supposedly, officers get near their quotas – that didn’t appear to be true in Wichita last year. There didn’t appear to be any pattern to when during the month speeding tickets were issued.
This is consistent with department policy, Woodrow said. “There are no quotas, so you will not have officers pulling people over more at the beginning of the month than the end of the month, no matter what time of month or day,” she said.
The idea that police pull over more red cars or target cars by their color or make doesn’t appear to be true either. The percentage of speeding tickets given to cars by their make, model and color was about the same percentage given for parking tickets.
There didn’t appear to be any uptick in the number of tickets issued on traditional driving holidays such as Memorial Day, Labor Day and July 4.
But there were significant declines around Christmas.
Enforcement hot spots
Here is where most of the speeding tickets were issued in 2016:
On Kellogg near the Tyler Road exit
At Webb and Harry
On Webb Road just north of Kellogg
On Webb Road near Jabara Airport
On Oliver near Clapp Memorial Park
On Central by the Beechcraft factory
On Kellogg near the West Street exit
On Hillside next to Wichita State University
On Kellogg near Towne East Square
About 325 people were issued a ticket for going 25 mph or more over the speed limit. Nine of those were going at least 50 mph over the limit. And one 17-year-old was caught twice, between 1 and 2:30 a.m. on April 16, driving 140 mph, 90 mph over the limit, on I-135.
The reckless speeders were a bit younger and were typically caught at night rather than during the day. A huge proportion of the people caught speeding more than 25 mph over the limit were caught somewhere on Kellogg.
But in other ways, the reckless speeders followed typical speeding patterns. Those types of speeding tickets are evenly distributed throughout the year and, like most speeding tickets, are given most frequently during the middle of the week, not the weekend.
Reasons to be skeptical
The data doesn’t show when people speed, just when they are caught. So the patterns in the traffic data could tell us about how people’s behavior changes throughout the day, week and year. Or it could just be a reflection of how much traffic is on the roads at those times. And it could be influenced by 911 call volume and how many officers are working traffic duty.
The traffic citation data provided by the city included a couple of thousand tickets that were repeated more than once, which were removed. Another 700 tickets that were given out in 2015 but resolved in 2016 were also removed. The data from Dec. 31 was not included.