Chicago’s “Traffic Court”

The Chicago Sun-Times recently explored Chicago’s “Traffic Court” and the systemic failures that often result in the dismissal of tickets for moving violations, even where the driver who was issued the ticket was undoubtedly guilty.

As explained in the article:

If a police officer did not see the traffic violation that led to an accident, he’s not the witness. He collects the information from the people involved and writes the ticket. The victim has to go to court to make the charge stick. But most witnesses in traffic cases skip court, probably because in most cases the person who hit them took care of the property damage or injury through insurance…One reason why victims might skip court is that the penalties for traffic violations are rarely severe…(or) witnesses might find it hard to take the time off work to go to court, especially in today’s economy.

It’s an unfortunate situation. While it is understandable that witnesses to an accident might be reluctant to take the time out of their day to appear in court and have nothing to gain personally from testifying, Chicagoans as a whole pay the price since. It’s likely that many dangerous drivers are repeat offenders, but manage to slip under the radar time and time again, as their multiple, repeated moving violations are dismissed due to the non-appearance of eyewitnesses.

Perhaps the system would be more effective if there were an incentive built in that would encourage eyewitnesses to testify. As it is, aside from those with a vested interest in the outcome of a traffic violation, only the altruistic few appear to testify in Traffic Court. Chicagoans deserve better.