After the first of the year, getting a traffic ticket in Augusta could be less painful and cheaper for people who can pay their tickets off early.
After Jan. 1, the Richmond County Traffic Violations Bureau will open for business, said Richmond County State Court Judge Richard Slaby.
It will allow people who receive citations for minor traffic violations, such as speeding or improper lane change, to skip a court appearance and pay off their tickets there.
Because this saves the local court money through not having anyone from the solicitor’s or public defender’s offices involved in those cases, Slaby said he reduced the fines.
For example, a ticket for failure to yield has a base cost of $278 under the old system. If paid off through the Bureau, the base charge will be $175.
Although every traffic offense in Georgia is considered a criminal offense, the law allows for minor traffic offenses to be diverted from criminal court, Slaby said. In effect, establishing the Bureau will decriminalize all but the most serious of traffic offenses, he said.
After Jan. 1, traffic enforcement officers will have a sheet to hand out along with traffic citations. It explains the process of using the Bureau.
The clerk’s office will operate the Bureau, checking criminal histories and collecting fines that can be paid off in person at the office, by calling 866-339-0646 or online at augustaga.gov/trafficbureau. There will be a processing fee for using the phone and internet site.
Richmond County Sheriff’s Lt. Amelio Lamkin said officers are ready to go with the new system. It won’t cause any additional work for them, he said, but it could greatly reduce the amount of time officers have to spend in court waiting to address traffic citations they issue. They issued 1,900 to 2,500 before the new traffic division was set up. Lamkin estimated the number of citations has doubled now.
It is not unusual for 200 to 300 cases to be set for court on a single day, but only a few will actually result in trial, Slaby said.
The Bureau can take a load off the court dockets by providing a way for people who do not want to contest their tickets to dispose of their cases outside of a courtroom.
According to the study by the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Bureau could cut the case load of Richmond County State Court by a third.
Anyone who wishes to contest a traffic ticket may still do so, Slaby said.
People facing charges that can lead to the suspension of a license – such as driving under the influence or any offense by a person younger than 21 – must make a court appearance.
Slaby said that the Bureau will not accept partial payments so anyone who cannot pay a ticket in full also would have to make a court appearance.