October 21, 2021

County traffic diversion program rolls out

Drivers who get pulled over and issued a ticket for a traffic violation now have another option in addressing it rather than court and a fine in a program that could save Cortland County money, even as it keeps points off a driver’s license.

A new traffic diversion program, which started Monday, will allow Cortland County residents who don’t have a criminal history to potentially avoid getting points on their state drivers licenses, District Attorney Patrick Perfetti said Tuesday in a release. Previously, motorists who were pulled over and cited for a traffic violation had two options: plead guilty and pay the fine or go to a local court to contest the ticket.

With this program, a third option will allow cited motorists to visit a website, www.cortlandny.diversionconnect.com, and register for an application to be reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office. If accepted, the motorist can take a $200 driver safety course and be released from the offense. No report will be sent to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

“The alleged offender will now be allowed to get online, apply for the program, and possibly avoid getting points on his or her license and a court date,” Perfetti said.

Drivers who get 11 points in 18 months see their licenses suspended. And points can increase insurance premiums.

Perfetti initially suggested a program like this two years ago, and called for it again a year ago. It would save the county the cost of hiring staff because the state now requires district attorneys to provide evidence in every single traffic case, which Perfetti said would require hiring staff.

It also keeps more money local, because under the state’s current structure, 53% of a traffic fine goes to the state, 42% to the municipal court and 5% goes to the county.

However, progress on the plan stalled a year ago when county legislature resolutions would have sent the income — $300,000 a year or more — to the general fund rather than kept under the district attorney’s control. Perfetti said in November 2019 that was unethical.

“I can’t be selling my discretionary authority to generate money for the county legislature,” he said then.

In July, facing courts reopening during the coronavirus pandemic, Perfetti told legislators he would seek an outside contractor to administer the program, which he can do without legislature approval.

About 10% of the $200 fee would go toward Diversion Management; the rest would go into a fund for law enforcement purposes.

In 2019, 3,906 traffic violations were given out by the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office, Capt. Rob Derksen said. That was a 39% decline from 2018, which had 6,389 traffic violations cited.

Derksen didn’t have specific numbers for 2020 but said that they were likely below 2019’s figure, as there was limited contact with the public during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic except for the most egregious offenses, he said.

Derksen didn’t give an opinion on the new program, stating that as law enforcement agents, Sheriff’s officers pass out cards following tickets for people’s options on what they can do such as plead guilty, appeal, or now, take the course.

The officers, he said, are just there to provide the defendants with options.

Perfetti’s office will concentrate on the more severe breaches of the law and let the diversion program handle the lesser offenses, such as these traffic violations.

Perfetti also said that it will help reduce person-to-person contact, which has been a concern during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ll sit back and see how successful it will be,” Perfetti said.

Staff Reporter S.N Briere contributed to this report.