Town Ordinances + Higher Fines= The Turbeville Traffic-Ticket Model Lawsuit
Two dozen people have contacted three law firms seeking to sue the town of Turbeville in Clarendon County, South Carolina. The potential clients claim that the hamlet of 804 has operated as an illegal speed trap for years.
The lawsuit involves Turbeville’s “town safety” ordinances, which police officers use to write local traffic tickets with fines. These driving violation fines, however, are much higher than those traffic ticket fines allowed by South Carolina state law. These ordinances have existed for thirteen years and have allowed the town to raise about $1 million a year.
The controversy surrounding these tickets is this: when police officers issue state ticket fines instead of town-ordinance fines, a driver earns points against his driving record and his insurance premium increases. But because the police officers often write town violations, the citations are not reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles or the driver’s insurance company, and the result is zero (0) points on the driver’s license. This practice allows the town to offer drivers a ticket with no point penalties in exchange for fines of up to $500 or thirty (30) days in jail. Because of this, drivers tend to pay the higher town fines without question because they want to avoid the jail time, points, and insurance implications on their licenses. They know that if they try to challenge the town ticket, Turbeville’s single town magistrate will convert it to a state citation and the license accrues point repercussions. The recent lawsuit therefore claims that this unfair and unjust practice lowers the possibility that the Turbeville town ordinances will be challenged.
The number of traffic tickets issued by Turbeville is outstanding. Turbeville, with a population of 804 people living within 1.3 square miles on U.S. 378, wrote 2,433 tickets in 2015. That averages out to about 203 tickets a month! The explanation may be attributed to the fact that Turbeville is on a major route for tourists headed to Myrtle Beach from Columbia and the Midlands. And for traveling 10 miles above the posted speed limit, many of these drivers will be fined up to $500. The practices going on in Turbeville’s ticket-writing system are currently making people question whether Turbeville has unjustly enriched itself by writing so many tickets.
The current lawsuit names two plaintiffs. One plaintiff had her ticket switched to a state citation after she hired an attorney to challenge the town citation. The other plaintiff challenged a town ticket and refuses to accept a state citation. Three law firms have joined together to file suit against the town to stop the practice as well as force the town to repay the fines they claim were collected illegally. If the lawsuit is successful, other South Carolina towns may be deterred from attempting to adopt the Turbeville local-ticket model and may stop the practice if already established. The attorneys for the firms say they expect more potential clients to come forward and join the challenge.
Speed limits across the state are supposed to be enforced under South Carolina’s uniform traffic code. The code was established to make the speeding penalties and fines the same across the state. Unfortunately, speeding fines and penalties vary from town to town. Speak with a South Carolina traffic ticket attorney to work out what consequences and fines might pertain to your ticket and how the town that issued the ticket might affect these consequences.