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7 reasons why eCitations are better than paper

The eCitation Coalition is advancing the cause of electronic traffic tickets


Traffic citations are seldom anyone’s favorite thing. Most cops would rather be doing something else, and the violators hate them even more. Electronically-generated citations (eCitations) make the task a bit more palatable on both sides of the transaction, and bring even more benefits. The eCitation Coalition is trying to beat the drum so that more state and local agencies embrace this technology.

Kevin Richardson is the managing director of the eCitation Coalition. He told PoliceOne, “eCitation not only reduces an officer’s time on the side of the road — which is one of the most dangerous places for an officer – it also gives the officer a real ability to control the traffic stop.” 

Manually writing a ticket causes the officer to focus on the citation form, sacrificing situational awareness. With an eCitation, the officer’s concentration can be on the violator and the environment, and he or she is finished with the process much more quickly. 

The eCitation Coalition is advancing the cause of electronic traffic tickets. (Image Courtesy of eCitation Coalition)
The eCitation Coalition is advancing the cause of electronic traffic tickets. (Image Courtesy of eCitation Coalition)

Faster, More Accurate
The eCitation process eliminates the traditional ticket book-and-pen method of writing traffic tickets. Instead of a pad of paper citations, the officer uses a handheld device such as a tablet or mobile computing device that he or she can carry outside the car. Scanning the barcode on the violator’s license automatically populates the fields on the eCitation form, eliminating errors in transcription or caused by illegibility. Depending on the eCitation solution being used, the officer either enters the location of the violation or, with some systems, the location is automatically recorded on the basis of GPS coordinates. The officer then chooses from a drop-down list of traffic violations and corresponding codes. 

When that data has been entered, the officer prints the citation onto a durable thermal paper form and gives it to the violator. In jurisdictions where a signature is required, the violator signs their name with a stylus on the handheld or the tablet. The violation information is then transmitted to the state database and/or local courthouse, so the violator can go there directly and pay the fine, if desired. 

The precise steps may vary a little, depending on the jurisdiction and the types of hardware and software in use there. 

The eCitation method has several benefits over the traditional paper method:

1.    Officers spend less time at the side of the road.
2.    Violators are on their way faster.
3.    Fewer citations are dismissed for transcription errors, illegible handwriting, incorrect location (e.g. a stop sign violation written to have occurred at 1st and Oak Sts., when they don’t actually cross), and mismatched ordinance/statute names and numbers are eliminated.
4.    No need for clerks to manually enter information from paper tickets into a database.
5.    Nearly instantaneous access to traffic violation and accident data.
6.    Improved convenience for the violator, as there is no delay in processing the citation at the courthouse.
7.    Less push-back from officers who are able to spend more time on both patrolling and enforcing traffic laws elsewhere.

Unless you have a large agency, it can be difficult to implement an eCitation system on your own. Some jurisdictions are working to create model RFPs that will enable groups of municipalities to purchase eCitation solutions together. This produces an economy of scale, as better prices are available if a large order is placed from one vendor, rather than every participant agency getting bids and writing contracts. Industry is also working to create financing plans to help cities purchase eCitation.  

In addition, some states (Illinois, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming) have passed laws that add $5.00 to each traffic ticket expressly for the purpose of helping law enforcement agencies and court systems purchase eCitation solutions.

Most commercial eCitation software vendors include a module that indexes all the relevant traffic statutes and their numbers. This feature alone avoids errors when an officer writes down the wrong statute number, or titles a violation using different words than appear in the law. It also ensures that the proper fine amount is assessed if the violator decides to pay the ticket without a court appearance. 

Fewer software vendors index all of the relevant streets and intersections, so it’s impossible to cite a violation at a place that doesn’t exist. The locations are chosen through a lookup list, rather than be manually entered by the officer. 

Some states and local jurisdictions have produced their own eCitation software, so they aren’t reliant on a private vendor. Richardson does not favor this approach. “The private sector offerings are more appealing. Software that seems to be ‘free’ up front may have a larger total cost ownership in the long run.” He mentioned particularly that private sector vendors tend to have more comprehensive support networks, so a problem that happens on Friday evening can be addressed right away, instead of waiting for Monday. 

An eCitation system is more resistant to tampering than with paper forms, as citations are instantly registered in different databases and organizational levels. It’s not much of a secret that traffic citations can be made to disappear in some communities, especially if you know the right people to ask for a favor. Richardson is not aware of this problem in the communities he has worked with but noted: “In addition to increasing officer safety, eCitation systems provide greater citation accuracy, which supports the kind of enhanced transparency in the citation process that many taxpayers demand.” 

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