There are a handful of things (death, dismemberment, Houston) that are worse than getting a traffic ticket. That said, getting a traffic ticket sucks. A lot. In Dallas, going one mile above the posted limit can cost a driver $201.10 in fines and fees, to say nothing of the headaches of dealing with the municipal court. And, really, you never know how a traffic stop will shake out. Best to avoid them if possible.
One method is to scrupulously obey all traffic laws, which everyone should, of course, strive to do at all times. But traffic laws are complex and humans are fallible creatures, prone to making mistakes and dumb decisions, which means that it is also helpful to know where police most aggressively enforce traffic laws. For that purpose, the Observer has compiled a ranking of North Texas' most ticket-happy municipalities.
The methodology is simple. Texas' Office of Court Administration keeps all kinds of data on the state's judicial system, including month-by-month breakdowns of the number of non-parking traffic misdemeanors — i.e., traffic tickets — filed in every municipal court in the state. Taking a year's worth of traffic cases from municipal courts in North Texas' four most populous counties — Dallas, Denton, Collin and Tarrant — and dividing by total population of each city, we get the number of traffic tickets per capita.
The resulting list provides a pretty good feel for how aggressively various police departments go after speeders, though it's not perfect. After last year's list ran, a spokesman for the town of Addison wrote the Observer to quibble with our methodology; doing a simple head-count of residents without considering daytime population could skew figures for an employment hub like Addison. This also doesn't account for traffic volumes or the relative awfulness of each town's drivers. To avoid comparing a big urban department like Dallas, where cops have many responsibilities more pressing than traffic enforcement, with a small, not-so-urban place like Westlake (which actually pays to use Keller's police force), which does not. So we've split the incredibly long list of North Texas municipalities into two lists, with a population of 20,000 as the somewhat arbitrary dividing line.
The big takeaway: If you are driving and you come to a place whose name ends in "-lake," turn around. Southlake is once again the big-city ticket capital of North Texas. Its even ritzier neighbor, Westlake, is the biggest ticket generator among the smaller cities, churning out a whopping 5.3 tickets for each of its 1,171 residents. Northlake police slacked off in 2015, seeing their ticket volume drop from a torrid 4.05 tickets per person to a paltry 1.3. One assumes that they will pick up their pace in the new year.
The other takeaway is that, all in all, North Texas police departments wrote significantly fewer traffic tickets last year (barely 1 million) than they did the year before (more than 1.2 million). That's still a lot of tickets, but just think of it as 200,000 fewer people who had to endure the misery of traffic court.
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