Diversion Programs and Violation Masking

If you get pulled over for speeding in Minnesota, it’s increasingly likely the police officer will give you a choice: Pay the ticket, or take a safe driving class.

The classes usually cost less than the ticket, and the violation doesn’t go on your driving record.

More cities and counties are offering “diversion programs” because they keep cases from entering the court system. One state auditor’s report, though, says there’s a problem with these programs: They’re illegal.

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2013/11/14/news/driver-safety-class

PoliceIf you get pulled over for speeding in Minnesota, it’s increasingly likely the police officer will give you a choice: Pay the ticket, or take a safe driving class.

This legal tactic, known as “diversion” enables offenders to avoid prosecution (and resulting criminal record) in exchange for alternative outcomes like:

  • Education aimed at preventing future offenses by the offender (i.e. Traffic School in lieu of Moving Violations)
  • Completion of community service hours
  • Avoiding situations for a specified period in the future that may lead to committing another such offense

According to a wikipedia article on diversion programs:

Some jurisdictions in the United States, such as those in California, may impose the completion of DUI programs as punishment for drunk driving in the United States. One such program is the Victim Impact Panel (VIP). administered by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) since 1982. MADD typically charges a $25 “donation” (which is defined as voluntary), even for court-mandated attendance; MADD reported $2,657,293 one year for such donations on its nonprofit tax exempt returns.[11]

EdiscoverySome safety professionals do not like diversion programs since they tend to “mask” behaviors or habits that might otherwise be indicators of a deeper risk-taking mentality.  For example, suppose a chronic speeder relies on diversion programs to mask their speeding problem — ultimately, they may become involved in a fatal crash since their MVR (report of prior driving violations) didn’t signal the need for a stronger safety response.  Various reports have signaled that driver education programs often fail to reduce crash rates (click here) since:

  • Driver education does teach safety skills but students are not specially motivated to actually use them
  • Driver education could foster overconfidence
  • Driver education often fails to adequately address lifestyle issues
  • Driver education often fails to tailor content to student-specific needs

Further complicating matters is the fact that diversion programs are run locally — there’s no central reporting on who has participated and what the underlying cause may have been.  For corporate safety managers, that means giant holes in MVR reporting where all sorts of violations may have led to traffic stops, but there are no records to indicate an underlying issue with risk taking.

“We don’t want somebody with bad driving behaviors to be able to participate in diversion programs around the state and nobody knows how many they’ve participated in,” said [Minnesota] State Auditor Rebecca Otto. “If someone gets to participate in diversion in one county that’s doing this program, and then the next day they’re in a different city that has this program, their driving records are scattered all over.”

The view’s different, though, in sheriff’s offices and police departments across the state using diversion programs.

In Buffalo, Minn., the city started its Drive Smart program. Only people cited for minor moving violations — such as going 15 miles or less over the speed limit, running a red light, failing to yield – are eligible.  The number of programs like Drive Smart has nearly tripled over the last six years. More than 35 of them operate in cities and counties around the state.  [Unfortunately,]…There’s a range of fees. There’s a range of classes you get to take if you’re allowed to participate. One of them is an eight-minute online video that you watch.”

Motivating local departments and municipalities is the fact that generally a third of violation fines go to the state treasury, but diversion course fees largely stay local (a bigger cut of the pie stays at home).

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What do you think?  Should drivers be able to take an eight-minute online class and have a violation tossed as though it never happened?  In the end, would more drivers have more crashes if they have an underlying problem with risk taking while behind the wheel?  Is this all really about money in a tough economy?

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