July 23, 2010
OLYMPIA — The Department of Licensing is contacting local governments today to detail a reimbursement process for refunds to drivers who paid fines for cell phone and texting violations and some other traffic offenses.
Out of about three million traffic tickets written since 2007, the agency estimates less than 10,000 may be eligible for a refund.
The Model Traffic Ordinance (MTO) is a traffic law rulebook that cities and counties can adopt to easily be consistent with state traffic laws. DOL is responsible for updating the MTO rules as new laws emerge.
On June 30, DOL discovered that municipal court judges in several jurisdictions were dismissing cell phone and texting tickets because the MTO had not been updated to reflect these violations. Further study revealed the MTO had not been updated since 2004 and several other new laws passed since then also were not included.
This issue does not affect citations issued by the Washington State Patrol, other state police agencies and a number of city and county governments. It also does not affect any cell phone-related tickets issued on or after July 1, 2010, or those for any other affected laws after July 19, 2010, as the entire rulebook is now updated.
Individuals who were issued a citation and paid a fine should go to the court in the jurisdiction which issued the citation to request reimbursement. If local courts determine that a violation is subject to refund, DOL will reimburse them for the amount of the fine, which is typically $124.
"We will be partnering with local courts to make sure people get refunds they’re entitled to," DOL Director Liz Luce said.
The agency estimates that reimbursements could total up to $1.2 million statewide for tickets written during the past three years. The funds will come from within the agency’s budget by deferring planned equipment replacements, printing and mailing savings associated with new email renewal notices, and some savings accumulated by continuing to not fill vacant staff positions.
"We’re absolutely committed to finding further savings within the agency to pay for these reimbursements and are committed to not impacting services we provide to the public, but this will add even more financial pain to the agency during these tough budget times," Luce said.
The agency has already formalized a process to ensure the Model Traffic Ordinance will undergo an annual review following each legislative session and will be updated if necessary.
A list of jurisdictions not affected is available at DOL’s blog, www.licensingexpress.wordpress.com