New Program will Offer Chance to Resolve Traffic Infractions by Completing Intensive Driver Safety Courses
County Executive’s Latest Initiative Aimed to Help Veterans Become Safer Drivers and Protect Public Safety
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone today announced the Help Enable Recovery and Offer Enhanced Safety, or H.E.R.O.E.S. program, as the latest addition to the first-in-the-nation Suffolk County Veterans Traffic Court. The court is the latest innovation established under the purview of the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, or TPVA in conjunction with the Suffolk County Veterans Services Agency.
“Whether on the local, state or federal level, we owe it to our veterans to aid them in every way possible during their transition back into civilian life and beyond,” said Suffolk County Executive Bellone. “This program will make real change for veterans by providing them with the help and direction that they need to maintain their overall independence and contribute to the society they fought to protect.”
Paul Margiotta, Director of the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, said: “The debt owed to veterans can never be repaid. This small gesture by the Agency is to offer veterans personalized services that both provide assistance to our service men and women and safe driver training.”
Thomas Ronayne, Director of the Suffolk County Veterans Services Agency (VSA), said:Suffolk County's commitment to our veterans is long standing and undeniable. Under County Executive Bellone's leadership that commitment has continued to grow in meaningful and innovative ways. The collaboration between TPVA and VSA is a shining example of how governments, at all levels, can refine governmental operations to maximize effectiveness in the area of veterans services. Understanding, pro-actively identifying and applying innovative methods to support and assist veterans in a variety of ways is the most effective way of ensuring they have access to the tools for success that they have earned and so richly deserve.
Last month, County Executive Bellone announced the creation of a Veterans Docket Day to offer honorably discharged or current veterans who have traffic, parking or red light camera citations pending before TPVA to participate in a special conference with a prosecutor. These conferences are held prior to the general public and will be provided a lengthier time to understand in greater detail the circumstances involving each case. Veterans receive consideration based upon their military status, medical status, and their financial situation. This may include those dealing with post-transition issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In partnership with EAC Network, the Suffolk County Police Department and Stony Brook University Hospital, Suffolk County TPVA offers a number of diversion programs have proven to be highly successful in reducing unsafe driving. Diversion programs are offered to defendants who have certain charges or who are in jeopardy of losing their license. These programs seek to modify driving behaviors and return a safer driver to the road. Each of the four programs offer violation specific education, instruction and use “Reality Based” presentations aimed at modifying the behavior that brought the defendant to traffic court.
The H.E.R.O.E.S. combines each of these four programs into one full day of education that also includes a New York State Defensive Driving Program. In the last two years, over 2,500 people have attended one of the TPVA's diversion programs, and only nine people have returned to Traffic Court with a new traffic violation.
Drive Safe Program
TPVA offers a Drive Safe Program for individuals who are speeding, failing to follow seat belt laws and for districted while driving. The three-hour program discusses responsibility, the motorists’ actions and consequences of these actions. Included in this program are presentations by a SCPD Highway Patrol Officer; Dr. James A. Vosswinkle, Chief Trauma, Emergency Surgery and Surgical Critical Care doctor at Stony Brook University Hospital; health Educators, an attorney and a Judge. Topics include, but will not be limited to the judiciary system and occupant protection, which include seat belt use, excessive speed,m passenger distraction, cell phone usage, text messaging, loud music, night driving, peer pressure, overconfidence and other issues impacting young, inexperienced drivers.
This program is offered as part of a Pre-Plea. The original charge may be reduced and/or points may be reduced based on their participation in the program including a Pre- and- Post-quiz. The participants also receive handouts to take home that are available in English and Spanish. After completion of the program, participants receive a certificate of completion and staff will submit a class update, including their scores, to TPVA.
Distracted Driver Program
According to NYS GTSC, any time a driver's attention is drawn away from the task of driving in a safe and defensive manner, it can be labeled as distracted driving. These distractions can be personal, external or internal. Personal distractions can occur when the driver is impaired by daydreaming, alcohol, drugs, fatigue or unsafe practices like reading, writing, shaving, applying makeup or using electronic devices such as computers, cell phones, iPods or GPS navigation systems. Internal distractions occur inside the car, caused by passengers, animals or objects inside the vehicle. External distractions occur outside the car like other motorists, inclement weather, deteriorated road conditions, or even the scenery.
SCOPE - Second Chances in Occupant Protection for Everyone Program
According to New York State law, motorists who receive a citation for not having their child properly restrained in a motor vehicle - either by using a Child Safety restraint or seat belt - have the option to voluntarily attend a three-hour diversion program. The Second Chances in Occupant Protection for Everyone program, or SCOPE, is an educational class, for parents and caregivers focusing on misuses and injury prevention. The structure of this class is designed to improve the use of safety restraints for all motor vehicle occupants and promote safer driving practices through education on topics such as seat belt safety, seat belt laws, airbag impact, proper installation and use of child passenger safety restraints.
As part of a pre-plea, participants voluntarily agree to enroll and complete this program. The Initial charge may be reduced and/or points may be reduced based on the individual’s participation in the program including a Pre and Post-quiz. The participants also receive handouts to take home (available in English and Spanish). After the individual completes the program, they receive a certificate of completion and the EAC staff will then submit to TPVA the attendance sheet, a class update including participation as well as the scores. If the individual needs a seat and meet the eligibility requirements, they will be referred to our SAFETSTART distribution program.
Unlicensed/Improperly Licensed Driver Program
EAC and TPVA have jointly developed an eight-hour program that provides education and risk awareness to motorists charged with the unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. This program includes a six-hour drivers safety course that is approved by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. Regardless if an individual possesses a license, every participant that completes this program will receive a certificate issued by American Safety INC. Participants are also introduced to a Suffolk County Police Officer who will speak to the participants about operating a vehicle without a license and law enforcement’s role. This program includes a presentation from an attorney who provides a brief overview of legal representation. Participants are also introduced to the MV-44.1 and MV 44 DMV forms – otherwise known as Proof of Identity and the application for Permit, Driver’s License and Non–Driver ID Card, respectively. Some participants may even be eligible to apply for a Non–drivers ID card or a license and are directed to review the information and go to their local DMV office.
Through a specialized conference offered for veterans in the H.E.R.O.E.S. program, participants will spend more time being heard, with an anticipated 10-15 minutes being allowed for each conference with a prosecutor.
The goal of the Veterans Traffic Court ultimately is to provide and facilitate a complete avenue of reform and assistance. This program differs from a drug courts within a criminal court venue as the Traffic Court’s program will help resolve infractions which may be the underlying cause of the criminal charge, i.e. aggravated unlicensed operation “VTL Section 511”. If a motorist is ticketed for an Aggravated Unlicensed Operation of a Motor vehicle, the motorist is suspended due to unpaid or unanswered tickets, in many cases, those tickets are under the jurisdiction of the Traffic Court. There are no additional costs to the public to implement this program.
For more information on the Veterans Traffic Court H.E.R.O.E.S. program, contact Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency at www.suffolkcountyny.gov or by phone at (631) 853-3930.