County Executive’s Latest Initiative Aimed to Help Youth Become Safer Drivers and Protect Public Safety
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone today announced the first-in-the-state Suffolk County Youth Traffic Court to help drivers ages 18 and under avoid license suspensions, revocations, and other serious consequences while reeducating the motorist on driver safety habits. The court is the latest innovation established under the purview of the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency.
“Suffolk County is leading the nation with innovative programs that encourage our youth to become safer drivers,” said County Executive Bellone. This new approach offers an incentive for the driver to avoid a costly penalty or infraction without resorting to punitive actions if it can be avoided.”
The goal of the Youth Traffic Court ultimately is to provide safe driving education and protections for the public from unsafe driving habits commonly associated with new drivers and ensure the young drivers do not become repeat offenders. There are no additional costs to the public to implement this program.
The Suffolk County Youth Traffic Court, presided over by Kenneth S. Diamond, the former Supervising Judge of the Nassau County Family Court, provides young drivers who are charged with driving infractions worth three points or more with a comprehensive conference, including a parent or legal guardian present, where the prosecutor will perform an overall evaluation of the young driver and their driving and criminal history. An assessment of consequences and penalties will be made based upon an overall evaluation of the danger posed to the public, the driver themselves, the driver’s ability to pay fines, and any required participation in diversion programs.
Paul Margiotta, Director of the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, said: “The Youth Court program is designed to keep our young people safe on the road. The program will ensure their inexperience is taken into consideration and educate them to be better drivers. The requirement for their parents presence in court will have a great impact on the young driver.”
This February, there are 74 Youth Traffic Court dockets scheduled, and the court has 184 other dockets scheduled into May. To date, 33 young drivers have participated in Youth Traffic Court with a total of 116 charges going before the court. Currently there are 690 pending cases for motorists 18 and under with the top charges including speeding, driving without a proper license, disobeying a stop sign and operating an uninspected motor vehicle.
The Youth Traffic Court will offer the same diversion programs already offered to students in nearly 30 schools across Suffolk County through Suffolk County TPVA and EAC Network. These same diversion programs will be offered to defendants who have serious charges or who are in jeopardy of losing their license. A number of schools across Suffolk County have even signed on to make these diversion classes mandatory before Juniors and Seniors can obtain parking passes to park on campus.
In the last two years, 3,600 people have attended one of the TPVA's diversion programs, and less than one percent of the defendants returned to Traffic Court with a new traffic violation. Each year, over 5,000 young drivers between the ages of 16-20 are involved in traffic crashes in Suffolk County. Between 2013 and 2017, more than 21,000 minors under the age of 21, appeared with traffic violations at the agency.
The Court will utilize four programs also utilized through the TPVA Veterans Traffic Court to educate young drivers and their parent or legal guardian. Each of the four programs offers violation-specific education, instruction and use “Reality Based” presentations aimed at modifying the behavior that brought the defendant to traffic court.
Drive Safe Program
TPVA offers a Drive Safe Program for individuals who are speeding, failing to follow seat belt laws and for districted driving. The three-hour program discusses responsibility, the motorists’ actions and consequences of these actions. Topics include, but are not limited to the judiciary system and occupant protection, which include seat belt use, excessive speed, 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
TPVA offers a Distracted Driver Program for any motorist charged with driving while using a cell phone or an electronic device. The main focus of the program is to educate drivers on the real and present danger of distracted driving. This reality-based educational presentation informs drivers of the consequences of distracted driving. At the beginning and end of the program the driver is tested on distracted driving and given a “sleeve” to keep their cellphone in while in the car which prevents the phone from sending or receiving calls or texts. This sleeve helps remove the temptation to the driver to pick up the phone.
SCOPE - Second Chances in Occupant Protection for Everyone Program
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, which includes 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 EAC Network staff will then submit to TPVA the attendance sheet, a class update including participation as well as the scores. If the individual needs a car seat and meets the eligibility requirements, they will be referred to EAC Network’s Safe Start car seat car seat distribution program.
Unlicensed/Improperly Licensed Driver Program
EAC Network 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 driver 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.
Last year, the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency launched the first-in-the-nation Veterans Traffic Court. At the direction of County Executive Bellone, TPVA established a specialized Veterans Docket Day to assist veterans in rectifying any issues involving traffic violations pending before TPVA. In doing so, the model is designed to reduce the need for a veteran to appear before a criminal court and resolve their matters in a timely fashion.
For more information on the Youth Traffic Court, contact Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency at www.suffolkcountyny.gov or by phone at (631) 853-3800.