Two years after the Oklahoma Highway Patrol lifted a 100-mile-per-shift driving limit on troopers in a cost-saving move, the number of tickets written has yet to recover, according to a Tulsa World analysis of state ticket data.
Despite the agency canceling the driving cap in June 2017, troopers wrote 25% fewer tickets in 2018 compared to 2016, records show. Troopers wrote 220,773 tickets in 2016 compared to 165,838 in 2018.
Department of Public Safety officials imposed the six-month cap on driving as a cost-saving measure in December 2016.
The total number of written warnings has also tumbled since the driving limit was imposed. About 360,000 warnings were written by troopers in 2018, a nearly 10% decline from 2016 when 403,000 warnings were issued, the data show.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol declined an interview by the Tulsa World on the subject, opting to release on a statement that said there could be many reasons for the ticket and warning slowdown.
“Statistical data regarding the issuance of traffic tickets in any one geographic area in the state versus another is dependent on numerous factors,” Col. Michael S. Harrell, chief of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, said in the statement. “Weather, construction, discretion, and traffic density, among many others, create variance that cannot be briefly summarized. The location of a trooper who is assigned to traffic enforcement action may yield vastly different results from another.
“The 100-mile limitation that was imposed in December 2016 lasted only six months, and may have affected the number of tickets issued within that time frame. However, it would not account for any variances moving forward.”
Oklahoma State Troopers Association attorney Gary James did not return multiple calls for comment.
The World analyzed four years of Highway Patrol ticket data accounting for over 700,000 tickets and 1.5 million warnings. The analysis also found fewer troopers were writing tickets now compared to past years, possibly contributing to the decline.
Among troopers who had written at least 60 tickets in a year, the numbers were more telling.
In 2016, 531 troopers issued at least 60 tickets, while in 2017 and 2018, the number of troopers fell to 492 and 478, respectively.
The number of troopers issuing at least 60 warnings a year had also declined from 586 in 2016 to 572 in 2018.
The overall decline in tickets and written warnings coincides with a reduction in the number of troopers on staff.
In December 2016, when the driving limit was announced, the agency employed 805 troopers, according to news reports at the time.
Seven months later, 790 troopers were employed when the driving cap was lifted, accounts from the time indicate.
By mid-March, 778 troopers were employed with the agency, according to Sarah Stewart, agency spokesperson.
While OHP ticket and warning totals have declined statewide, that is not the case for one highway in the state.
The number of tickets and written warnings issued increased 24% from 2016 to 2018 among troopers who patrol the Will Rogers Turnpike, the portion of Interstate 44 which runs from just east of Tulsa to the Missouri state line.
The number of citations written by troopers assigned to patrol the Will Rogers Turnpike, increased from 4,504 in 2016 to 5,595 in 2018.
The number of written warnings issued along the same highway increased by 17%, or from 12,119 in 2016 to 14,216 in 2018, records show.
No other turnpike has seen an increase in tickets from 2016 to 2018.
Two turnpikes, though, saw an increase in the number of warnings issued during the same time period: the Cherokee Turnpike and Indian Nation Turnpike.
The annual number of written warnings issued by troopers assigned to the Indian Nations Turnpike increased 9% from 2016 to 2018.
Meanwhile, troopers issued 26% fewer citations and 24% fewer written warnings along the Turner Turnpike, which links Tulsa and Oklahoma City, between 2016 and 2018, records show.
Overall, troopers assigned to turnpikes issued nearly 17% fewer tickets in 2018, compared to 2016, while warnings declined by about 4%.
The agency in charge of running the state turnpike system pays for troopers to patrol its highways, but otherwise stays out of the Highway Patrol’s enforcement policies, a spokesman said.
“The troopers that are on the turnpike system, we pay for their salaries, their equipment, their cars ... but as far as how they patrol, we don’t get involved in that,” said Jack Damrill, spokesman for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.
The OTA has budgeted $17.1 million this year to pay for trooper patrols on its tollways.
The agency also agreed in recent years to pay for trooper academies with the understanding that some of the graduates would be assigned to the turnpikes, Damrill said.
The OTA spent around $4 million on about 26 academy graduates in 2016, Damrill said. It agreed to spend up to $5 million in 2018 for another academy class with the understanding that only a handful of graduates would be assigned to the turnpikes, Damrill said.
Eighteen troopers are currently assigned to patrol the Turner Turnpike, while 20 troopers are assigned to the Will Rogers Turnpike, Damrill said.
In all, the OTA currently pays for about 120 troopers to patrol its turnpikes, Damrill said. In past years, the total number of troopers patrolling the turnpike system has been as low as 90, he said.
About 130 to 140 troopers would be needed to “fully staff” the turnpikes, Damrill said.
The OTA has historically paid DPS for troopers to patrol the turnpikes, Damrill said.
“I think they would tell you without us helping them out they would not be able to afford” to assign troopers to the turnpikes, Damrill said.
The decline in tickets has resulted in a reduction in court fees and fines collected from tickets.
For example, collections of one court fee, which helps fund the purchase of new Highway Patrol vehicles, declined by 15% in 2018, records show.
Historically, the patrol vehicle fee generated about $4 million per year. That changed in 2018, when the fund collected $3.4 million from speeding tickets.
Sharon Hsieh, deputy general counsel for the state Administrative Office of the Courts, said the agency didn’t routinely generate reports which reflected how much revenue the court system derived from OHP tickets.
The agency didn’t have the resources to “create statistical reports or data compilations upon request,” she said.
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