Hilton Head motorists get fewer tickets, more warnings; town collects less money

bheffernan@islandpacket.comMay 31, 2013 

Hilton Head Island motorists are getting fewer traffic tickets and more second chances from Beaufort County sheriff's deputies.

In 2012, deputies wrote 4,316 traffic tickets, a decline of 12 percent -- 590 fewer tickets -- from 2011, according to data from the Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff P.J. Tanner said the warnings promote safer driving just as well as citations and make better use of the deputies' time, which can then be spent policing the island instead of being tied up in court.

The number of warnings to drivers has also been going up, not just on Hilton Head but countywide. Warnings were issued in about 50 percent of the traffic stops throughout Beaufort County in 2012. In 2011, 47 percent of stops resulted in warnings; in 2010 the number was 41 percent.

That might be good news for drivers' pocketbooks, but it also means the town is receiving less money through the Hilton Head Island Municipal Court.

Tickets from the Sheriff's Office are expected to collect about $225,000 by the end of this fiscal year, which closes June 30. That's about $30,000 less than last fiscal year, and $136,000 less than in fiscal year 2010-11.

The revenue drop doesn't concern the town, according to assistant town manager Greg DeLoach.

"We've never looked at the courts as a revenue source," he said, adding that the decline is just a byproduct of an enforcement strategy. The town has never required or suggested a quota for tickets or revenue from the Sheriff's Office, he said.

And though the number of traffic tickets has declined, deputies countywide responded to 4 percent more calls for service and 6 percent more proactive calls, such as scheduled traffic stops, extra patrols and officer-initiated arrests, according to Sheriff's Office data.

"That's not because they've been told not to work traffic," Tanner said. Rather, calls for service take precedence over traffic stops, he said.

"We've worked as much traffic as we've been allowed."

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