So, let’s say that, against your better judgment, you let your Basalt High School senior drive your carefully restored Pontiac GTO to school. And, against his or her better judgment, upon leaving the school parking lot at approximately 3:30 p.m., your kid revs the engine thrice, pops the clutch and lays rubber halfway to Highway 82.
A Basalt police officer observes this display of driving skills, quickly catches up with the vehicle, stops it and writes the teen a traffic ticket. Question: Would the driver be cited for “careless driving” and face a $150 fine, or the more serious “speed exhibition” and be summoned to court?
Well, here is part of the definition of “speed exhibition,” from Colorado’s 2010 Model Traffic Code, which the Basalt Town Council adopted in 2013: “… speed exhibition includes … squealing the tires of a motor vehicle … producing smoke from the slippage … or leaving visible acceleration marks on the highway or ground.” The Model Traffic Code does not include sentencing guidelines to help parents determine how long to ground their offspring for such an offense.
I’m not sure what got me to thinking about traffic tickets, although it might be the $155 fine I paid in Glenwood Springs last year for running a red light, which the police officer pointed out “was really close to a school zone.” Run a red light in Basalt, and it’ll only set you back $97. What a bargain!
The $155 ticket in Glenwood seemed excessive because I remember the good old days. When a cop slapped you with a $25 ticket back then, that’s all you paid. But these days, the state attaches a 50-percent surcharge on traffic tickets for the VALE program and to fund police training, according to the shorthand version of the Model Traffic Code the Basalt Town Council passed as Ordinance 25 in 2013. Were it not for the surcharges, red-light runners in Basalt would only face a $65 fine, which, adjusted for inflation for the ticket I got for a similar offense in 1968, is probably about right.
Scanning Basalt’s traffic-fine schedule from Ordinance 25 can lead to an exercise in logic or deductive reasoning. Example: The total fine for running a stop sign is only $83, which is $14 less than the penalty for running a red light. What’s the deal? You’re still “running” where you shouldn’t. Is the difference because drivers who run stop signs generally do it at a slower speed than those who run red lights, so potential impacts with other vehicles for those drivers are less?
Random thought: Next time you consider driving your car on a sidewalk, it’s gonna cost you $90 if you’re caught.
The low end of Basalt’s traffic fines mostly start at $35, plus $18 in surcharges, for a grand total of $53. Example: If you “operate a vehicle without horn as required,” according to Ordinance 25, it’ll cost you $53. Personal note: Next time a cop stops you, it’s probably not a good idea to honk your horn as the officer approaches, even though you are just demonstrating you’re not in violation of Section 224(1). (I was unable to find any specific references in the code about excessive horn honking, but I’ll bet it’s in there in the fine print somewhere.)
With regard to safety for the general public, some fines seem too low. Example: Overtake or pass a vehicle stopped for a pedestrian, and it’ll only cost you $53, the same fine as jaywalking (Section 803).
Everyone wants to know about speeding tickets, and, for this one, here’s some good news. The cheapest ticket you can get is a total of $37 for driving 1-4 miles over the posted speed limit. It goes up from there, to $203 for 20-24 mph over the posted limit, and a court summons for speeds over that. Drive too fast for conditions and you’ll pay $106; too slow and it’s $83. And, yes, there is a provision about driving too slowly. Here is the definition, as per 1103(1): “No person shall drive a motor vehicle on any highway at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable forward movement of traffic, except when a reduced speed is necessary for safe operation of such vehicle in compliance with law.” (Note: there is no “the” between “with” and “law.” Those who construct grammatically suspect municipal ordinances ought to be fined at least $50.)
If the police ever stop anyone for illegally driving in the stupid HOV lane on Highway 82, and it’s you, be prepared to fork over $97.
Fines for bicycling infractions are $53 on average, including the so-called “look ma, no hands” stunt of failing to keep at least one hand on the handlebars.
Which brings us to my favorite motor-vehicle-related offense from Basalt Ordinance 25: “Carrying articles on motorcycle prohibited” (Section 1502). The fine is $76. Naturally, my first question upon reading this section was “does that include chickens?” Is it illegal to carry a chicken on a motorcycle? Well, Colorado’s 136-page 2010 Model Traffic Code, which applies to the Basalt ordinance, simply states: “No person shall operate a motorcycle while carrying packages, bundles … which prevent the person from keeping both hands on the handle bars.”
So, as I interpret the law, if you can squeeze that chicken between your legs and motorcycle gas tank, or stuff it in a box and tie it to the seat, or stash it in a backpack, you’re probably good to go.
Lynn Burton is a semi-retired newspaper reporter in Carbondale.