WRAL Investigates

Getting a ticket? It depends who stopped you

Posted July 19, 2010

— Blue lights in the rear-view mirror are never a welcome sight.  A WRAL investigation found that, more than race or gender of the driver, the agency making the stop was the key variable in whether a ticket resulted from any traffic stop.

WRAL Investigates crunched the numbers from traffic stops for dozens of local departments. Inside those agencies, there was little difference in who got a warning and who got a ticket when it came to the sex or race of the driver. However, there were huge gaps between those agencies.

From January 2009 until June of this year, the Highway Patrol issued tickets in 83 percent of stops, according to Department of Justice numbers. The Wake County Sheriff's Office issued tickets 73 percent of the time. Other counties were significantly lower, including:

  • Person – 20 percent
  • Franklin – 19.5 percent
  • Orange – 18 percent
  • Warren – 17 percent

Search North Carolina traffic stop reports.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison says his deputies deal with a lot of situations, such as speeding, where a ticket is a given. Harrison says 99 percent of the time, speeders will get ticketed, but there's always that other 1 percent.

“Sometimes maybe that person is running a little bit over the speed limit or they’re new to the neighborhood, and they may write them a warning saying to pay attention to speed limit signs,” Harrison said.

The ticketing percentages are all over the map, even when that map only covers a small area. Inside Wake County, all the municipalities have lower ticketing rates than the sheriff’s office.

traffic stop Some agencies quicker to ticket

The top ticket-givers by percentage were Morrisville, at 65 percent, followed by Wake Forest, Fuquay-Varina and Raleigh. On the low end, Cary and Holly Springs officers issue tickets less than 50 percent of the time.

The agencies WRAL spoke with said there are no policies which require tickets for certain offenses. Instead, it depends on the situation.

“There are a lot of factors,” said Lt. Rhyne of the Cary Police Department. “It’s the officer’s discretion whether to write a ticket or not, but they also look at that particular area they’re doing the enforcement action in, whether we’ve had complaints in that area. I’m sure it may differ in school zones than residential areas or out on the major highways.”

As for the old myth about talking your way out of a ticket, Rhyne says officers should make the decision whether to ticket “before they get out of the car.”

“The driver’s disposition shouldn’t have anything to do with it,” he said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • deborahs Jul 21, 2010

    We have laws because a significant number of us cannot or will not refrain from those actions or omissions demmed unacceptable by our society.

    We have LEO's because a significant number of us cannot or will not abide by our laws.

    We have speed limits because a significant number of us cannot or will not drive at an appropriately safe speed in all conditions.

    Considering private vehicles have been available for just over a hundred years, is it not odd that drivers still bump into each other regularly? Not a day goes by without my seeing a wreck or hearing about one or more on the news.

    Since very few of us bump into each other while on foot, I am tempted to conclude that speed is a factor, and that a significant number of us cannot think as fast as we are allowed to drive.

  • faycop4ncstate Jul 21, 2010

    A common reason for a lot of warning tickets is simply the result of having very proactive officers. An officer who is looking to find serious violations such as drugs, DWIs, stolen property, or drivers with warrants will pull cars over for minor violations like headlights out, brake lights out, improperly displayed license plates, and seat belt violations. Once the vehicle is legally stopped, the officer can examine more closely for bigger violations. If those violations are not discovered a warning ticket is better suited for minor violations than a ticket. A wanted felon or drug dealer most likely will not be going 20 mph over the speed limit drawing attention to himself.

  • faycop4ncstate Jul 21, 2010

    I had just gotten into my car, turned the car on to get the AC going, and hadn't even reversed when the guy pulled behind me blocking me in. He wrote me a ticket for not having a seat belt on! I HADNT EVEN MOVED!!! katiencbabe

    Another lie! Seat belt tickets can only be issued on streets or highway while the vehicle is in forward motion. They can not be written in a Harris Teeter parking lot, no cop would be stupid enough to write that.

  • faycop4ncstate Jul 21, 2010

    “The money from tickets goes to the court system (court costs) and the actual fine goes to the school systems, read the N.C. State Constitution if you don't believe it.” ~jacobkornegay

    You are wrong! For each arrest or personal service of criminal process, including citations and subpoenas, the sum of five dollars ($5.00), to be remitted to the county wherein the arrest was made or process was served, except that in those cases in which the arrest was made or process served by a law enforcement officer employed by a municipality, the fee shall be paid to the municipality employing the officer. NC GS 7a-304

    For the retirement and insurance benefits of both State and local government law enforcement officers, the sum of six dollars and twenty five cents ($6.25), to be remitted to the State Treasurer. Fifty cents (50¢) of this sum shall be administered as is provided in Article 12C of Chapter 143 of the General Statutes. Five dollars and seventy five cents ($5.75) of this sum shall

  • Bendal1 Jul 21, 2010

    Anyone claiming the Interstate System is equivalent to the Autobahn has rocks in their head (and lead in their foot). There is no consistancy to the interstate; there are different design speeds (60-75 for rural, 50-70 for urban), and since parts were built as far back as the 50's, greatly different design standards depending on when it was built.

  • frosty Jul 20, 2010

    It would seem that some agencies have more important things to do than write traffic tickets.

  • Whatever Geez Jul 20, 2010

    I'm a white female...not a model but very nice looking and I've gotten 4 speeding tickets...plus my husband is a cop and has been for 10 years so who cares about this article. Don't we have better things to worry about?

  • Bill Brasky Jul 20, 2010

    I agree with you. Thought the show was interesting.

  • mpheels Jul 20, 2010

    Bill Brasky - Yes, Eisenhower started the interstate system based on the Autobahn, but that does not mean the interstate system as it stands now can handle the type of driving the Autobahn can. I'm not really sure what point you're trying to make. It looks like we're in agreement that US drivers don't have the training needed to drive like Germans. I was just pointing out that we will need more than driver training to have Autobahn style rules, we will also need alternatives for those who can't afford the increased cost of getting a driver's license.

  • Bill Brasky Jul 20, 2010


    Did you watch the History channel's show on it? Did you know how the interstate came to be? President Eisenhower..and thats why they call it the Eisenhower intestate system. When he was in Germany during the end of the war, he noticed the great highway system that Germany had and the benefits of such a system if the country was ever invaded. So he borrowered the Autobahn system and we call it the Interstate.

    Interesting stuff.