WRAL Investigates

Getting a ticket? It depends who stopped you

Posted July 19, 2010 1:06 p.m. EDT
Updated July 19, 2010 6:59 p.m. EDT

— 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.

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.