Ticket not your fault in Salt Lake City? You might still need to pay

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1 2014 5:10 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — If you're a driver in Salt Lake City, you may want to brush up on your traffic laws.

Some citations can be appealed.

However, for some parking violations, a ticket will not be reduced to less than $10.

If you get a ticket because your car broke down and you were unable to move the vehicle, your fine can only be reduced to $10, and only if your car was in the spot for fewer than six hours.

The code also says that if the ticket was incurred because the "markings, signs or other indicia of parking use regulation were not clearly visible or comprehensible," — in other words, if the signage was confusing or not visible — expect to pay at least $10.

That is, unless the recipient can get the ticket dismissed.

Although wording in the city code says these tickets cannot be reduced under $10, parking and collections officials have other options, said Mary Beth Thompson, supervisor for Salt Lake City parking and collections.

An official can rule that the ticket still stands, reduce its amount or dismiss it entirely, she said. If the ticket is held to be valid, the recipient can then request a parking and collections supervisor review the case.

If that is not satisfactory, appeal the ticket in small claims court for $60.

An appeal may be necessary with parking ordinances that can be less than clear at times.

A public-records request for parking tickets related to fire hydrants in Salt Lake City reveals that in a three-month period officers gave out 878 tickets for parking too close to a hydrant.

Three neighboring areas in the city yielded 81 tickets: a one-block area behind The Gateway on 500 West, between 500 North and 100 South, where cars received 45 tickets in a three-month period; a hydrant near 360 W. North Temple that generated four tickets; and a parking spot in front of a hydrant on 100 South between 510 and 534 West, with 32 violations.

In some of these instances, the hydrants were located within well-marked areas, with painted curbs and surrounded by "No Parking" signs. Others, however, were within two-hour parking zones, with curbs that were either unpainted or where the paint had faded away. One parking space on 100 South and near 500 West had a white line covering the entrance of the spot, but officers still gave out more than 30 citations in three months.

"You're talking about an ordinance that a lot of times it's complicated at best," said Ben Roberts, compliance program director for Salt Lake City.

Roberts explained that in Salt Lake City a car needs to be parked f5 feet from either side of where the center of the hydrant intersects with the curb.

So, are someone's rights being violated if they are ticketed for parking in a place where signage is inconclusive and then they have to pay to appeal the ticket?

Concerns as to constitutional infringements can be explained with the realization that parking is not a fundamental human right, according to Kent Hart, executive director of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

"For such things as parking, issues that don't involve a fundamental right, then the government would just have a rational or reasonable justification for treating people differently," Hart said.

"The city would be able to come up with a whole host of reasons to justify the difference, so I don't think it would be a problem with due process or equal protection."

To ease confusion with some of the parking code, the Salt Lake City parking compliance office has included links on its webpage to direct residents to the city code and generates posts about more confusing ordinances on its Facebook page, Roberts said.

"We try to make it as helpful as we can."

The city does not yet have the technology to pinpoint areas that generate the most tickets, Thompson said. Instead, it relies on the hearing officers to detect patterns.

If officers find they are dismissing a lot of tickets because of inadequate or insufficient signage in a specific area, the city's parking and collection office will tell the compliance office to stop issuing violations. The transportation office will then fix the signage or address the problem.

Salt Lake City's parking system is complex but effective, Roberts said.

Officers in Salt Lake City do not have to meet a quota of tickets, which allows them to use their judgment when writing a ticket, he said. When possible, the officers are encouraged to engage members of the public and teach them about traffic laws in the city.

The compliance office encourages officers to take notes and photographs to document the tickets, he said. Even with this level of precaution, the officers can make mistakes, which is why there is an appeal process, he said.

"There's always exceptions to the rule," Roberts said.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com

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