Utah's circuit and justice of the peace courts are bracing for an influx of thousands of juvenile traffic cases due to changes in state law effective this year.

The 1989 Legislature rewrote state statutes to require that all but a handful of traffic offenses committed by juveniles be turned over to the circuit and justice of the peace courts.Prior to the change, juvenile traffic cases in Utah had been handled by circuit or juvenile court judges. In Ogden particularly, many juvenile traffic cases were assigned to juvenile court judges.

Under the new law, juvenile courts will now handle only the most serious cases such as driving under the influence, reckless driving, vehicular homicide and fleeing a police officer.

The Legislature also passed a law that imposes a six-month suspension on the driver's licenses of juveniles caught in possession of drugs or alcohol. The law also requires that 20 to 100 community service hours be served by juvenile drug and alcohol offenders.

Both of those changes mean new headaches for court personnel and, potentially, for juvenile offenders.

"It's going to have a big impact on the kids," said Mike Strebel, director of court services for the 2nd District Juvenile Court.

On the traffic side, Strebel said about 2,900 citations were issued to juveniles in Davis and Weber counties in 1988, and only 72 of those fit into one of the four offenses still handled by the juvenile court.

If what happened in 1988 is any indication, nearly 3,000 new traffic cases will be brought before the circuit and JP courts next year in Davis and Weber counties alone.