Scanning system takes the wait out of getting a traffic ticket

Officer James Wood of the Roanoke Police Department demonstrates scanning the barcode on the back of an Indiana driver's license.
Officer James Wood of the Roanoke Police Department demonstrates scanning the barcode on the back of an Indiana driver's license. Photo by Matt Murphy.

Originally published July 16, 2009.

For most drivers, one of the most upsetting sights is seeing those red and blue lights flashing in the rearview mirror. The situation is usually made more stressful if the driver is running late.

But, thanks to a new ticketing system, the whole traffic stop can be completed in less than five minutes. And in Huntington County, several police departments are getting on board with the relatively new technology.

Over the past two weeks, the Roanoke Police Department has been installing the new "e-ticketing" system in each of its three squad cars.

The new system, provided for by a state grant, allows officers to cut the time it takes to write a ticket from 10 to 15 minutes to just two to three, says Officer James Wood of the Roanoke Police Department.

"E-ticketing" saves time by making use of the barcode found on the reverse side of most drivers' licenses.
Each patrol car is equipped with a handheld barcode scanner, similar to those found in many retail chains.

The officer is able to simply scan the barcode, and all the information displayed on the front of a license is automatically entered into a laptop also installed in the cruiser. The same process can also be done with the barcode on the vehicle's registration.

The officer uses his or her laptop to complete the rest of the information, such as the crime committed (for example, speeding, running a red light, etc.), the location of the incident and the court system that the violator will be referred to should they choose not to pay the fine.

An in-car printer then prints the ticket using heat-sensitive paper, which does not require ink or laser cartridges to maintain, and the traffic stop is complete.

This whole process eliminates the tedious task of copying all the driver's information by hand onto a paper ticket.

In addition, officers can put up to four offenses on one ticket, instead of writing separate tickets for each offense.

For example, if a driver has been pulled over for speeding, reckless driving and a seatbelt violation, an officer can place all those offenses on one ticket in just a few minutes, whereas with paper tickets, the officer would have to write three separate tickets, taking up more and more time.

At the end of the shift, the officer forwards all the tickets to the local prosecutor. The officer is also able to take notes that will be sent to the prosecutor along with the ticket, with information such as how the driver treated the officer and reasons given by the driver for committing the violation.

The officer can also take notes that can only be seen by the officer himself or herself.

"I never use officer notes because it could get me into trouble," says Wood jokingly. "If I have something I want to say about (the driver), I want everyone to see it."

Wood also says that in addition to the convenience and time-saving qualities of the new system, it also makes the traffic stop safer for the officer and the driver due to the reduced amount of time on the side of the road.

E-ticketing also allows officers 48 hours to edit the tickets in any way, such as reducing the charge from a ticket to a warning.

The new system also has benefits for local taxpayers as well.

The old paper tickets cost about a dollar to produce, while the tickets printed out in the new e-ticket system cost just six cents. With thousands of tickets written each year, a lot of money can be saved by the new system.

"The savings are unbelievable," Wood says.

In addition, the barcode scanner also can take digital pictures of anything the officer wants, especially the license itself and the violator's license plates. That information is also stored with the ticket information and can be sent to the local prosecutor.

However, not all the bugs are worked out.

"Other states' licenses can crash our system," says Wood.

Wood specifically named Georgia IDs as ones that many jurisdictions using e-ticketing have had trouble with. So, as a precaution, the Roanoke Police Department is using the system only for Indiana licenses and registrations. Out-of-state offenders will still be receiving paper tickets in Roanoke for the near future.

Officers also do not know the criminal and driving records of the violator just by scanning the ID. The information must still be run through a database.

The biggest advantage is convenience for both the officer and the offender alike.

"The nice thing is that it's a lot less paperwork, and a lot less writing," Wood says.

Indiana State Police have had the technology for just over a year, and the city of Huntington Police Department got the system about a month ago. The Huntington County Sheriff's Department, the Markle Police Department and the Warren Police Department are all in the process of getting the system.