The Globe researched where and when traffic violations tend to be issued in Massachusetts, and which types of violations drivers are cited for the most.
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Where police issue traffic violations
Where do police in Massachusetts issue the most traffic violations?
As a raw number, the places that saw the most violations handed out in the past several years are of little surprise. They are generally the most populated communities in the state — Boston, Springfield, Lowell, Worcester.
But the results get a bit more interesting if you look at the number of violations issued per capita or the number doled put per mile of roadway in each community.
For example, the small Massachusetts towns of Blandford, Sturbridge, and Becket saw the most violations issued per resident between 2010 and spring 2016.
Why? They all have one or more major, busy highways running through town, but relatively few residents.
“Sturbridge alone is intersected by Routes 90, 84, and 20, and the confluence of those highways is a very busy area,” State Police spokesman David Procopio said in an e-mail. “Blandford and Becket’s per capita citation rate is most likely the result of the Pike running through both towns.”
Another explanation for why some smaller communities might have higher rates of violations per resident than bigger cities:
“In some of the major city departments, violent crime calls, gangs, drugs, housebreaks and domestics make take up an inordinate amount of an officer’s time during the course of their shift at the expense of traffic enforcement,” said an e-mail from Brian Kyes, president of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police Association and chief of Chelsea Police.
Check out the three maps below to see how many violations were issued overall, per resident, and per road mile in your town in recent years:
A closer look at where State Police issue traffic violations
No police agency in Massachusetts issues more traffic violations than State Police — not even close.
From 2010 through 2015, State Police issued more than 2 million violations, accounting for about 40 percent of all violations issued in Massachusetts and about eight times higher than the next highest amount issued by a single agency.
The maps below highlight areas where police have issued the most violations in recent years.
They seem to show the highest numbers in communities that major highways run through, including the Massachusetts Turnpike, Interstates 95, 495, and 91.
State Police tend to patrol major highways, while municipal police departments tend to patrol the other roads in town, said Mark Leahy, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and former Northborough police chief.
But, don’t be fooled: State Police “can, and do, write citations for violations on local roads if we observe them,” department spokesman David Procopio said via e-mail.
A closer look at violations issued by municipal police
A closer look at violations issued to out-of-state drivers
The vast majority of traffic violations, about 87 percent in recent years, were issued to drivers from Massachusetts.
Out-of-state drivers account for the rest.
Because of New England’s compact size it’s not unusual to see a fair number of vehicles on the road with license plates from other states, police said.
The tourist attractions, sports teams with regionwide followings, and many colleges around state, particularly in the Boston area, also likely increase the number of out-of-state drivers traveling on Massachusetts roads, officials said.
Data show that drivers from states surrounding Massachusetts tend to receive the most violations. Also ranking fairly high were two faraway places: Florida and California.
Police noted that may be because both states are well-populated.
And, “We have many residents who split their time between winter homes in Florida and summer homes up here,” said Mark Leahy, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and former Northborough police chief.
Also there are a fair number of “Florida and California as well as NY license plates that make there way to Mass as rental vehicles,” said Brian Kyes, president of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police Association and chief of Chelsea Police.
John Carr, an activist with the Massachusetts chapter of the National Motorists Association, said he believes police do sometimes target enforcement on roadways near the state border, including to crackdown on drug trafficking.
And he said he believes that in some cases, whether a driver is from in-state or out-of-state may factor into whether police issue a fine or not.
But law enforcement officials denied those notions.
“It has not been my experience that any police flock to the border,” said Leahy. Instead, “They tend to stay in busier areas with a lot of traffic.”
And “I don’t believe in the non-resident vs. resident stuff at all, including lee-way, to be truthful,” he added.
Data show that State Police issued about 61 percent of all violations to out-of-state drivers.
Kyes said that is likely because State Police patrol major highways that are more likely than local roads to have out-of-state drivers traveling on them. But he said that neither State Police nor local police target out-of-state vehicles.
State Police spokesman David Procopio said: “We do not focus more intensely on border areas. Nor do we target non-Massachusetts registrations. We see violations. We don’t see cars or license plates, so to speak.”
Cambridge-based attorney Ryan Caselden, whose firm represents drivers who fight traffic violations, said that in his experience police tend to treat local and out-of-state drivers similarly.
“They probably issue them about the same,” he said.
When police issue traffic violations
Police in recent years issued more traffic violations in May than in any other month, state data show.
“The onset of nice weather brings more people onto the roads, resulting in more violations,” said State Police spokesman David Procopio.
Brian Kyes, president of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police Association and chief of Chelsea Police, said that there could also be a surge in traffic during May because of college commencements and students moving back home.
Meanwhile, there were noticeably fewer violations given out in December and February.
Officials said that cold and winter weather in those months may mean that there are fewer cars on the road.
February also simply has fewer days than other months.
And in December, there may be fewer officers patrolling roadways, at least for some departments, because they’re taking time off for the holidays, and the officers who are patrolling may be more forgiving during the holiday season.
Procopio said, however, that at least for State Police: “It is not a reflection of the number of troopers patrolling, as we make sure we have adequate and appropriate staffing levels every day of the year,” he said.
Friday had the highest number of violations in recent years, while significantly fewer were issued on Sunday, data show.
“Fridays see a high traffic volume, both in terms of the working commute, as well as the ‘get-away’ commute for people going on vacation for the weekend. Higher volume translates into more citations,” said Procopio. “Conversely, Sunday has a lower volume, with most people not commuting to jobs.”
Kyes said that because of heavier traffic volumes there may be more officers patrolling.
“More officers are usually deployed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday as opposed to Sunday, Monday and Tuesday — although this varies from department to department,” said Kyes.
Data show that the 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. hours were noticeably busier for issuing of violations than other hours, followed by the 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. hours.
The least busy times were the 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. hours.
Mark Leahy, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and former Northborough police chief, said both are a reflection of how busy roads are at those times.
“Day shifts are typically well patrolled, as things are busy,” he said. “Overnight shifts tend to have fewer patrols, as calls for service are fewer.”
When looking at the number of violations issued on each calendar day in recent years, one trend stood out: Dec. 25, Christmas Day, was consistently the date with the fewer violations issued.
Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve also had noticeably fewer violations than other dates.
“The answer is probably a combination of fewer drivers and officer discretion,” said Procopio. “We expect our troopers to be active, and also empower them to use discretion. So, yes, it is possible that, if it is a close call between warning and citation and everything else being equal, the trooper might lean toward the warning on a day like Christmas or Thanksgiving.”
Kyes said that, at least for some police departments holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving “are usually the shifts with the fewest personnel on duty due to vacations, holiday administrative schedules and compensatory time.”
The most common traffic violations issued in Mass.
Speeding is by far the most common violation Massachusetts drivers have been cited for in recent years, state data show.
About one in four violations were for speeding.
The next most common type — a distant second — was violations for not having a valid inspection sticker.
That was followed by failure to stop at a stop sign or red light, seat belt violations, and driving an unregistered vehicle.
John Carr, an activist with the Massachusetts chapter of the National Motorists Association, said he was surprised that speeding did not account for an even larger share of violations, and he was surprised to seat belt and inspection sticker violations ranked so high.
But law enforcement officials said the list of the most common violations issued was no surprise to them.
“This is what I would expect,” Brian Kyes, president of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police Association and chief of Chelsea Police, said in an e-mail. “Common mistakes made by motorists.”
Cambridge-based attorney Ryan Caselden, whose firm represents drivers who fight traffic violations, said the list of most common violation types fit with what he’s seen.
State Police spokesman David Procopio said troopers “do not pay special attention to any one type of offense. We are alert to any and all offenses.”
Of the five most common violation types, seat belt violation was the only type that is not a primary offense in Massachusetts, meaning people can only be cited for failing to wear a seat belt if they are stopped for another infraction first.
Massachusetts has for years had one of the lowest rates of seat belt use nationwide.
Police said that most drivers they issue violations to receive only one violation per stop.
|Type||2010||2011||2012||2013||2014||2015||Change 10 v. 15||% change|
|NO INSPECTION STICKER||73,919||74,890||76,896||64,114||69,215||60,378||(13,541)||-18%|
|FAILURE TO STOP||72,490||65,183||67,528||61,174||61,842||52,751||(19,739)||-27%|
|SEAT BELT VIOLATION||61,216||46,874||53,212||46,716||46,351||38,232||(22,984)||-38%|
|WEAVING BETWEEN LANES||33,324||30,661||35,121||32,402||33,537||30,320||(3,004)||-9%|
|OPERATING AFTER SUSPENSION||28,846||26,611||30,457||30,957||30,042||27,465||(1,381)||-5%|
|NO LIABILITY POLICY||19,236||18,473||17,778||17,597||17,577||16,189||(3,047)||-16%|
|NO LICENSE IN POSSESSION||5,508||13,520||14,543||13,462||13,212||11,328||5,820||106%|
|STATE HIGHWAY-TRAFFIC VIOLATION||4,017||11,108||12,558||13,490||13,607||11,981||7,964||198%|
|DRIVING TO ENDANGER||9,607||9,898||10,449||10,852||11,217||11,245||1,638||17%|
|NO REGISTRATION IN POSSESSION||4,310||10,929||11,083||10,210||10,212||9,033||4,723||110%|
|DISPLAY NUMBER PLATE||10,358||8,658||10,062||8,274||8,327||6,973||(3,385)||-33%|
|RMV/FED SAFETY REGS||5,426||9,239||8,372||8,680||8,724||7,032||1,606||30%|
|DWI ALCOHOL PROGRAM||8,272||7,788||8,465||7,848||7,557||5,955||(2,317)||-28%|
|OPERATING AFTER REVOCATION||7,211||6,996||7,075||7,147||7,096||6,624||(587)||-8%|
|RT OF WAY INTERSECTN||6,842||6,381||6,310||5,672||6,156||5,089||(1,753)||-26%|
|LEAVING SCENE PROP DAM||6,108||5,974||6,002||6,056||5,820||5,763||(345)||-6%|