It may not be the hottest summer on record, but in my business, these are still the dog days of summer.
So on Wednesday, when the Winnipeg Police Service assembled reporters for an unanticipated stunner of a news conference, it turned out they had a welcome gift to more than just the story-starved media. Hundreds of Winnipeggers were about to get something to really howl about.
At the police service's request, the province was walking away from more than $1 million in photo-radar fines. The tickets had been wrongly worded when they were issued during a five-day period to more than 2,500 owners whose vehicles had sped through a designated construction zone on Kenaston Boulevard near Whyte Ridge.
Even Len Eastoe, the former cop turned professional ticket fighter, was shocked. And he had advance knowledge of the tickets being botched. Eastoe had been alerted soon after the notices began arriving in the mail. Initially, a police officer told him the tickets hadn't referenced the proper section of the newly amended construction-zone section of the Highway Traffic Act. Why would a police officer share that with Eastoe? Because the cop had been tagged with one of the tickets and he was looking for help from Eastoe at Traffic Ticket Experts.
"There were a couple of policemen who got 'em," Eastoe told me Wednesday.
Eastoe didn't volunteer which police service they worked for. But he did say one of the cops had been fined $1,200.
Construction-zone fines are doubled, you understand. Or maybe you didn't.
The cop's fine put him at the top end of the ones that crossed Eastoe's desk. Most were in the $400 to $600 range, although there were some that clocked in at $805 and $705.
So how fast was the top-end cop going to earn a $1,200 ticket?
Well, if you know that going 80 km/h in a posted 60 km/h construction zone on Kenaston costs about $620, by my calculation the officer must have been doing around 100 km/h. In a construction zone, remember.
In any event, as Eastoe was saying, the cop believed it was invalid.
"I thought, 'You're exactly right,' " Eastoe recalled.
But he also knew the Crown could have the wording corrected and proceed with charges anyway. There was precedent. It had been successfully done several years earlier in a similar case involving a red-light camera. And Eastoe recalled over the course of the last couple of weeks, when his partner spoke with Crown attorneys, that was the direction they appeared to be heading: Amend the wording on all 2,500 tickets and carry on with the charges.
"You think they're going to walk away from that kind of money?" Eastoe told his cop client. "Ha, ha, ha" he laughed. "I was dead wrong."
On Wednesday it was the hundreds of ticketed drivers with those hundreds of dollars in vanished fines who probably thought they had the last "ha, ha, ha" laugh.
But, if you'll pardon the expression, not so fast. None of it is funny and there's lots to learn from what happened.
Eastoe says drivers have been confused about construction-zone speeds, and are still uncertain since the amendments became law last month.
They're confused, he argues, because the signage isn't consistent.
He says there is supposed to be speed signage indicating the start and end of a construction zone. But he contends what's confusing is the variety of signage, and some of the signals they send. According to Eastoe, there are still some signs that refer to reduced speed "when passing workers."
"And people look around and don't see any workers and they think, 'Oh, well.' "
But reduced-speed signs are supposed to be obeyed even if there are no construction workers present.
"People are not adjusting to that, yet," Eastoe says. "And it's confusing."
He thinks signage might have been the other issue that caused police to request those 2,500 tickets be abandoned. I prefer to think police decided, as they suggested at the news conference, it was the right thing to do. What concerns me more is that hundreds of drivers don't seem to care they should reduce speed in a construction zone.
And that 60 means 60. Not 100.