Judge tosses Seattle speeding ticket over wordy sign

by: Linzi Sheldon Updated:

A Burien man took on the city of Seattle after he received a speeding ticket and got that ticket thrown out for being too wordy.

But Jason Canfield said his fight is not over yet, because he wants Seattle’s Department of Transportation to review and improve its signage.

“I want to let people know [about it], so there’s some pressure on the city,” he said.


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Canfield said back in May of 2016, signs on Delridge Way Southwest told him there was a school in the vicinity, but did not warn him that the speed limit was dropping to 20 miles an hour ahead.

When he got to the actual speed limit sign, which is accompanied by flashers and a notice of photo enforcement, he said he found the instructions confusing for a moment because of how many messages were posted on the pole.

“It’s definitely something that impacts your reaction time, because you need time to see a sign, react to it, and then hit the brakes and slow down,” he said. “It takes quite a while to do that.”

Canfield got a $234 ticket. Then he began researching and discovered that national standards call for only one plaque that says 'WHEN FLASHING'. The sign in question had two — one that reads, 'WHEN CHILDREN ARE PRESENT’ and other that reads, ‘OR WHEN FLASHING.’ After the ticket was upheld in Seattle Municipal Court, Canfield appealed and a King County Superior Court judge ruled in his favor on May 26.

It's similar to a case from 2014 in which local attorney Joe Hunt got his ticket in a North Seattle school zone thrown out because the sign said ‘WHEN LIGHTS ARE FLASHING’ — two too many words.

“It sounds like it's a technicality, but there's a significant difference,” Hunt said then.

In 2014, the Seattle Department of Transportation changed four of its signs.

This time, SDOT told KIRO 7 it is still getting up to speed on what this ruling means for them. An SDOT spokesperson said Wednesday in an email, “While the department does evaluate and monitor safety programs, making adjustments when necessary to improve safety efficiency, Seattle is one hundred percent committed to our Vision Zero mission. Therefore, I can't imagine that we will reduce efforts to keep students safe any time soon."

SDOT said that speed cameras and their signs have been a success in reducing collisions, the main focus of Vision Zero.

Canfield said he wants students to be safe as well.

“I don't want people speeding in school zones,” he said. He hopes SDOT will review the federal manual and see where the city could make things clearer for drivers.

“Give people an opportunity to follow the law, rather than, ‘We'll nail you once and then you’ll know better next time,’” he said.

As for any other people who might be hoping to appeal their tickets as well, KIRO 7 discovered that municipal court judges are not bound by this one superior court ruling. That means they can rule however they want on other people’s tickets.

If people choose to appeal a ruling against them to the superior court level, they should know Canfield has already spent about $800 fighting the ticket and has not received $234 back for the ticket so far.

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