The Issaquah High School student clocked doing 102 mph on Interstate 90 in December told the state trooper who pulled him over that he was trying to reach a friend stranded at Snoqualmie Pass.
Rather than pay a hefty fine and get the speeding citation on his driver’s record, the student elected to have his case heard in Issaquah Student Traffic Court in March. A jury of his peers — fellow high-school students — sentenced him to 36 hours of community service to be performed at a local nonprofit.
If he completes it, the case will be dismissed. The speeding ticket won’t go on his driving record and so likely won’t be reported to his insurance company. And he won’t have to pay a fine.
That alarmed some Issaquah parents when they learned of the case this spring.
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“It’s not even a slap on the wrist,” said Lori Runje, a parent with a sophomore at Issaquah High School. “I was horrified.”
Guidelines for the student traffic court at Issaquah High School say the program is for “minor” traffic infractions including speeding. But an examination of cases heard over the past several years at the Issaquah School District’s three high schools shows that the speeding case isn’t an anomaly, or even the most serious one to be handled in youth court.
The previous year, another Issaquah High School student was ticketed going 61 mph over the speed limit. And just last month, a student stopped for speeding lacked not only a driver’s license or a learner’s permit, but hadn’t even taken driver’s education.
Both cases were diverted to Issaquah Student Traffic Court.
Issaquah is one of several youth traffic courts in the county run in partnership with high schools, local district and municipal courts. The judges who oversee the student courts say the forum acknowledges that young drivers make mistakes and gives them a chance to correct their behavior. And, they say, having to acknowledge the wrongdoing to fellow students may make more of an impression than a brief court appearance — or mailing in a check to pay a fine.
“I understand people who say this is not the proper forum for some of these cases,” said Bothell Municipal Court Judge Michelle Gehlsen, who helped start the Bothell Youth Traffic Court in 2013.
But, she asked, “What has the most impact? Me, an adult who they don’t really listen to lecturing them, or other students asking them if they understand the harm they could have caused? It’s so much more educational than standing before a judge for two to three minutes.”
The state legislation that created student courts doesn’t limit the types of cases that can…