BY ART BUKOWSKI
TRAVERSE CITY — Holly Cartwright's son recently found an unpleasant surprise pinned to his car.
The Cartwrights live in Traverse City, and Holly's son Marshall took her vehicle to the Long Lake area to visit a friend. He left the vehicle parked on the road at night and later found he'd earned a ticket.
The citation was for violating a Grand Traverse County ordinance that prohibits night parking on county-maintained roads from Dec. 1 to March 31.
Marshall probably didn't know about the law, his mother said.
"I really don't think he had a clue," she said.
The county sheriff's department issued about 30 such citations since Dec. 1, compared to about 20 during the same time frame last year, court officials said.
The ordinance is primarily intended to make sure county plows can adequately clear roads during snowy months, Sheriff Tom Bensley said. Cars along snowy roads also create bottlenecks and cause other problems, he said.
"Number one, this is a safety issue," he said.
District Court Magistrate Tammi Rodgers said many people who receive such tickets say they don't know the ordinance existed. But their ignorance matters little, Bensley said.
"Just because you don't know it doesn't mean we can't enforce it," he said. "It's a driver's responsibility to know the regulations."
The sheriff's department generally doesn't go out looking for illegally parked vehicles, Bensley said.
Many tickets are the result of citizen complaints or deputies who happen to notice the vehicles as they go about their business, he said.
Dozens of signs are posted throughout the county, Rodgers said.
Several are visible along major roads at county lines and streets that lead out of Traverse City.
The county also periodically runs notices about the ordinance in the Record-Eagle.
But plenty of people aren't paying attention.
"A lot of people probably don't look at signs going into the county and remember 20 minutes later that they're not supposed to park there," said Leelanau County resident David Spencer, whose son recently received a ticket for leaving his truck on a Garfield Township road at night.
The county bans parking from 12 a.m. to 8 a.m., while the city through its own ordinance bans parking on residential streets from 3 a.m. through 6 a.m. from Nov. 16 through April 14. In both instances, vehicles could be towed if they create enough of an obstacle.
"If they're a hazard, they'll call a wrecker and haul them away," Bensley said.
The county ordinance also applies to major snowstorms outside of the designated overnight hours.
Fines and costs range up to $85 for a first offense, though court officials sometimes levy a reduced penalty.
County road commission Manager Jim Cook said the county has been unable to plow certain areas in recent times because of multiple parked vehicles.
A person who leaves their vehicle on the road not only risks a ticket, but could also find their vehicle plowed in, he said.