Thursday, August 21, 2008

How to avoid getting a traffic ticket

You've been 19’ed!

19 is police radio code for a traffic stop.

Anyone who likes being pulled over by the police raise your hand now.

That’s what I thought, no one.

Let’s face it, being pulled over for a traffic infraction ranks right up there on the annoyance scale with root canal and being audited by the IRS. The most obvious way is to get out of being written a ticket is to obey traffic laws. But if you read this to the end I’ll give you two or three other sure-fire ways to avoid being written up.

And if you do get stopped there are some ways to make your experience a little less stressful.

Just so you know, I am not a cop. These tips are gleaned from my own experiences and from interviews with actual traffic enforcement cops. What follows is not the final word; your mileage may vary.

The first thing to realize is that being pulled over for a broken tail light is not the end of the world. (NOTE: This rule does not apply if you’ve just robbed a bank and the money dye-pack has exploded coating you and everything in your car with a lovely shade of red.)

In most cases, if you are stopped for a minor infraction you’ll be on your way in less than five minutes. The officer takes your license and swipes it through a device that looks like a Palm pilot. The device reads your information and then the officer inputs the information about your infraction and the info is transferred to a portable printer that generates the citation. It’s all over in less time than it takes to smoke a cigarette.

If you’ve been stopped by a traffic enforcement cop whose primary job is to enforce traffic laws, chances are there is nothing you can say to change the cop’s mind.

No amount of tears, profanity or foot stomping will change that. It’s just a fact of life. You can make things go smoothly by not acting stupid. Stupidity during a traffic stop tends to make the situation spin out of control quickly and then pretty soon things like this happen.

In a 10 or 20 years of making traffic stops on the street, the average cop has written tens of thousands of tickets. They’ve seen it all. Just like you wouldn’t want someone to show up at your office and tell you how to do your job, the same holds true for cops. The streets are their office.

Don't disrespect a cop by telling him how to do things in his office.

A few more pointers:

First thing to remember is that NO ONE ever calls the police and says: “Hey, I’m having a wonderful day, can you send an officer over so I can share some fresh-baked cookies with him.”

Talk to cops the way you’d like to be talked to and your courtesy will likely be returned, even if you happen to run across a cop who’s arrogant or rude; there are some out there. Smile, sign the ticket and then go to court if you think he's wrong.

If you live in a small town like Miami Beach there’s a strong possibility you may run across that officer again if you screw up. Cops have very good memories. If you were courteous, he'll remember and if you acted like a jerk the last time you met, he'll remember that too.

Chances are that if you get pulled over for speeding you may not get out of being written for that but you might escape being written for a burned out tail light or a seat belt infraction. But if you start talking smack you're gonna get lots of tickets.

Some things cops don’t want to hear:
  • “I pay your salary.”
  • “Can’t you cut me a break?”
  • One officer told me that he doesn’t want to hear how many people on the force you know, however, he adds that if you insist on doing this at least get their rank right and pronounce their name correctly.
  • “You must have made a mistake.” This one is especially annoying to cops. I can tell you that having ridden with a few cops, they don't need to make stuff up and stop innocent people. They have more than they can handle with "real" offenders.

    One cop I talked with says he never cuts breaks on red light runners and stop sign runners. You're gonna get a ticket. Some will give you leeway on speeding and look the other way if you are going less than 15% over the limit.

    After spending a shift with one cop it dawned on me that traffic enforcement is like shooting fish in a barrel. You’d be amazed at how many people routinely break the law behind the wheel. Many drivers apparently think that cops are blind.

    A note on radar detectors: they don’t work.

    Here on Miami Beach they use laser, not radar. Laser works very differently from radar. The laser gun sends out a beam of laser light that is so narrow and precise it must be aimed with an optical sight, like those used by sharpshooters.

    Many officers aim at the grille or headlight. The speed of the vehicle is determined in less than a second. One officer told me that he once stopped a guy for speeding who had a $1,300 jammer. It caused the laser to start acting erratically, but only after it recorded the guy’s speed.

    OK, so is it possible to get out of being written a ticket? Sure.

    Here are a few actual instances of people who escaped being written:

  • Woman was stopped for speeding. She told the cop that she’d just had a sudden and unexpected bowel movement. Suddenly an odor that came from the car told him she wasn’t lying. She didn't get a ticket.

  • One cop stopped a guy for running a stop sign near a hospital. When he approached the car the guy pointed to his thigh, somehow he'd managed to run a six-inch piece of rebar through his leg. The cop let him go.

  • A few years ago one cop told me he stopped a guy for speeding on Washington Avenue. When he approached the driver he realized that it was a well-known Miami Beach restaurateur. Sitting beside him was his head chef who’d just severed one of his fingers. He got out of the ticket and was given an escort with light and sirens to the hospital.

    So, you can get out of a ticket, but the price may be high!

    Happy motoring.
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