Will you be one of the 100,000 people to get a speeding ticket today? According to reports published by the U.S. Highway Patrol, this adds up to 41,000,000 tickets a year, or one for every six drivers. With an average speeding ticket costing $150, this also adds up to over six billion dollars a year. If you think that sounds swanky, in some European countries such as Switzerland, Germany, and Finland, the cost of speeding tickets is adjusted based on income. One driver in Switzerland was fined a record (and bank) breaking $290,000.
How fast is too fast?
This is one I always wonder, particularly after passing ever-so-sneaky police cars. According to reports out of Maryland the majority of tickets, about 44%, are given to those driving 10-19mph over the limit. However, another quarter are given to those speeding from 1-9mph over the limit. So the best way to avoid a speeding ticket? Avoiding speeding.
Innocent until proven guilty
What are your odds if you fight the system? According to the Bureau of Justice’s survey, an average of 85% drivers pulled over admit that they have been stopped for a legitimate reason. And on average, 95% of tickets go uncontested. However, insurance companies say that radar fails between 10-20% of the time. And if radar is used on a moving vehicle, the error rate jumps to around 30%. This means that the 10% of drivers that think that they are pulled over in error do nothing about it, when they probably should–the majority of contested tickets are dismissed or reduced.
According to Reader’s Digest, there are a lot of technicalities that can get your ticket dismissed. In some states, if your officer doesn’t show to the court date, all fines are automatically dropped. Other states require that an officer riding shotgun be present as well. Check for typos on the ticket and check to see if a correctly marked speed limit sign is within a quarter mile of the place that you were pulled over. However, these technicalities do vary by state. If you’re Googling this on the way to the courthouse, it’s probably too late. Also get your eyes back on the road.
So you’re pulled over.
Rule number one: No sudden movements.
Make pulling you over the most pleasant part of their day.
Most people store their insurance and registration in the glovebox, but officers suggest that you keep your information within reach on the driver’s side. Any movements that could be you reaching for a gun freak the heck out of the cop.
A former Virginia State Trooper offers tips to keep the officer pulling you over at ease. First, pull over somewhere that you and the officer are both safe from traffic. Although you shouldn’t stop in the middle of the street, don’t wait too long, either: the more viable options you pass, the more the officer will think that you’re stashing something (unless you are stashing something, then cruise on, my shady friend). Also keep in mind that police officers are trained to think of your car as a weapon that could be used against them, especially as they approach your car. Keep your hands on the wheel and the engine off.
Most of all, you should always stay in the car. “I didn’t want anyone out of the car, ever,” says our source. “I don’t care if you’re the baddest officer there is, there’s always someone out there who’s badder than you.”
Rule number two: Mind your manners
In Virginia, officers can charge you with disorderly conduct for language that is offensive, derogatory, or profane. While that speeding ticket will come and go, disorderly conduct goes on your criminal record.
If you’re the anti-authority-second-shooter-on-the-grassy-knoll type, just know that you do have to tell an officer your name, address, and date of birth. All of this is on your driver’s license, so if you’re playing strong and silent, police say that it’s legal for you to just hand it over. Even insurance companies agree that you can give too much information. They say that you shouldn’t admit your speed, but they do suggest that you offer a truthful explanation. Or at least mostly truthful. “Late for work” is good, “Explosive diarrhea” is better.
Rule number three: Smile for the camera.
All the sweet talking in the world does you no good if you’re caught by a traffic camera, which will automatically send a picture of your violation to your place of residence, along with a ticket. According to a study done by insurance companies, an automated traffic camera in Texas generated almost $180 million dollars in just 8 years, even though it only serviced something like 56,000 residents. Did the thing go haywire? According to an internal review published by the state of Maryland, automated cameras are only set to catch those speeding over 12mph. So keep it to 11, and while you’re at it, insurance companies say not to park near one of these radar cameras. People are often falsely ticketed as a speeding driver passes.
Rule number four: Call 911.
Why would you call the police when you’re being pulled over by the police? Although calling the cops on yourself seems like a poor strategy, it could save your life.
Once upon a time there was a nineteen-year-old college student named Laura. You may have heard the tale: when pulled over by an unmarked cop car in an unpopulated area, Laura dialed 112 (or #667, or #77, depending on the version of the story). This number told her that the car behind her was not a police vehicle, and they sent a real policman to her rescue.That story isn’t true, but this one is: this year two Mississippi drivers were pulled over by a car with false police lights and sirens. Neither lived to tell the tale.
While a suspect has been apprehended in the Mississippi case, police say that officer impersonation is on the rise.
Officer Clarence Williams works for the Los Angeles Police Department. He’s witnessed firsthand the increase in officer impersonations with the increased availability of uniforms and badges in the internet age, where authentic police equipment and apparel can be auctioned off online. He says that most, but not all, of these crimes committed by fake cops are thefts: “Normally the criminal pulls over a citizen, quickly flashes a badge, and then commits some type of robbery.”
Colleen Long investigates the rise in police impersonation for USA Today. In New York City, as many as 100 suspects every year are charged with impersonating an officer. As a result, the NYPD has had to form an entire unit dedicated to stopping this. Lt. John P. McGovern runs the unit and says that most of the cases he deals with are home invasions or robberies. He recalls one suspect who, disguised as an officer on a bicycle, handcuffed and robbed his victims for months before being apprehended.
Long spoke with criminal psychologist Dr. Naftali Berril about this phenomenon: “You wave a badge at someone and tell them to pull over and you’d be amazed at how many people are going to obey.”
In some places, such as Los Angeles, an unmarked car cannot perform a traffic stop. In other places, it is legal to put on your hazards and drive the speed limit to the nearest police station. The first thing to do is check the patrol car’s flashing lights. Civilian hazards blink in parallel, and police lights alternate between left and right. Police lights are brighter than standard and emergency lights should flash in more than one place. You can also call the police and request a uniformed responder to come to your location. Although none of Laura’s numbers are real, there is a list of specific phone numbers that you can call to contact local law enforcement.