Friday, July 31, 2009

Chapter 4: Getting Out of a Traffic Ticket

In society people often do not want justice, they more often than not want their way. Traffic stops by police officers are often a 'tell all' in human motivation. As a former Atlanta police officer and now a civilian, I realize how important it is to obey the rules of the road. Just imagine that with the invention of the automobile came the rules of the road. How many accidents and deaths occurred before citizens were required to 'earn' a driver's license? Traffic laws serve many purposes, but two immediately come to mind. First, traffic laws help preserve the sanctity of life. Secondly, traffic laws help generate revenue for municipalities and other governmental structures.

First, the sanctity of life is the most precious moral and legal edict we have as human beings. If there is no high regard for the right to exist unencumbered by the likelihood of being harmed or killed than we could not call ourselves a "civilized society". It is our sense of fair play and well being that distinguishes us from the lower forms of creation. Although, as individuals we choose to act contrary to this ideology as a society it is the one thing that keeps us psychologically safe and secure. Traffic laws allow us to know that the status quo protects us from unwarranted attacks. Again, usually there are not individuals who set out to do us bodily harm, but acting in their own self-interest, we are hurt by the selfishness of others.

The worst case of this selfishness is referred to in contemporary terms as "Road Rage". This is when someone acts violently on a thoroughfare when he or she believes that some one has offended him in some manner. The term "offend" is purely subjective, because while a traffic law may have been violated, the party takes it as a personal attack on this person. On any given morning, a person's alarm clock will malfunction, or he hits the snooze button one time too many causing him to be a few minutes late leaving home for work. His only thought at that time is getting to work on time. What are his motives for "zig-zagging" in and out of traffic. One reason may be that he is up for a promotion and punctuality is one of the criteria for advancement. A second reason may be that this is the fifth time within a week that he has been late and fears termination. Thirdly, as self respecting humans we feel bad when we fall short from our personal best. We know we are to be at work at 9:00AM. However, we feel like our employers are judging who we are as individuals when we come into work at 9:05AM. As we are hustling to get to work on time, we are not mindful of the harm our selfishness is causing to society. We don't intend to do any harm when we are creating close calls on the highway because we wanted ten more minutes of sleep.

On the other hand, the other driver has his own agenda. He has made up in his mind what it is to be self-respecting and what he will and will not tolerate. Somewhere he was taught that anything remotely resembling disrespect should be dealt with violence and revenge. In his world view, everyone is out to get you and you must be careful. After all, a real man doesn't let people take advantage of him. The man "zig-zagging" in and out of traffic is disrespecting his belief system and must be punished. It starts out with excessive horn blowing. Next, there is some lewd gesture with his finger or some other non-verbal expression. Finally it escalates, if these expressions are not exhaustive enough, into his taking the law into his own hand via the car as a weapon or a gun.

All of this because one man decided to wake up ten minutes late! Traffic laws are designed to protect you if you decide to be late and while you may lose your job, you shouldn't lose your life.

Secondly, traffic laws are revenue generating. Municipalities are merely public companies. They need money to exist. Typically, cities gain revenue from taxes ranging from sales on items to the property of homeowners. When this is not enough, revenue is also generated from traffic tickets. Some jurisdictions have "quotas", which are a specific number of tickets an officer must maintain to remain competitive with his colleagues. While this practice has been struck down as illegal and unconstitutional, police departments still maintain this practice. The idea behind it's illegality is that someone has to get a ticket for revenue to be generated and for departments to appear to be doing a proactive job of punishing traffic violators.

On the surface, thus is not necessarily a bad thing. Police officers are not concocting the fact that a person ran a red light when he thought it was yellow. The idea is that if the officer has to get ten tickets within a day, the first ten people are automatically guaranteed a ticket to make his quota. The next ten possible violators are not as critical, because the quota has already been made. Society wants to feel that everyone who is caught violating a traffic law will be dealt with equally, not that there be a "witch hunt" out for the first ten violators merely because a department has set this policy. Police officers participate in this practice in part for selfish motives. The incentive of being viewed as a large ticket producer can be tied into better off days, a regular beat car, or a myriad of other incentives he deems favorable. As a former police officer, I disliked roadblocks because it had less to do with catching criminals and more to do with writing tickets, typically "no proof of insurance" or "no license on person". Both are viewed as negligible violations, but it bolsters the monthly statistics sheet. Again, while this practice in part is to raise revenue for a city, it does not apply to all people. A person stopped for the aforementioned violations who happen to be a politician or aid to the mayor might be absolved of getting a ticket. This goes back to the inherent abuses of people within a system. Actually, the person who is a politician or aid to the mayor shares the same views as everyone else. H wants his way. Why else would the average citizen commence to giving an officer a roll call of all the police officers he knows. Is he trying to establish a friendship with the officer? No, he is trying to influence the officer by showing how many officers he has come in contact with the hope that this gets him out of a ticket.

So is there a way of beating a ticket? (Racial profiling?) In getting out of a ticket, I refer you to our earlier discussion with The Letter of the Law versus the Spirit of the law. These factors will definitely be the determining factor as to whether you will escape receiving a ticket. There are no hard and fast rules, but there is something that you can do to help your case. This will only work if your justification is valid. As we discussed earlier, police officers share the same experiences as anyone else and as such can identify with any reasonable request. For example; Mr. Porter is speeding on I-85 North! He is driving 85 MPH in a 55MPH zone. He isn't driving recklessly, but he is passing cars at warp speed. Officer Melton is on the side of the road and clocks Mr. Porter on his radar gun going 86MPH. Officer Melton catches up to Mr. Porter and pulls him over. Officer Melton walks slowly to the car, because he is suspicious of the reasons that Mr. Porter would be driving at such a high rate of speed. As Officer Melton approaches the car, he sees Mr. Porter trying to console a female passenger who is breathing and sweating heavily. Officer Melton notices that the female passenger is pregnant. Mr. Porter tells Officer Melton, before he can say anything, that his wife is expecting any moment and needs to get to the hospital. Officer Melton radios dispatch to apprise them of the situation. He advises that he will escort Mr. Porter to the hospital and to alert hospital officials to be on the alert. Officer Melton knows the hospital is one exit away and tells Mr. Porter to slow down as he follows Officer Melton. Once officer, Melton completes escorting Mr. Porter to hospital, does he in turn give Mr. Porter a ticket for speeding? Under most cases, probably he would not. There is a logical justification for Mr. Porter to speed. Another possible choice might be Officer Melton, who may have prior experience delivering babies, opting to wait for the paramedics and he take over if they don't get there on time. He decides that he does not want to be responsible for a potential accident that Mr. Porter may experience for driving too fast in following Officer Melton to the hospital. The choice is up to Officer Melton to make the best and safest choice, but it is doubtful that Mr. Porter would receive a ticket.

You may say that is too easy. Of course, an emergency situation warrants this type of response! The point is that even a police officer who believes in the letter of the law would not charge Mr. Porter for a violation. Some situations cut to the core of being human and we all can identify. The fact of the matter is that any violation that cannot be justified with an emergency should warrant a ticket. In some cases, citizens have become so selfish and vindictive that when a mere warning was issued, the citizen complained on the police officer. Some attractive women are notorious for using their feminine wiles to get out of a ticket. Some police officers have fallen for it and found themselves answering the questions from supervisors such "Ms. Johnson said you pulled her over, did you give her a ticket?" "Well if you didn't, why not? She said you wanted her telephone number for a date!" We have a nice gesture that was purely innocent turned into an investigation of the officer's conduct. The best way to get out of a traffic ticket is to have an overwhelming reason to have violated a traffic law.

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