You're Going to Get a Traffic Ticket Soon
How soon? Well that depends on what kind of shape your state's economy is in. But from the experiences I have been gathering from friends, relatives, co-workers, and of course my own life, I think it's safe to say you'll be paying some sort of penalty within one year.
I've written about speeding tickets before, and parking tickets, too. There was a time when a traffic violation was a rare thing in your life. In fact, some people (like my own Father In-Law) have never once received a ticket. But the clock is ticking on his perfect record, and if you have one, it could soon be tainted.
The reason is simple. Money. Actually, a severe lack of money. Every state in America is feeling the ill effects of the past decade, and they are all desperately looking for ways to balance the budget. And time and again, one reliable source of income in tough times has been traffic tickets.
Check out this lovely fact, discovered by researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock:
A 10% decrease in revenue growth caused a 6.4% increase the following year in the growth rate of traffic tickets.
That's no coincidence. No way. What are the odds that when times are tough, and people have less money, they suddenly throw caution to the wind and start speeding more, or tailgating, or running red lights? It would have the opposite effect actually; the less money you have, the less likely you are to do anything to jeopardize it.
And yet, in tough times, tickets go up. Nationwide, the average speeding ticket is around $150. And in the U.S., 93,000 speeding tickets are issued every day! (That is an updated, and more accurate, number from the previous article I wrote.) Simple math will lead you to the princely sum of $5.1 billion! That's not exactly a sum you can slash from the budget. In fact, it's easy money for the state to collect. And now that the cupboard is bare, your Old Mother Hubbard state is looking at you for the cash. (Those and many other engrossing facts are listed here.)
As USA Today reported (and I myself recently experienced) the old 5-10mph cushion that officers used to allow for motorists is disappearing, and fast. Several officers I talked to in the course of researching this article told me that anything more than 2mph over the speed limit is a moving violation, and subject to a fine and points. That 2mph is basically a margin of error for their equipment, they are not saying 2mph over is ok.
At the same time I was being told this, I also learned about "ticket hauls." What are they, you may ask? Well, on the days that the officers assigned to traffic duty, they have to bring in as many tickets as possible in a certain period; usually around four hours. You will recognize a ticket haul when you see several police cars and bikes pulling over motorists on the side of the road, usually in a notorious speed trap for that area.
My recent incident involved an area that should by all accounts be a 55mph zone (I say this because across town there is an identical road, in the same urban surroundings, that has 55mph and 65mph posted limits). The road was a 30mph zone, rising to 35mph, which I find so odd as the roads around my home, a very suburban neighborhood, are 45mph. Anyway, I didn't see the 30mph sign (thank you tree), stuck to a few over 35mph and got a ticket. The officer had to explain why I was pulled over as I was clueless, and even had to show me the exact point at which the road went from 30 to 35, and how they clocked me just before it. He said it looking down at the ground. I think it was shame, I can't be sure. Now I have a $110 fine and 2 points on my license, not to mention a nice hike in my insurance rates.
And because of all of the above, it means everyone is now a candidate for a ticket, whether it's speeding or something else. Even if you drive like Miss Daisy, you are in the crosshairs now.
You see, speeding may be the most popular form of traffic ticket, but it's not the only one. Aggressive driving tickets are on the up (check out TACT for more information) and you will get a fine and 2-4 points on your license for driving aggressively. This includes cutting of other cars and trucks, tailgating, passing on the wrong side, staying in a truck's blind spot and more.
Then there are the other violations that used to be just a warning. A headlight out, for instance, is a ticketable offence. Texting and driving, or any other kind of cell phone use, is very ticketable (with good reason). Technically, you're not even supposed to eat or drink anything whilst driving, despite the cup holders. And then there are those red light cameras. They have been proven not to deter anyone from running a red, but there are more of them going up daily. The reason? Ticket revenue.
You can bet your bottom dollar that the authorities are now using every traffic violation available to increase their ticket hauls. And before you go cursing out the officers, don't. They have about as much choice in the matter as you do. These are orders, and are imposed because of budget issues. Basically, issue the tickets or watch jobs and equipment get cut. And it's all done under the banner of "making the roads a safer place." While that's obviously true, and we all want safer roads, why is safety so much more of a concern when your state has a budget crisis?
That's the bad news. Now, what can you do about it?
Not much. For those who say "don't speed then" you are making a more complex issue way too simple. Sometimes, you genuinely believe you are obeying the speed limit, hence the name "speed trap." You may even be so careful that you go too slow, and once again the ticket book can come out. But here are a few tips you can use above and beyond your usual driving ways. They probably won't prevent the inevitable, but they may help delay it significantly.
Use Your GPS to Monitor Your Speed
If you have a GPS in the car, and it's any good, it will tell you not only how fast you are traveling but what the posted limits are for the roads you are on. I switch mine on whenever I'm driving now, and keep my speed in the green bar, which occasionally turns yellow (you're a few mph over). If it goes red, even for a second, I take my foot off the gas.
Do Not Just "Go With Traffic" and Expect to Be Safe
It's a common excuse that used to carry water, but not any more. If you are doing 65mph in a 55mph zone, because everyone else is doing it, then you can still get a ticket. True, it may be harder for the officer to single you out, but it doesn't mean they won't do it. Use the slow lane if you have to. And that leads nicely to my next point.
Do Not Give in to Road Hogs and Bullies
I was doing 41mph in a 40mph zone today. The pick-up truck behind me was so close, I could see the driver hadn't shaved in a few days. He was weaving around, putting his hands up in the air, making obvious gestures that I was a slow coach, before finally leaning on his horn and then overtaking me on a blind corner. It's not easy to drive under that pressure, but you are doing nothing wrong. And the people who tailgate you, they'll be getting their ticket, and financial lesson, long before you will.
Watch Your Speed at all Times
It can creep up on you, especially if you use cruise control. Keep your eyes peeled for signs and stay at the speed limit or just a fraction above it.
Do Not Be an Aggressive Driver
TACT is being enforced now, in various states. If you get too close to a truck or car, or cut one off, you could see a ticket. Give every car on the road plenty of room. I think one car length for every 10mph of speed is good.
Keep Your Vehicle in Top Shape
If you don't have a modern car, it may not inform you that a light is out. Check the lights regularly, you do not want a ticket for something as small as a $15 bulb change. Also, poorly maintained vehicles stick out like a sore thumb. You want your car to be something that does not attract attention.
Avoid Driving on Public Roads
Not easy this one, but try taking a bicycle to the library or coffee shop. Take the bus or light rail to work. Those are ways to virtually eliminate the chances of a traffic ticket.
Wear Your Seatbelt At All Times
Seems like a "duh" suggestion, but if you get pulled over for a traffic violation and your seatbelt is off, that's another ticket. Of course, you have no reason not to ear a seatbelt anyway, so "click it or ticket."
Stay Away From the Fast Lane
This is reserved for overtaking, or at least it should be, but is usually inhabited by drivers who like to floor it. And if you keep up with these guys, you're in the ticketing zone.
Watch for the Police
They will park their cars in similar spots each day, and will drive unmarked cars that are covered in mirrors and aerials. Keep your eyes peeled. Don't rely on a radar detector either, they are not reliable and only serve to really annoy a cop if you're pulled over.
Pay Attention to the Headlight Flash
Other motorists will warn you if they notice a cop car ahead of you by flashing their lights. If you notice it, they're not being friendly, they're telling you to slow it down.
Watch Motorists Around You, Especially Ahead
If you notice more brake lights coming on than usual, there may be a speed trap ahead. Truckers also communicate with each other, so if the trucks around you slow down, do the same. They may already know of a police car in wait.
I'm sure you can think of more ways to stay alert, so please, leave them in the comments area. Now, I'm not advocating speeding in this article, I am against anything that is unsafe driving. But I think that we are now, as a society, having to pay for our government's shortfalls by getting these tickets that are completely unnecessary. Drive safe everyone.
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