Jun 29, 2009

Tips For Saving On Traffic Fines: Handling Traffic Stops

With the Independence Long Weekend around the corner, I thought of writing something about road-trips. I just love them!

Recently I went to Wilmington, DE on my first longest road-trip since I bought my car. Though it was (only?) 5 hours drive but driving alone all-the-way down and coming back isn't that exciting! (driving pleasures apart) It was a Saturday morning when I started, drove through New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware; while the surroundings change there were few common things throughout: us behind the wheels trying to stick to our plans and those watching us doing so safely. Yeah, those here refer to the state patrol troops, rangers and police officers. While they do their duty penalizing if we disobey, we still have chances to save on those fines.

On my way to Delaware I saw some cars pulled over and may be most of them got fined for violating traffic laws, that left me pondering over the topic and inspired me to share this on Let's Be Curious. This is what the article is about: tips on how to tackle a traffic stop and avoid getting a fine.
  • Yearly Speeding Tickets by State

Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is a non-profit organization which administers several programs to enforce safe driving habits on interstates. GHSA conducts and publishes relevant surveys from time to time under title 'Survey Of The States'. Most recent and relevant one I found was published in 2005 based on three years data on 'speeding' habits.

I was amazed by the numbers when I grazed over the report. Let me tabulate some of the eye-catchers:

Average Speeding Citations Over Past Few years
California 957,758
Texas 553,912
Illinois 441,303
Dist. Of Columbia 385,618
Massachusetts 363,688
North Carolina 360,000
Maryland 358,729
South Carolina 280,142
Pennsylvania 224,258

Note: Although GHSA operates in all states but data for some of them was not available, including New York!

This table itself is enough to give an idea about how much revenue these citations might be generating for the states, worth driving and behaving careful while at the wheels fellas, read on ...
  • The Golden Rule - Keep Watching For Signs On Road
No sign will ever say "there's a cop ahead", but they do tell us what cops don't want us to do. It's really simple and I shouldn't be telling you if you have a valid driving license: keep scanning the road signs while you are driving and follow them, because,

- it is safe
- it is recommended
- it gives you sufficient time to adjust to changing traffic conditions
  • Dealing With A Traffic Ticket
Let's get down to business. So you see flashing lights in your rear mirror and (to make it worse) hear sirens calling you from continuing your journey, what to do next? How to talk to the officer? What to say? (More importantly) What NOT to say?
    1. Stop Immediately, Safely and Properly
The officer behind you is there because you (potentially) had violated a law, start acting responsibly asap. Keep the following things in mind while pulling over:

a) Pull-off to a safe position on right, if there is shoulder then stop on the

b) Turn-off engine
c) Keep your driver license and vehicle registration ready
d) Roll down driver side window, if not already
e) Keep both your hands on steering
f) Think what is the speed limit of this zone. If you don't remember use your
experience and judgement to come-up with something logical and safe.

Traffic stops are supposed to be very dangerous tasks in a Police Officer's day-to-day activities and thus they are extra cautious when approaching the stopped vehicle. Any kind of movement in the vehicle by driver OR any of passengers is seen as highly suspicious, don't just do it. If you are in between any of the above steps when officer approaches, just stop whatever you are doing. Stay calm and wait for the officer's arrival at your window.
    1. Be Quiet, Let Officer Say The First Words - The 2 Important Questions
Remember, any thing you say can be used against you in court so don't talk in the hurly-burly, be calm and let the officer begin the conversation. Almost all the traffic stops follow two questions to the driver:

a) Do you know why you are stopped?
b) Do you know at what speed you were going?

Every traffic ticket can be challenged in court and this is officer's attempt to make you admit something which will wipe out all your chances to do so. Take your time to collect yourself and answer when you are ready. Below are the best of the responses to above questions:

a) Do you know why you are stopped? Answer: No officer.
b) Do you know at what speed you were going? Answer: Use the limit you
recollected/calculated as told in the previous section.

Never even try to admit what went wrong on your part, there are high chances that you might say something which the officer had not yet noticed. Never say you don't know what speed you were going at, you are responsible for maintaining your speed within safe limits and that's what the speed limit signs are meant for.

Based on my experience with speed limits in New York state, here are few limits I always remember:

a) Interstates - 65 mph
b) State Highways - 55 mph
c) When entering a city/town/village - 45 mph
d) City/Village/Town - 30-35 mph
e) Watch out for reduced speeds for road works
  1. Be Polite And Respect Their Job
The officer who stopped you might be starving, experiencing extreme weather conditions and what not, just to make the roads safer for everybody. Being rude, arrogant, insulting or authoritative is the easiest way to invite a traffic ticket. Officers, many a times, stay neutral about citations until they talk to the driver. You may want to consider this situation, it is very likely that an officer may just let you go with a warning word. Moreover an officer's testimony to your arrogant behavior may result in the judge to sentence increased fines in court. Respect officers, they are doing their jobs to make our road trips and journeys enjoyable and safe.
  1. If You Get A Ticket, Plead Not-Guilty ASAP
If above steps didn't work and you got home with a ticket then immediately plead not-guilty and return the ticket to the court at the earliest possible. It's always suggested to accompany your plea with a letter to District Attorney (DA) explaining:

a) Who are you

b) You realize the severity of getting points on your driving record
c) Your have an impeccable record so far
d) Request to dismiss a ticket or at least reduce the fine and/or points

Many a times it is also suggested to try to postpone the appearance date in court in a hope for the officer who issued you the ticket would not show and ticket will be dismissed, I am not sure how much this trick may help, let me know if you have had any such experience.
  1. Consult Any Free Services Available
Look around and find out if there are any free suggestions available to you. Talk to friends, tweet your questions, ask for experiences, what-to's and what-not-to's. Communicate on Orkut, Facebook, MySpace, etc ........... Most universities usually have a free law consulting department for students, find that out if you are a student. Many traffic lawyers give limited suggestions without charging any fee.
  1. Be Ready To Accept Any Deal Offered In Court
Appear on time at court on the given date. Carry all required documents. Upon reaching, look for the DA or the officer who cited you. It happens both ways: the officer (or DA) fights to have you pay the fine to the state treasury while you try to eliminate any fine or at least minimize it. In an attempt to make this happen in a mutually beneficial way, the authorities typically make you an offer. The offers may vary among a wide number of options but mainly to:

a) reduce the fine
b) reduce the points on your record
c) reduce both
d) reduce severity/charges of the ticket

Usually accepting these offers results in reduced fines, at least; only thing they need you to do is accept the reduced charges. There have been many instances when people rejected the offers and contended to prove their case, resulting in a win and dismissal of all citations. However, to make sure winning a case in a traffic court needs rigorous planning and adequate evidences, if you are confident you have those, it's worth giving it a try.
  • Try To Avoid A Ticket In Future
Start taking lessons from life right away, do your best to avoid getting into the traffic ticket traps again. Always follow traffic rules, never violate a law, drive safe and make proper decisions. If you had got a traffic ticket and managed to get out of it or got your fines reduced, please leave your story and any tips for readers.

1 comment: