Too late, you see it: the hood of a highway patrol car parked in the roadside bushes. Or perhaps it's a black and white motorcycle nestled behind a billboard, or a lone figure standing on the shoulder with a radar gun. You stand on your brakes, hoping you're sudden change in speed isn't too obvious. But you know you've been caught.
Nothing saps the fun from a road trip like being pulled over. Driving the speed limit is certainly the best way to avoid traffic tickets and stay safe, but many of us occasionally fall victim to the lead foot, the speed trap or the odd local ordinance violated in ignorance.
How can you avoid tickets on the road?
The No. 1 rule in avoiding traffic tickets is to not get noticed, and nothing draws attention like a Bondo beater dragging itself down the highway. Keep your car in good working order. Bumper stickers, excessive window tint, iffy car modifications and certain kinds of vanity plates also attract unwanted attention.
If you have a taillight out and parts are falling off your vehicle, you're effectively demanding that an officer pull you over. By definition, broken lights and faulty signals mean you cannot drive safely or legally, and if an officer has to flag you down as a safety hazard, then he or she is much more likely to ticket you for any other mischief you've been up to, like speeding.
In any case, getting a tune-up before embarking on a road trip is always a sensible precaution, one that can save you lost hours, even days, awaiting a tow or repair. While you're at it, why not have your speedometer calibrated? It's guaranteed the one in the highway patrol car will be.
Go with the flow of traffic and remain in the middle of the pack. Blending in is the goal. Since remaining in your lane and matching the speed of surrounding cars is safer, you will also stand less of a chance of getting into an accident. Accidents tend to result in tickets (among other potentially more dire consequences).
Think of it like this. Even if one car out of the herd is flagged by highway patrol, odds are it won't be you if you're situated in the middle. Autos in front will be the first to get tagged by radar, and trailing vehicles will present the easiest target for highway patrolmen to pull up behind. Similarly, cars in the fast lane are the most likely to be tagged by cops parked in the median strip.
If you must break away, follow a faster car. Radar will tag them first, and if they hit their brakes, you'll receive early warning of trouble ahead. It's also a good idea to watch what the truckers do: Their network of CB radios keeps them apprised of all of the local patrols and speed traps.
If you don't obey the speed limit, sooner or later, you'll be pulled over. When that happens, your rapport with the officer could make or break your chances of avoiding a citation.
Get your temper under control and avoid courting suspicion. Remember, when an officer approaches a vehicle, he or she is entering an unknown and potentially hazardous situation. Anything you can do to relieve the officer's apprehension is likely to work in your favor, so keep your hands on the wheel as he or she approaches. Moving around a lot suggests that you're going for a weapon or that you're stashing something, which could be construed as probable cause to search or impound your vehicle.
Make eye contact. It indicates you have nothing to hide. In fact, making eye contact with an officer as you pass the patrol car can also help you avoid a ticket. Don't admit anything, but be genuinely polite, forthright and cooperative. Excuses aren't likely to work, and arguing definitely won't. But if you have a good reason for speeding, use it.
Finally, keep your car's interior and your own appearance as clean as possible. Looking like the Unabomber won't help your case.
Short of dragging a bank safe behind your vehicle, driving aggressively is probably the quickest way to draw patrol officers' unwanted attention. After all, it's their mandate to keep everyone safe, so the less safely you drive, the more you compel them to pull you over. Don't tailgate, switch lanes constantly or change lanes without signaling. If it helps, pretend you're taking your driver's test.
Avoiding this kind of ticket really comes down to monitoring yourself and knowing your limits. Unsafe driving practices often stem from fatigue and impatience, so use Google Maps or AAA to plan your trip with plenty of rests and stops, and if possible, switch drivers regularly. If you feel your foot filling with lead, activate your cruise control. If that doesn't do the trick, consider having a speed governor installed. Many moving vans come equipped with these, and some cars now come outfitted with devices that alert you when you're speeding or drifting across lane dividers without signaling.
Whether traveling in a strange land or the state next door, what you don't know can hurt you. Local seat belt ordinances, U-turn policies, and even rules governing cell phone use and texting vary from state to state, as do the legality and distribution of speed cameras, red light cameras and other "gotcha" technologies. Legal sites like FindLaw.com maintain lists of state traffic laws, so study up before you hit the highway. As the saying goes, ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Community sites like The National Speed Trap Exchange list ticket traps for every state, broken down by area and route (as a rule, slow down around hills and blind curves). Some law enforcement agencies receive federal overtime pay for writing tickets in construction zones, which often have higher fines to boot, so avoid them whenever possible. State department of transportation Web sites frequently list construction zones along with road delays, so be sure to check them out. Also, try to avoid driving (and speeding) during holidays or late at night, when drunk driver patrols are heavy. You're more likely to get pulled over.
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- Eagan, James M., Sgt. "A Speeder's Guide to Avoiding Tickets." Avon Books. 1991.
- FindLaw."State Traffic Laws."http://public.findlaw.com/traffic-ticket-violation-law/state-traffic-law/
- FindLaw. "Traffic Tickets, Traffic Violations, Traffic Law."http://public.findlaw.com/traffic-ticket-violation-law/traffic-ticket-overview/
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Secretary LaHood Notes Key Milestone as America Reaches Halfway Point on Texting Bans." May 5, 2010.http://www.nhtsa.gov/Driving+Safety/Distracted+Driving/Wisconsin+Becomes+25th+State+to+Pass+Texting+Ban+for+All+Drivers
- National Motorists Association. "The National Speed Trap Exchange."http://www.speedtrap.org/