How to Avoid a Traffic Ticket
This article is not intended to give legal advice or guidance with court procedure in reference to legal proceedings, it is just and education opinion based on many years of training and experience. Please consult an attorney if you need legal advice.
Very few things can really just ruin your day like getting a traffic ticket. The last thing most people need in this challenging economy are additional, unnecessary funds coming out of their households. I have been a police officer for 19 years and I have personally issued in excess of 9000 tickets in that time. Each citation I issued was done so after careful consideration of many factors because I knew that I was taking money out of a household that in many cases needed it. Some of the people I encountered on traffic stops made it very hard to write them a ticket and in many cases the people I gave tickets to made it extremely easy to do so because of their language, attitude, and general demeanor.
Finding accurate statistics on the amount of traffic citations issued per year in the U. S. is difficult due to the various ways courts track offender information. Some estimates have it as low as 40 million citations per year. Other figures point to the amount being closer to 56 million per year. The first figure did not prove the information, and the second figure only accounted for state courts. In my opinion, when you figure in the municipal courts, which account for the majority of traffic citations, the number is easily closer to 70 million, if not higher. Contrary to popular belief, most departments only see a fraction of the money generated from the citation fines and departments having citation quotas has been illegal since the early 80s. In my entire career, I have never been pressured to produce tickets or given a set amount I needed to write. All that being said, there are definitely some things that drivers can do to possibly avoid having a citation issued to them during a traffic stop.
Just say no
The only foolproof, guaranteed way to get out of a ticket is to not violate the law. I have read several of these types of articles written by regular guys who do not understand how the law and cops work and they always forget to give this advice. If you are not breaking the law, then you cannot be charged with violating the law (legally, that is). There are some cases where citations are issued that should not have been; due to officers being human and susceptible to making mistakes just like anyone else. But for the most part an officer is never going to issue a citation that he does not believe he can win in court and that he is justified to do so. I will elaborate on some of the misconceptions of guilt or innocence at the end of the article.
Attitude is EVERYTHING
The absolute most powerful tool that any driver has in an attempt to avoid a citation is there attitude. Officers are human too and will respond according to the initial temperament and demeanor they encounter when they approach the vehicle. Arguing will get you absolutely nowhere and is almost a guarantee that you are going to get a ticket. The side of the road is an extremely dangerous place for officers and they are not going to spend extra time on a traffic stop debating the legality of the stop. If you as a driver feel you were unjustly given a citation, then the place for the argument is in the courtroom on your court date, not when an officer is exposed to oncoming traffic at high rates of speeds.
Greeting the officer in a cordial way using his rank or just the title “Officer” goes a long way. Officers far too often deal with society at its worse and being greeted in a friendly way can restore an officer’s faith in humanity, which in turn is going to make him more compassionate. Regardless of what Hollywood says, the overwhelming majority of officers started in their profession to help people, not because of a power trip. It is perfectly acceptable to inquire as to why you are being pulled over, but do so in a friendly way. I can tell you from experience that as a cop, it is extremely difficult to give a ticket to a person who is being nice and honest with you. Treat officers the way you want to be treated and more times than not you will see the benefits of this immediately.
In addition, do not forget that almost every patrol car today is equipped with audio and video recording equipment. This is not only for officer protection, but for citizen protection as well. Keep in mind that in the event you are given a ticket and wish to contest it in court, it is very possible that the video will be watched by everyone in the courtroom including the judge, jury (if there is one), and other defendants waiting for trial. So if you act like a crazed maniac spitting profanity and generally have a mean, combative attitude, then it will definitely be seen by the people determining you guilt or innocence. On the other hand, if you are cordial, well spoken, cooperative, and remorseful, then that will shine through as well and may work towards a favorable verdict.
R. E. S. P. E. C. T.!
Just like the old faithful Aretha Franklin tune, respect goes an extremely long way. I previously stated that most officers are in this line of work to help people, but there are a small minority of cops who are insecure and got a badge to boost their self –esteem and wield the power entrusted in them by the public in an overbearing way. Showing respect will help with these types of cops. Whether we like it or not, when an officer performs a lawful traffic stop on you, he is in authority over you and a small part of your fate is in his hands. Being respectful and deferring to that authority will help to quell the small minded need to bully by those few bad apples on police departments. It is always a good idea to keep your hands on the wheel and not to take your safety belt until the officer arrives by your window. This way there is no way he can unjustly accuse you of reaching for a weapon (which can lead to a search) or that you were not wearing your seatbelt (which can result in a ticket).
Hello, my name is Jack, and I’m a speeder.
The first step to beating a problem is admitting that you have a problem. If you know for a fact that you are in the wrong, then admit that and apologize. I have given warnings to people for extreme breaches of the speeding laws because they were honest and remorseful. Again, officers are human and they understand that there are mitigating circumstances for violating traffic laws. We all have moments where we space out, or lose track of what the speed limit is. Admitting that you made a mistake is not going to make you automatically guilty or make you less of a person. It is going to reiterate to the officer that you are human and humans make mistakes. Honesty is the best policy in this matter. If you are running late to a kid’s soccer game, then say so. Chances are the officer is a father or mother and can relate to this. If you are rushing to see a loved one who is sick or in the hospital, let the officer know he may give you a verbal scolding for placing yourself at risk, but chances are he’s just going to give you a warning instead of a ticket.
There are numerous violations that are deemed extremely serious and could bring criminal and financial liability upon the officer and his department if he turns a blind eye. There are very few cops who are going to risk their livelihood, family’s security, and possibility of lawsuits in order to give a complete stranger a break. These violations deal with the most blatant violations of laws that protect the public safety. These high liability violations would include: driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, driving while license suspended or revoked, operating a vehicle without insurance, operating a vehicle that has an invalid registration, and extreme violations of speeding, such as 30+ miles over the posted speed limit. In almost every incident of these types of violations, the officer is going to issue a citation and possibly place you under arrest no matter your protestations. The liability is just too high and the danger to others is too great. That does not means you should disregard the above suggestions because how the officers testifies in court or how the officer arrests you could be affected by the above suggestions. If you are facing these serious charges, it will benefit you much more for the officer to honestly be able to testify that you were respectful and cooperative.
I want to touch on some misconceptions that drivers may have about whether they are guilty or innocent when it comes to speeding and other traffic violations. Believe it or not, officers are actually trained to visually estimate a vehicle’s speed within about 3-4 miles per hour with their naked eye and that is what they are testifying to, the laser or radar reading is just confirmation of the office’s observation. So chances are, that if an officer pulls you over for speeding, you were speeding (of course there are exceptions). The officer is looking at an individual car and then confirming its speed with speed detection devices. Just because your speedometer says you were not speeding does not mean that it is true. For a speedometer to be accurate it has to be calibrated every year and it can be thrown off due to changing the tires, higher or lower pressure in the tires, or debris in the tire rims or undercarriage of the vehicle.
I have had people I have stopped honestly believe that they were not speeding because their speedometer told them that they were going a certain speed. Another misconception is that a person was not speeding because they looked down when they saw the officer and saw that they were going the speed limit. This can occur due to two explanations. With an officer using laser, they can obtain vehicle speeds in excess of 2500 feet and the officer can visually estimate your speed well before you see them and realize that they are running a speed detection device. The ranges of radar units are not as great, but still they reach out there pretty far. The other thing that I have observed is that when a motorist sees an officer, it is human nature to let off the gas or to activate the braking system due to classical conditioning that officers stop speeding cars. This happens many times whether the person is speeding or not. What I have seen is that a motorist will see me, slow down and then look down at the speedometer giving them a false representation of the speed they were actually going prior to seeing me.
With regards to laser and radar detection devices (commonly known as fuzzbusters or radar detectors) for the most part, they are waste of your money. In many states they are illegal and just being in possession of one will cause you to receive a citation. The modern speed detection devices operated by police officers come equipped with a trigger mechanism that allows the laser or radar to be paused so that there is no light or radio waves emanating from the device; therefore they are not going to be picked up by the radar detectors. When an officer sees a vehicle speeding, they hit the trigger and by the time you here your detector go off, it is too late. Most officers I have worked with are under the impression that if they see a radar detector in a vehicle that is your “warning” and they will issue a citation for the speeding charge.
The speed detection devices used by officers are extremely accurate and are checked for calibration before and after each shift and they are certified once a year. There is a huge misconception in the general public that an officer has to show you his radar or laser unit and that is absolutely not true. Having a driver exit his vehicle and come back to look into a patrol car is dangerous for the officer and the driver and to my knowledge; no court has ruled that officers need to show the speed on the unit. Most states just require that an officer check his radar for accuracy if requested to do so, but they do not have to show the driver the results and this is not required for the use of the laser due to its accuracy. The urban legends of placing pennies in the grill of your car, putting tinfoil in your hubcaps, or putting mirrors in the grill of your car will not affect the operation of the lasers or radars, it will just make your car make horrible sounds as they travel the roads which in all likelihood cause additional scrutiny from the police.
Final Thoughts and Advice
In summary, your attitude towards the officer is going to directly affect the outcome of the traffic stop, respect that is given often equates to respect being received, honesty is the best policy, and sometimes no matter what you are going to get a ticket. In the event that you do receive a citation and you want to contest it in court, make sure that you hire representation. I have only seen one or two regular laypersons win a traffic case by themselves in 16 years. For the most part, a layperson is not going to have the knowledge to testify correctly, cross examine effectively, or lay the foundation to introduce evidence properly. The most someone would be able to do on their own behalf is to speak with the solicitor or prosecutor about the possibility of entering a plea of nolo contendere (no contest) or having the fine reducing by attending a defensive driving class.
Most officers are going to concentrate of citations that are safety violations that could cause physical harm, damage to property, or vehicle accidents. A person’s perception is their reality. You may have thought that you were not speeding or that you came to a complete stop at that stop sign, but in reality it is possible that your perception of that event is false. If you have concrete, unbiased evidence that you are innocent they by all means hire representation and fight the charge. I have never met an officer that wanted someone to be punished for something they did not do and even the best officer makes mistakes sometimes. But so do you, so make sure that what you remember is what actually happened, this way you don’t throw good money away on a court date.
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