Lessons In Municipal Civics

by Elihu Savad

Last December, on the way home from the Pinewood Derby meeting, I got my first speeding ticket in 15 years. I was so delighted having taken a trophy that I wasn't paying attention, so when this local patrol car coming toward me popped up over a rise, I hadn't noticed my radar detector trying to attract my attention.
Lesson 1: No device is a substitute for paying attention.

He did a quick u-turn and pulled me over. When searching for my registration I found I had a pile of them in my wallet. It starts when you get your renewal by mail…the old one isn't expired yet, and the new one starts in a month. At inspection, you put the new one away, then forget about it until next year. When the next new one comes, you now have three. Multiply this by several cars in the family and you have a pile of stuff to wade through.
Lesson 2: Clean out your wallet once in a while.

After testing the officer's patience with the registration, I now went in search of the insurance card. It was at the bottom of the glove box, which was jammed shut with the Pinewood track, which was wedged in the passenger seat. I took so long he must have thought I was putting together a bazooka. When I looked up, there were two patrol cars…he called for backup! It also dawned on me by then that he may be particularly suspicious of cars with fancy wheels, air dams and wings, and racing decals.
Lesson 3: If you insist on looking conspicuous, don't test an officer's patience by being disorganized.

When he asked how fast I was going, I told him 45, which I thought was the limit, though there were no signs within 2 miles of where we were. He said I was going 52, and the limit was 35. The NJ DMV handbook states that "unless otherwise posted, the official speed limit is 35 mph."
Lesson 4: Ignorance of the law is no defense.

I had also forgotten that I had a County Police Chiefs Association card, that would likely have gotten me off with a warning. Once the ticket is written, no one wants to see your cards. In the future, staple it to the insurance card or license…you are apt to forget under pressure.
Lesson 5: Power without timing is useless.

I called my insurance company to find out what this ticket could cost me. They informed me that under the new tiered rating system, my new rates would cost me $2000 additional over the next three years. They suggested I try to reduce the points.
Lesson 6: Ignorance of your insurance can cost you plenty.

In court, the prosecutor told me that because of my clean record, he would offer a reduced charge of 45 in a 35 that would give me 2 points. On a clean record, that would not raise insurance under the new system, as long as I accumulated no new points in the next 3 years. I pointed out that I was a resident of this town with a clean record, and wanted to pay the ticket and get no points. He said I would need a lawyer and an expert witness for a not guilty plea, or to get no points, and if I wanted to come back and take a chance that I could lose and get 4 points, I was welcome. I said no thanks, and took the deal offered. What goes on in court is less like "Night Court", and more like "Let's Make A Deal".
Lesson 7: When you are in court, the lawyers are working, and you are not.
Lesson 8: Charity does not always begin at home

I had researched the court proceedings ahead of time, and knew that I could move to dismiss, as the State's witness, the ticketing officer, was not present. I imagined that the judge would have said "I think he is around somewhere. Give us a few hours to find him, and by the way, did you bring lunch?" It also dawned on me that while I may have forgotten I had a radar detector, the officer might remember that I did. Although radar detectors are legal in New Jersey, neither the police nor the courts like them. If the officer pointed out to the judge that I was using one, my reduced plea would go out the window.
Lesson 9: Quit while you are ahead.

The difference between what is legal and what is right in terms of driving regulations is heavily weighted in inappropriate places. The completely righteous individual will claim to always obey the law, and never exceed posted limits. But even he will admit that doing the posted 25 on a busy road is near impossible without getting shoved in the rear by the prevailing traffic flow. At the other extreme is the driver that does what he pleases, and for whom signs are just driving "suggestions". He feels that as long as he doesn't get caught, he can do whatever he wants. This behavior only seems useful among politicians. In between are most of us, who know our abilities and limits pretty well, and drive within them, even if an infraction of law occurs…again, as long as we avoid getting caught. We know the laws, but we also know how the game is played. As long as we don't create a dangerous situation, we justify our behavior, and take reasonable precautions to not get caught. It is worth pointing out that the point system was designed to help insurance companies extract higher premiums from those who displayed behavior likely to result in claims on policies. How come then, running a stop sign or a red light has only been 2 points, since most collisions involve intersection violations, not excess speed? Even with the new tiered rating system, replacing the assessment system, this injustice has not changed.
Lesson 10: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Fifteen years ago, after my first speeding ticket, I felt driven to write a poem about the experience, and it seems appropriate to bring it up again: Don't Feed The Bears

Please send questions or comments to: drautox@comcast.net

Last Modified March 21, 2000