By on June 29, 2006

radar2.jpgI write driving articles for an international travel magazine.  Despite my editorial obligation to report on landscapes, history, culture and food; much of what I see passes in a blur.  I’ve driven obscenely fast through Europe, South Africa, Australia, Japan, Norway, Brazil and everywhere else they send me.  The only place I ever worry about speeding tickets is the United States.  Oh sure, I’ve had run-ins with local law enforcement all over the world. But I deserved to be pulled over, and the experience was more like a cultural exchange than a legal colonoscopy.

When I received a speeding ticket in Poland, I paid the $12 fine on the spot.  The trooper handed me a lanyard of what looked like Green Stamps.  “Souvenir!” I said, holding them aloft.  “Yah, soo-veneer,” the Polish cop laughed.  In New Zealand, the constable and my wife traded bungee-jumping stories while I fumbled for the registration.  “You can just go back to New York and forget about this,” he said, handing me a $130 speeding ticket.  I have no way to prove it, but the dignity of these encounters leads me to believe that highway cops in many foreign countries have a profound respect for a respectable-looking driver thrashing the beJesus out of a well-maintained high performance automobile.

The logic is both completely unexpressed and perfectly reasonable:  “He’s driving a Porsche/BMW/Ferrari/AMG/whatever.  I can assume he’s reasonably competent.  He can drive as fast as he likes, within reason.”  Of course, on a derestricted German autobahn, reason is irrelevant.  But if you’re driving fast and competently in Italy, Spain, Hungary, Portugal, Turkey, the former Czechoslovakia, etc., it’s hard to get a cop to look askance.  Of course, the people who live in these countries will tell you their highway patrollers are ogres, but they have no idea what serious highway-code enforcement is all about.

Money.  It’s all about money.  The way New York deals with speeding violations makes it obvious that punishment or behavior modification is not the point of US speeding tickets.  My most recent offense occurred in a sleepy hamlet called, I swear, Liberty.  I was ambling along at 80 mph in a 55 on a dry, deserted, wide-median, rural, four-lane highway.  After signing-off with Officer Humorless, I immediately filled-out the ticket and mailed it back to the authorities– with a not-guilty plea.  In return, I received an invitation to repeat my offense during a three-hour round-trip to the town traffic court.

After serving 10 minutes hard time on a bench in the Town Hall’s basement, the trooper who ticketed me called my name.  “Jeez, 80 in a 55— that’s a lot of points on your license,” my new best friend said.  “How about we make it ‘failure to obey a traffic device’ [i.e. going through a stop sign]?  Judge’ll charge you $100 and court costs, and it doesn’t go on your license.” Why on earth would a trooper offer this path to insurance premium paradise, and then offer it again to another two dozen feisty New Yorkers?

With half a dozen cops all drawing overtime, 50 or 60 citizens waiting to be charged, and a town justice and court clerk who have better things to do on a summer morning than process tedious paperwork, New York State has realized that all it takes is one guy who has read How to Beat a Speeding Ticket to lawyer-up and demand radar-gun certification records, and everybody will have to come back another day. So they gavel down $100 plus $40 in costs 50 or 60 times in as many minutes and everybody goes home happy.  “We don’t take credit cards,” the clerk smiled. “But there’s an ATM right down the street.”  

I have a gym buddy who’s the police chief in a nearby town.  “Get over it,” he laughs.  “You write magazine articles, we write tickets.  That’s what cops do.”  Ridding the roads of cell phone gabbers, left-lane bandits, tailgaters and seatbelt refusniks is irrelevant.  Just shoot anyone and everyone with a radar gun and collect the cash.  The Car Connection’s Speeding Excuses Contest would have you believe you can talk your way out of a fine.  In the Home of the Brave, you’re more likely to sell solar panels to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than “fool” a speed cop.

Last summer, a moron in a Ford Excursion was screaming at the kids in the back when he rear-ended my wife’s Boxster.  Did he get a ticket for leaving Susan with eight broken ribs, a moderate concussion and a totaled Porsche?  Nope.  “We can’t ticket something we didn’t see,” another cop friend explained, “unless we get depositions from witnesses.”  There were plenty of witnesses, but I guess it’s easier– and more profitable– to stick a radar gun out the window than to push the paper that punishes a dangerous driver. 

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28 Comments on “Only in America (and maybe England)...”

  • avatar

    welcome to Britain where they don’t even bother manning the speed guns(google GATSO)

  • avatar

    Not only do they ticket anyone driving fast, but, at least where I grew up in Dupage County, IL, they also target specific groups of people. Specifically young men in sporty cars. When I was 16-20, driving a black Acura Integra with tinted rear windows, I got speeding tickets at 45 in a 35, I got tickets at 41 in a 30, etc. Why do they target these drivers? Simple, these drivers want to keep their licenses, and will pay the exorbitant fines and lawyer fees that keep the system running.

    If I switched to my mother’s Nissan Altima, never a ticket, when my sister or my mother were out driving (and they both drive the same 45 and 41 that I did) never a ticket.

  • avatar

    It???s always been about the money. Every state in the union relies on speeding ticket revenues, if everyone actually obeyed all traffic laws for one month the state would go bankrupt. I hear it???s ten times worse in the UK with radar cameras everywhere, drivers one more ticket away from losing their license. I hope that never happens in the U.S.

  • avatar

    You can add Canada. We have red light cameras (that also clock speeding) mobile radar cameras as well as zealous officers. We are the land of the nanny state – please save us from ourselves!

    We are not that much different from the U.S. in that now, or rather you have drifted toward our nanny state model. But you still believe in personal freedom more than we do. Long may that be so.

  • avatar

    So…”cell phone gabbers” and “morons” are infesting our roads, but the cops should give you a break because you’re driving a sports car and we can “assume” that you are “reasonably competent?”

    Yeah, that makes sense, because God knows, incompetent drivers never drive sports cars.

    I’m not going to quibble with your basic premise, that cities and states use speed enforcement for easy revenue, but the fact that you think you should be able to speed when you think it’s appropriate makes me question your maturity. A wide, deserted 4-lane road may seem like a great place to do 80mph but the deer that jumps out of the woods in front of you doesn’t give a damn whether you are a “reasonably competent” driver in a BMW or a yokel in a Ford truck.

    Here’s an idea: Grow up and accept responsibility for your actions instead of blaming supposedly corrupt cops and judges.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Martin, if a deer jumps out in front of me, that’s my problem and I’ll pay dearly for it, but it’s my choice. What I meant was that I wasn’t endangering anyone else. (Where I live, any deer you can kll is all to the good…) Nor do I think I should speed and be allowed to get away with it just because I’m handsome, smart, rich and a TTAC contributor. I fully understand that it’s a game that I have chosen to play, and some days I eat the bear and some days the bear eats me. My premise simply is that in many other parts of the world–Germany is one example–highway patrols generally concentrate on drivers who do inept and dangerous things. In the U.S., they concentrate solely on what can most easily be mechanically quantified–a speed readout–and they’ll give a ticket to Hurley Haywood doing 70 in a Porsche while ignoring the…yes, moron…in the next lane who’s shaving while driving with his knees.

    But thank you for telling me to “grow up.” At my age, that’s a compliment.

    By the way, do you work for Joe Molina?

  • avatar

    While I am sure that I am one of legions of those who pray for an influx of sanity on the part of law enforcement, Id like to add the following nugget of truth:

    In many states, the statistics are skewed to reflect “Speed related crashes”. Well, check this out:

    If you compare excessive speed to JUST inattentive driving as a Possible Cause for Crash (pg 8) you have speed causing just 15% compared to that of inattentive driving. IF you add “failure to yield” and “failure to control” you drop down to 5% by comparison. Worse still, excessive speed amounts to the tidy sum of 2.8% as a possible cause compared to ALL other possible causes combined!!! Why on earth do we even arm these officers with radar?

    Id like to make myself PERFECTLY clear here and say that I do think the majority of officers mean well, and have a function with regard to traffic (to keep roadways safe). Just ONCE, Id like to see a vehicle pulled over in a snowstorm for “speed too fast for conditions”. To date, I have NEVER seen this and I have lived in snow country all my life.

    For the record, 18 years of driving, 591000 miles, four speeding tickets and ZERO accidents. Since Ive armed myself with a Escort detector, my life behind the wheel is ALOT easier.

    Nice article.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    You’re absolutely right about the majority of officers. I count two right here in my home town (Cornwall, New York) as close personal friends, and as an EMS volunteer–I’m on duty right now, wearing a pager–I work with local cops and New York State Troopers constantly.

  • avatar

    Speed kills? Nope. In Germany, which as we all know has no speed limits on about 60-70% of the Autobahn system, the death rate per mile per driver is MUCH lower than that on the United States’s interstate system. So it seems driver competence is much bigger reason people die than speed.

  • avatar

    What’s worse than the fact they are giving out the speeding tickets is where they are giving them out at… the interstate. If people are speeding, the interstate is the safest place to do it. But you’re 10 times more likely to get a ticket doing 80 in a 70 on the wide open interstate than to get 65 in a 45 on a crowded bumper-to-bumper road where people are coming to a full stop to make a 90 degree turn and/or constantly pulling out in front of you to get out of a crowded shopping center. You guys are all familiar with this, no matter where you live. When was the last time you saw a trooper keeping an eye on that busy street to make sure people are safe? Now when was the last time you saw a trooper hiding behind a bush or bridge on the interstate out in the middle of nowhere handing out tickets left and right? Exactly. That alone shows that it is all about the money. They couldn’t care less about the people. Speeding itself doesn’t kill. Careless and improper use of speed, and generally driving like a jackass, does.

  • avatar

    Steve, you wrote:

    Martin, if a deer jumps out in front of me, that’s my problem and I’ll pay dearly for it, but it’s my choice. What I meant was that I wasn’t endangering anyone else.

    (a) No, it’s not your choice. Laws apply to everybody, even TTAC writers.

    (b) Yes, you are endangering other people. Other people on the road (even when you think the road is “deserted”) not to mention the emergency services people who are going to rush out and try to pry you from your car, and then transport you to the ER. Nobody is an island, Steve.

    I fully understand that it’s a game that I have chosen to play, and some days I eat the bear and some days the bear eats me.

    So, you accept responsibility for your actions? Umm…what, then, is the point of this article? You do the crime, you pay the fine. Works for me.

    My premise simply is that in many other parts of the world – Germany is one example – highway patrols generally concentrate on drivers who do inept and dangerous things.

    I’m sorry, Steve, I just fell out of my chair laughing. Did you spend all your time in Germany on the Autobahn? I can only assume you never drove on rural roads because when I was stationed there (87-89) the Polezei were notorious for setting up speed cams on rural roads where people were known to speed, primarily for the purpose of revenue generation.

    In fact, I never saw a speed cam until I got to Germany.

    Red light cams were also common. The fines weren’t cheap, and unlike your experience in New England, there was no “Pleading down.” They had your picture, your license plate, and your violation. Case closed. No appeal. Pay the clerk.

    Unfortunately, it seems like too many American drivers have a fantasy about Germany and the Autobahn as some kind of mythical magical wonderland where all the rules that ‘bring us down’ here in the US don’t apply. That impression of Germany will quickly be dispelled by spending time there. If you think American traffic courts are draconian, be ready for a shock if you go to the land of chocolate and beer. And if you think American cops are jerks, try getting into an argument with the Polezei and see how fast you wind up in jail.

    By the way, do you work for Joe Molina?

    ??? I don’t know who this is.

    Socsndaisy: I’m sure there aren’t very many accidents caused by speeding, but how many could have been avoided by not speeding? For example, if Steve hits a deer at 80mph in a 55 zone, the “cause” of the accident will be listed as a deer strike, but isn’t it possible he could have avoided the accident had he been going the limit? Similarly, statistics on accident “causes” don’t look at accidents where speed was not the cause but where the level of damage or injury are exacerbated by excessive speed.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman


    You seem to be working under the impression that speed-limits are in place because somebody somewhere cares about safety.

    They are totally arbitrary, 40-years out of date and only in place to generate revenue for the Man.

    Plus, a Boxster at 80 mph is safer than an Expedition going 55mph.

  • avatar

    Stephan, though we have disagreed in the past, I can not express how much your editorial strikes home.

    I am infuriated at the selective enforcement of the code. They’ll write speeding tickets all day long, but heaven forbid they actually enforce other provisions of the code. I can think of at least 5 intersections off the top of my head in which people run a left turn red on almost every signal change. Where are the cops?

    Individuals driving 50 mph in the left lane around Los Angeles hold up traffic because no one wants to pass them on the right (not illegal here, just advised that it is a dangerous practice). Where are the cops pulling them over and issuing an obstructing traffic citation? In a city with some of the worse traffic in the nation, you think this would be a priority to help ease conjestion.

    Following is the worst experience I have had with a traffic cop. I was turning right on a signal controlled right turn. The lane I was in was a right turn only lane. After I make the turn, I see a cop roll up behind me. He then rolls up beside me, looks over, then pulls just slightly ahead and looks over. After that he slides back behind me and hits the lights.

    He strides up to my car and asks, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” I told him, not a clue. I was doing the speed limit, had not made an erratic moves, and turned on a green light.

    “I pulled you over for failing to signal on your right turn back there….”

    I just looked at him dumbfounded. Never mind the guys that were speeding past me as you rolled around my car checking it out.

    “I see that your front windows are tinted. That’s illegal you know.”

    Ah, I see where this is going. You were also checking to see if I had a front plate you bastard (which I do).

    “Tell you what, I’ll let you go on the signaling, but you’ll have to get the tint removed.”

    Why thank you Barney Fife, for saving the public from my dangerous window tint. I am sure that the citizens are sleeping better tonight knowing you are on the road.

  • avatar

    when i was working in long island i garnered 3 speeding tickets on my daily commute through nassau county ny, a notorious speed trap. hired a lawyer for $250 and it guess what… she got 2 thrown out and the last was lowered from 20 over limit to failure to use turn signal (6pts to 2pts, $400+ fine to $150 fine). Thank You! so it really pays off to get a lawyer. i highly recommend it.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    I once got pulled over on the 405 for going 85mph during rush hour.

    Me: “Shouldn’t I get an award for being able to go this fast on this freeway at this time of day?”

    Obviously the copper was an Angelino native, cause he let me go.

  • avatar

    LostLogic has a point…
    I used to own a 1994 Mitsubishi Eclipse (until a newbie driver lost control on ice and totalled it….) and was routinely pulled over for minor (5mph or less) speed violations. Once the car was totalled and I was in my ‘new’ 1980 735i, no such impediments. I’ve never been pulled over since.

  • avatar

    Johnny Lieberman, now that is funny. Doing 85 mph on the 405 during rush hour is nothing short of a miracle. Was Moses parting the sea of cars for you?

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Just one of those fluke things — I was between teh 5 and the 118, so north of all the bullshit.

    And you are right to be skeptical — I judge my quality of life based off how many months in a row I can go without setting tire on the blasted 405.

  • avatar

    Speed doesn’t kill…It’s the difference in speed that can kill.

    I remember when we had photo radar vans in Ontario. The police used to park them behind bridges so drivers passing under the bridge would suddenly slam on their brakes. That was really safe I’ll tell ya.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    When I was starting out as an auto journo, doing freelance for a suburban newspaper while still in college in the late Seventies, I did an article on Bellevue WA traffic enforcement. The police chief in that city had been (temporarily) fired by the city council for refusing to issue tickets, willy-nilly, simply to raise revenue. (The Police Union got him reinstated.) “The goal of giving speeding tickets is to get people to slow down and save lives,” he said. He was serious. Now routine in some locales, he had his traffic cops – who rode BMW motorcycles – do accident investigation and historic analysis of places where speed had been a factor in many accidents. They’d recommend changes to the road design, if they saw fit. He lasted about two more years, after he was reinstated. An honorable and intelligent man, there was no place for him. I’m sorry. I can’t accept the idea that “you write magazine articles, we issue tickets.” I agree with that Chief of Police, Donald Van Blaricom – now retired.

  • avatar

    The reader “socsndaisy” who points out above that inattentive driving causes many more accidents than fast driving is absolutely correct. After all, it is DIFFERENCES in speed that kill, not speed itself.

    Maybe this explains how I have been able to maintain a steady 4 to 6 points on my license over the past few years, mostly for speeding, but have not had a single accident. Thanks, officers. That’s at least $1K per year that I spend on the damn citatation. Since I am a physician, the nice officer usually lets me off if I’m wearing my white coat or scrubs. But still, considering that I continue to speed every day, I dont think those points are doing much besides enriching the coffers of the state.

    For all the officers out there, I want you to know that when you are hurt or shot, and I am on-call for trauma, I will make sure to obey all the traffic rules on my way to the hospital. In fact, maybe I’ll continue that same slow and steady pace even in the hospital, since speed worries you guys so much. I certainly wouldn’t want to rush you nice officers to the O.R. or anything.

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    This past March, a group of Georgia State students made a film they called “A Meditation On the Speed Limit.” They drove 4 abreast at the posted 55 MPH speed limit on Interstate 285 in Atlanta during the morning rush hour. By obeying the posted speed limit they created a traffic jam that was several miles long and got a lot of road rage directed at them. On the news reports that night a Georiga highway official was smiling like an understanding grandfather and saying what they did wasn’t very smart and they were actually breaking the law because “slower traffic should keep to the right.” He never said anything about the lunacy of having a 55 MPH speed limit on that highway.

    The news release and links to their video are at

  • avatar

    Slow kills.

  • avatar

    As a college student at SUNY Binghamton I had to use route 17 that passed directly through Liberty. The exact same thing happened to me. I was pulled over by a state trooper in Liberty for going 80 in a 55. I plead not guilty and was offered the exact same deal, complete with the speech, “80 in a 55- that???s a lot of points on your license.??? ???How about we make it ???failure to obey a traffic device.???”
    I think that nearly all my friends in college that had to use route 17 to get up to college have had similar experiences. The best advice I can give, once you see the sign, liberty 10 miles, just put the cruise control on 55 and let it sit until you are a good ten miles past Liberty. I guarantee you will pass at least one speed trap along the way.

  • avatar

    I could not agree more. My S2000 was rear ended at a stoplight by a woman in an SUV who admitted to the officer at the scene that she was looking at her children in the back seat when she hit me at nearly 40mph. There was no ticket issued. Two months later I was stopped for doing 42 in a 35 in an area where the speed limit suddenly decreases. The officer that clocked me was sitting less than 50 feet from the speed limit sign. Obviously this was more of a case of generating revenue than actual concern that I was posing a risk to myself and other motorists.

    Let us not forget about safety belt laws either. I understand that traffic laws exist in order to protect motorsits from wreckless drivers. Safety belt laws serve no such purpose. If I want to run the risk of flying through my windshield with my hair on fire upon impact that is my personal choice. I am posing a risk to myself and not other motorists. It is nothing short of highway robbery for a patrol officer to stop me and issue a $200 ticket for not wearing a safety belt.

    Perhaps the state governments should adopt a more efficient system of generating revenue from motorists. Instead of writing speeding tickets and safety belt violations, officers can randomly pull over cars at will and rob all passengers in the vehicle of every penny in their pockets. It would be highway robbery the old fashioned way. The way it should be.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    I’m not sure I agree about the seatbelt law. It’s your personal choice to fly through the windshield, but society invariably ends up paying for it, one way or another, when you become a paraplegic with his hair still smoldering, whether through increased health-insurance premiums or other varieties of taxation. I’d agree with you if you modified the sentence to read, “…that is my personal choice, assuming that I also agree to personally pay for my own medical care thereafter.”

    I’m an EMS volunteer, and where I live, on some very popular Hudson River Valley cycling roads, we deal with a LOT of motorcycle crashes, many of them horrific. I’m frankly not jaded enough that it’s my own attitude, but I have noticed that among the professional paramedics and paid ambulance crews we interface with, the attitude often is, “Hurts a lot does it buddy? Tough shit. You chose to ride a donorcycle, not me.” People who choose risky behavior don’t get a lot of respect from the people who have to clean up after them.

  • avatar

    Here in nebraska, the revenue from traffic tickets goes into the school districts, not the local coffers or the PD that wrote the ticket. Ironically, we have some of the highest property taxes in the nation, at least 3/4 of which goes into the local school districts. Yet somehow, it’s never enough money.

    Cops are asses for the most part. My sister is one… she’s pretty reasonable but the ones i’ve been unfortunate enough to run into have been on power trips. But then, cops in nebraska get pretty bored… they’re all about speed traps and stopping any vehicle that doesn’t have local plates, for any reason. I got a warning ticket for ‘going over the speed limit’… yes, he couldn’t even give me a speed, he just thought i was speeding… I’m sure it had *nothing* to do with my ‘in transit’ tags. *rolls eyes* But what do you do? The decent ones only stop the really dangerous drivers… people speeding in school zones, weaving in and out of traffic, speeding inappropriately. But they don’t stand to lose anything by stopping a chick in a red, sporty car, going 12 over on an empty highway, so why wouldn’t they do it?

  • avatar

    I have yet to encounter anyone with a quality radar dectector that hasn’t paid for itself several times over from avoiding tickets. Heck, I avoided 4 of them on my last vacation trip!

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