Editorial: The Truth About Speeding Tickets and the Recession
For the last 20 years or so, I’ve been fighting traffic tickets in the New York area. My business is not “normal.” No matter how easy I make the process, no matter what the outcome, half of my final client conversations contain the words “I hope I never see you again.” (It’s OK, I understand. You came in with a “gun to your head.”) While the client kiss-off never changes, my ticket defense work fluctuates with the level of traffic enforcement. Weather, gas prices and terrorism alerts (post-9/11) all impact the number of tickets issued. I’ve survived a few up and down cycles. And with a steady client base and wide professional contacts I can draw a few conclusions. The recession is here. Government budgets are under threat. The word has gone out: write tickets!
Most people know that highway speed limits are set 10 to 15 mph below design speed (i.e., limits that would be set by traffic engineering surveys). That means pretty much everyone is speeding—in a strictly legal sense. But not from a safety perspective. Going with the flow or five mph faster is the safest way to drive; and yet the flow is usually “illegal.”
Debate that as you will, but the police allow some leeway. Most 55 mph roads are “stay under 70.” Most 65 mph roads are “stay under 80.” In New York City, rare is the speeding ticket under 70 mph in a 50 mph zone (rare, not nonexistent, so don’t go 70 and blame me later). It’s also worth noting that most ticket writing involves random selection from a pack of traffic. (This is where the silver Accord beats the red Corvette.)
The “system” is set up with a level of enforcement such that a normal, sane and flow-following driver will still catch a ticket every two to five years. From the government’s point of view, this is the ideal “threshold of pain.” The speed limit remains “the law.” Police can give “courtesy” or “use discretion,” which garners significant goodwill. The normal driver gets a ticket often enough to remind him or her to pay attention, but not so much as to take them off the road. Cash is extracted. Insurance company surcharges. Next customer please.
In New York, a very typical 77/55 is a six point ticket. The motorist pays approximately $250 to the Court. They’re taxed a second time by our “Driver Responsibility Assessment.” That’ll be $300. Each ticket is a $500 + nut. An industrious cop can write 20 per shift. Surcharges and other “fees” are attached, limited only by the inventiveness of the State Legislature at midnight. The public never notices till THEY are caught in the net.
Cops know how much traffic tickets make. So when police have a contract issue, or when overtime is cut, the radar guns are quietly turned off. Most police have a variety of tasks they can do on duty, so this is hard to trace. The power of the “off switch” has been a quiet factor in many police contract actions. When tickets (revenues) drop, the money requested by the police union suddenly becomes more reasonable. We saw this recently in New York State.
Those most likely to make an effective political stink to change the low speed limits are the same sort of person who’d go to Court (or retain Counsel) and fight the ticket. Once their ticket is taken care of, they stop caring and the whole incident falls in the Hole of Denial, never to be thought of again.
Letters to Congressmen and the Editor of the local paper are forgotten about in the wash of the reduction from six to three points—and that is the REAL reason you get a break if you fight the Ticket. The “deal” is essential to defusing organized resistance to the “system.” Arizona is learning this with the speed cameras. No deal = political resistance.
The recession has made a few changes, even with the uptick in volume. Tickets are coming to my office later, or only after the Court Clerk has refused the client’s third postponement attempt. They forget somehow to tell me this. More clients are price shopping.
Often, after doing one ticket, the client admits they have . . . two others. One of which is late. Denial again! Ticket fighting is a recession-resistant business, but not recession-proof. Lack of money, real or felt, is hitting all levels of society. Never mind the fact that a client was ticketed while driving the Range Rover up to the ski house. My pre-contractual client conversations are more strained than they were a year ago.
Courthouses are more full than last year, reflecting the overall increase in tickets issued. The word is out. Watch the medians, and watch your wallet. A hungry Government is very, very dangerous.
[Casey Raskob can contacted via Speedlaw.net]
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