Does anyone else out there like to push the speed limit a bit, and then slow down real quickly when they notice a police car? It’s okay to admit it, this is a safe space. I'm a speed demon too. I’m also an impatient driver, as we verified on our Pet Peeves episode where I somehow managed to beat out chronic sociopath Andrew for the title of Most Peevish Driver. What can I say? I like to get to where I need to be as quickly as I can. Whenever I see an ETA on Google maps, I always think to myself “I can shave 3-5 minutes off that. Easy.” But of course, that line of thinking hasn’t always turned out in my favor. I’ve been pulled over more than once, and it was't the greatest of times, specifically when my mom worked at the local police station/town hall for more than 20 years and all the officers in the county knew who she and I were. 2 out of 10, would not recommend. Some of you may be thinking “Well, obviously, you were able to get away with more than others then!” And you’re correct, to an extent. I remember one particular officer who pulled me over, lights, sirens and all, to ask for his wakeboard back that I had borrowed the previous week. But there were other times when I got the book tossed at me, then had to deal with mom when I made it back home.
The point is, I’ve had some experience in the area of getting pulled over, and I’d like to share with you a couple stories that speak to one thing I’ve noticed when dealing with police offers on the side of the road: Your attitude towards the officer will GREATLY affect the outcome of the stop. All stipulations apply: I understand that my experience is not representative of, and by definition cannot apply to, everyone else. This is NOT a political blog, and this blog isn't about lines, blue or otherwise. I’m not going to try and speak the experience of others, nor am I interested in YEAH BUT comments below. These are my experiences, and my musings here are simply tales from my past that I feel are important.
First, I’ll give you an example of what not to do: I had just graduated college and was driving home from my cousin’s football game, a 2 hour trip. I was on a very hilly 2-lane country road that had a speed limit of 55mph. While my average speed was around 55 or so, my top speed was undulating like the terrain I was driving on because I wasn’t dragging my brakes going downhill. I see a lot of people doing this, and it is not recommended. Sure, it may help regulate your speed but it will also drastically increase your brake pad wear and possibly lead to brake fade, which means your brake system is overheated and your pads become ineffective.
But because I was NOT dragging my brakes, I was probably hitting between 65 and 70 in my trusty Trail Blazer at the bottom of these hills, before slowing back down to under 55 on the ensuing upshill. Out of nowhere, I see the police lights in my mirrors. I pull over thinking the officer will drive past me, but he follows me to the side of the road. I was flabbergasted. When the officer asked if I knew why he pulled me over, I responded “Honestly, I have ZERO idea.” He said, “The speed limit on this road is 55, and I got you doing slightly over 70 back there.” I asked where, and he mentioned a cross street that I wasn’t familiar with, but I had a hunch…I asked, “Sir, by any chance was that intersection at the bottom of a hill?” He said it was. I told him everything I just mentioned above about not dragging the brakes, and he didn’t seem to get it. I then asked “When you had me on radar, did you happen to follow my vehicle up the next hill?” He asked “Why would that matter?” I told the officer that if he would have followed me up the hill, he would’ve seen my speed drastically decrease. I wasn’t purposely speeding, just a victim of circumstance: larger vehicle, steep slope, etc. He stared at me blankly, and I should’ve just let it go. But I didn’t. Here was my mistake…I proceeded to say, very sarcastically, “In case you weren’t aware, sir, gravity does its job every time.” That was it for me. I didn’t get any slack from this 5-0. He hit me with as many points and as much of a fine as he could under the law. If I would’ve just kept my mouth shut and presented my case in court I may have had the opportunity to drop the fine and/or points, but I just had to be a smartass. As frustrating as this type of situation may be, you can’t let your emotions get the best of you.
Now, an example of how an almost identical situation produced almost the exact opposite results: I was working field sales in Michigan, and it was almost 10pm as I was driving to my hotel for the night. The only light for miles was the glow of my phone’s screen which was doubling as my GPS. At one point, my phone rang. I looked down briefly to check the caller, and in that brief moment my lack of attention to driving combined with a heavy, tool-laden pickup truck on a gradual downhill slope resulted in my speedometer reading nearly 90mph in a 70 speed limit. Exactly as I was saying to myself “I hope there’s not a cop around he…”, the lights and sirens came on. He had me caught dead to rights. The officer asked if I knew why he stopped me, and I told him “Yes sir, I do…” and explained the entire story I just told you. He said, “Ok, thank you for telling me. Have you been pulled over before?” I told him I had, back in Wisconsin, and that it had been a few years since my last traffic stop. He went back to his car, and after about 5 minutes he came back and said “Ok, at the speed you were going I can’t let you off with a warning, but I’m only writing you up for 5mph over. $85 fine, no points lost.” Considering I could’ve been written up for 20mph over, I thanked him profusely. His response? “You answered every question I had honestly. You were polite. You didn’t give me any BS. Everything you said checked out. We appreciate people who do that. Next time, just use cruise control and you won’t have to worry about it.” And that was it. I was free to finish the trip to my hotel.
Now, there are absolutely NO guarantees that a police officer will be as nice as this guy was to me, but if you don’t try to stir things up by making excuses and you’re not a jackass, like my younger self was, a traffic stop has a better chance of turning out in your favor. If you end up in front of judge disputing your ticket, your demeanor and attitude during the stop will be taken into consideration by the judge.
So there you have it…2 stories, similar situations, and your slightly-older, little-more-wiser author made lemonade out of lemons in story #2. There are things everyone should remember on traffic stops: pull over in a safe manner, in as safe a spot as you can find. Keep your hands in your lap or on the steering wheel, where the officer can see them. Don’t open the glove compartment, console or reach in your pocket before telling the officer what you’re doing and make those moves sllloooowwwlllyyyy...everyone is taught this I hope. But also try and remember that your attitude could end up making a big difference. Nobody wants to be pulled over, so you will be annoyed. It happens. But just roll with the officer’s line of questioning, BE HONEST (they run your plate and ID, so they can fact check you pretty easily) and be polite and they may just cut you a break. Or better yet, just stick as close to the speed limit as possible so you don’t get pulled over in the first place.