Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life

By , on April 8, 2010

Current Events


There was a segment on the local public radio station, KPLU, and an article in the Seattle Times today concerning increased issuance of speeding tickets and a special, enhanced enforcement effort in Washington in the next four weeks. The officer interviewed on KPLU asked the reporter to observe whether the driver said “thank you” upon being issued a ticket, noting that many drivers do so. That comment prompted this post.

I am all for being polite. But here are some guidelines when stopped by cops for speeding.

1. When the lights go on behind you, you have a duty to slow, move to the right and let the cop pass. If he or she does not do so, you should understand that you are their prey. Pull over as soon as you can do so safely, but make every effort to do so quickly. Once stopped, slide the shift lever into park or, for those of you operating manual transmission vehicles, neutral. Set the parking brake. At night, I like to flip the rear view mirror up a bit and use remote controls on my mirrors to quickly throw them out of alignment to avoid being blinded by the cop’s lights. I have never had a cop complain about this, but my practice is less than ideal because my arms and hands are moving about while I am making these adjustments.

2. Do not move quickly. Keep your hands visible, preferably on the wheel. Do not unfasten your seat belt, and do not reach for the glove box until asked for documents that are contained there. They might think you are reaching for a gun, and the good ones will pause to be ready to shield themselves and draw their pistol.

3. When the cop is at the window, roll it down. Let them speak first. They will usually ask for your license, registration and proof of insurance. Produce the documents. Make sure there is no contraband in the car, and especially none where those documents are stored. Even a person with a concealed pistol permit may find themselves in trouble if a loaded pistol is not on their person. There should never be a firearm in the same place as the documents that are requested. And a sure way to get a ticket or worse is to frighten the officer, even innocently. Do not do so.

4. They will often say, ” Do you know why I stopped you?” The answer should never be an admission. It should always be “no.” If they then say, you were going 70 mph in a 60 mph zone, and you know they are right on, your  lawyer might still advise you not to admit the violation. If you were only speeding, and nothing else you were or are doing will get you arrested, then it is probably okay to admit the speeding at this point.

5. Cops might ask you if there was a reason you were speeding. I would advise honesty, unless you were not paying attention or are very tired. Those are admissions of offenses that can result in citations. But a reasonable excuse may be persuasive. For example, you may have not slowed back down to the speed limit after just passing a car going 5 mph below the speed limit. This is actually still legal in Washington I think; they don’t want you lingering in the wrong lane.

6. The cop will then lecture a little on why he or she will ticket you, or might explain why they are letting you go with a warning. Often they will simply return to their car without saying much and write a citation or a warning. Okay, here is the part prompted by the cop’s radio comment. If the cop hands you a warning, thank him. For a citation, remain silent unless the ticket is issued in lieu of a more serious infraction, in which case thanks are once again appropriate. Do verify that your copy of the citation is legible especially regarding the infraction charged and the date of the violation. If these items are not clear, request that the officer make them so. Then sign the citation. The citation is really a charging document and, when signed, an agreement to appear in court. Signing the ticket is not an admission of wrong doing. Refusing will likely lead to a long delay and, perhaps, a trip to the local jail.

7.  There are lots of reasons to make every effort to avoid tickets by not speeding. Avoiding interaction with the police is always a good idea. However, you will likely get stopped once in a while. Make sure that your license, registration and insurance card are valid and not expired. Also, make sure your car is well-maintained.  I am convinced if the officer finds nothing wrong other than the infraction that triggers the initial stop, your chances of getting a warning are higher. The more violations of traffic or criminal statutes, the worse the stop will be for you.



3 Comments to “Cops and Speeding Tickets”

  1. Anneke says:

    I’ve seen people who get pulled over on the freeway, either pull to the left side of the road or the right side of the road. I definitely think the left side of the road is unsafe, but I also think any instance of pulling off to the side of a freeway is unsafe. I’ve always figured that if I were to get pulled over on the freeway, I would go to the next exit. It seems that would be safer for the cop and safer for the driver. What do you think?

  2. admin says:

    I would make the effort to get to the right every time. As long as you signal and do not appear to be evasive the cop should accept that behavior. I am not too sure about using the next exit though. It is probably okay if there is no shoulder and the exits are closely spaced or easily available. Waiting for an exit might not be a good idea in these rural parts, where the shoulders are generous and the exits far from each other. The officer might have to get by without donuts and coffee for too long, and that makes them grumpy.

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