November 9, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver
In a few weeks, “Jay” will retire from the California Highway Patrol, where he has worked “from California’s incredibly beautiful forested north, driving past thousand-year-old redwoods to the most barren, dry and desolate places you can imagine in our state’s magnificent desert,” his email began.
And then, it took on a somber theme, one expressed to this column by other CHP officers.
“You have always been supportive and respectful of law enforcement, and I want to share with your readers’ tips on how to help avoid what has become an embarrassment to so many traffic officers, both Highway Patrol and city cops as well, and this occurs all over America, but is especially bad in cash-strapped cities and states.
“To rake in huge amount of fine-generated dollars, we are under ever-increasing pressure to write more and more tickets, fully justified or not. Where this happens, it makes veteran cops sick, realizing that we have become organized crime wearing a uniform, part of a scheme to fleece motorists, required to write tickets where only a warning would be adequate before, or not even stopping a vehicle in the first place.
“May we talk about a few ways drivers can protect themselves?” Jay asked.
I grabbed the phone and dialed his number.
We all speed — but don’t stand out!
“Dennis, you would be surprised at the number of drivers who toss their common sense out the window. We see fire-engine red cars leaving all other fast lane vehicles in the dust — drivers who put the D in dummy, doing everything possible to stand out — screaming, I want a ticket!” And these days, they’ll get one.
“The more easily I can see you — either the color of your vehicle or your driving behavior — the likelihood of attracting my attention goes way up. Red stands out, while lighter, neutral colors do not. While it is true that radar and lidar have changed the game considerably — they do not care about a car’s color — to officers, the visual element is still critical.
“Cops know that it is impossible to drive the speed limit on many highways and not be a hazard, especially true for long sections of California’s I-5. I have pulled over more cars than you can imagine for doing the posted speed in the fast lane, warning those drivers to stay in the slow lane as they are creating perfect conditions for an accident.
“By simply keeping up with traffic — in the middle of a group of cars, all going the same speed, regardless of what that speed is — your chances of being singled out are greatly reduced, if not almost virtually nil. So stay in the middle of the pack — it’s that simple,” he recommends.
“But, if you weave in and out, follow other cars way too closely, think it is somehow cool to intimidate them into changing lanes, or lead the group onwards at a much higher speed — you risk being spotted, and your driving behavior will be rewarded with an expensive citation. So why do this to yourself?”
We park in a way to make radar detectors less effective
“Radar and lidar detectors provide critical warning that your car’s speed will soon be checked. The only way to minimize their effectiveness is to limit the amount of time for you to react and slow down.
“If I am parked parallel to the highway, with my front and rear-facing radar active, cars with radar detectors will sound the alarm, potentially, miles from my position.
“But if I am perpendicular to the road, your radar’s ‘window’ of visibility may only be a few hundred feet, plenty of time for my radar to determine your speed, but much less time for you to react to my presence.
“So this means that even with a radar detector — which I absolutely recommend everyone owns one which ‘looks’ both ahead, and towards the rear — you need to be extra careful, and especially at night.
“It does not matter where you are, if it’s late and you are the only car on the road, don’t assume that because you can’t see other headlights that you are alone and the open road means pedal to the metal. Often we’ll park far from the road, headlights turned off, facing traffic at an angle, patiently looking at the speed numbers which our radar gives us.
“I am not encouraging speeding. What I am saying is that what was ‘safe’ before, today could get you an expensive ticket,” Jay warns.
Next time: Yes, there is still a chance of getting out of a ticket, and we’ll tell you what might work, and a radar detector buying recommendation.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.