DennisBeaverDecember 21, 2018 • By Dennis Beaver

Suddenly, in the rearview mirror the red flashing lights of a police car appear. “What did I do? Am I going to get a ticket? Please, No!”

The speedometer reveals a speed significantly over the limit, or maybe not, you’re just driving at the posted maximum while traffic is zooming past, honking horns, flashing high beams. In any event, pulling over to the side of the road, it’s time to reach for that bottle of Rolaids, but, “No quick, odd moves” comes to mind.

As the officer approaches, who doesn’t envision a court appearance and hundred dollar bills floating out of our wallet? “If I really did break law, is there anything I can do now which will encourage the officer giving me a warning instead of issuing a citation?”

Traffic citations issued to change driver behavior

In writing this story, we spoke with traffic officers from a number of states and, at their request, agreed to not identify their departments, nor use their real names or rank. Of interest was the uniformity of answers to our questions, regardless of the jurisdiction. All were strongly opposed to being used as revenue sources by their state governments, which explains the obvious need to remain anonymous.

“It is important to understand the reasons why traffic citations are issued, especially for things like speeding and red light violations,” Northern California based Officer B.G. said, adding, “Almost all are tied directly to trying to get the operator of that vehicle to drive in a safer manner. Our aim is to promote a positive, safe change in driver behavior.”

We asked if there are classes of violations which are almost certain to result in a ticket.

“If a driver commits an egregious violation, such as excessive and dangerous speeding, failing to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk, running red lights or stop signs with cross traffic, you can almost bet on a citation being issued, as these are the things which result in fatal accidents.

“Most officers view this as intentional conduct exposing innocent people to the risk of injury or death, and the only proven way of dealing with it is to make the consequences severe and expensive,” B.G. firmly maintains.

What influences the decision to give a warning instead of issuing a citation?

R.P. a Highway Patrol officer on the East Coast, commented on what can influence the decision to issue a ticket as opposed to a warning:

“In my state, a record is made of all contacts with drivers, even those which result in a verbal or written warning. Frankly, I do not like to write drivers up and prefer to give warnings most of the time. ‘Please drive more carefully,’ with a warning works for most drivers. However, with multiple warnings or citations for similar violations, a citation is obligatory,” she stated.

In her charming East Coast accent, R.P. listed driver behaviors which “are almost certain to result in a ticket” and include:

–Willfully distracting themselves while driving, which lead to other violations, commonly seen in the morning with men shaving, women applying mascara while weaving into other lanes.

–Talking on a cell phone but not hands-free.

–No matter how clean is your record, DUI is a road crime.

–The driver becomes furious and argues about whether a violation was committed. “Just think,” she added, “Who wants to be called a liar or sworn at? Cops are people, too.”

L.L. is a training officer in a large Southern city and tells new hires:

“We are not running a revenue-generation racket for the state or city. We are doing our duty. When your friends ask you sarcastically why tickets are issued, explain they are a deterrent for repetition of the same mistakes or dangerous behavior. If that isn’t dealt with, ask them if, one day, will they want to get a call from you explaining that a family member was struck by a reckless driver? Remember, our focus is in making the roadways safer for everyone to use.”

The driver steers the stop

To officer B.G.,”The driver steers the traffic stop. Where you are going or coming from tells a lot me a lot. An officer’s blood pressure will often shoot through the roof when he or she cannot clearly see what is going on inside the car. Knowing how to respond– rolling down the windows, turning on the interior lights, placing your hands on the steering wheel–all of this lowers the stress level and increases the chance of a warning.”

He asked me to leave this thought with readers:

“Law enforcement is a calling for most of us. It is not a 9 to 5 job.”

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.