Wednesday, April 30, 2014

It Pays to Know Your Limitations

A few weeks ago I got a speeding ticket.

It was one of those those "Do you know why I pulled you over, ma'am?" moments when the genuine answer would have been yes. Or, maybe I had a fair guess because the traffic in front of me had suddenly slowed and, accustomed to whipping through Winston-Salem with traffic at a higher speed, instead of slowing I changed lanes.

Apparently they knew something I didn't, because suddenly there were blue lights in front of me and a car pulling over and I breathed a sigh of relief because thank heaven they'd caught someone else, and I changed lanes to the left to move over, and suddenly there were blue lights behind me and I knew I wasn't as lucky as I thought.

E1 looked up from her Kindle game -- we were enroute to her occupational therapy -- and asked why we were stopping there when I pulled in behind the other stopped cars. I told her the policeman wanted to talk to me.

When he explained how fast I'd been going I had to say I honestly did not know the speed limit was as low as it was. By the time he returned with my ticket and license, E1 had asked once why it was taking so long, and I had given up on escaping with a warning. I apologized for ignoring the speed limit and he told me how far the limit extended -- past where I would turn -- and that it would decrease even further at that point.

I cussed myself for using cruise control on the highway and watching my speed through construction zones, only to get zapped on a city street, but there was little to be done at that point. I was grateful that he gave me a break with a reduced infraction, but already worrying about what its impact would be on my insurance.

I can remember every speeding ticket I've ever received and count them all on one hand. In fact, if I wind up convicted of this one, it may well be the first, although there is one from a decade or so ago in another state that I'm uncertain about. I'm not sure if I made a call and had it dismissed (at that time I could count the county prosecutor as someone I had once dated) or simply paid it because I know I didn't go to court.

I remember the first time I was stopped for speeding quite clearly -- although it was more than 30 years ago. I cried. Not because I hoped to get out of the ticket, but because I was out of work, 21 years old and had never been around police a lot. He let me go.

That changed when my career turned out to be one in journalism and I was on a first name basis with virtually all of the law enforcement types on my beat, often knew their wives' and children, and a host of stories they'd just as soon not have told shared by their fellow officers. The lone exception was always the State Highway Patrol, where their spit and polish demeanor kept most of them at a distance although there were a few I could count on for more casual conversation.

With that in mind, it had been an SHP officer who last cited me for speeding. He was correct, I was far above the 55 mph limit, but in my defense it was about 6 a.m. on a Christmas Eve morning and there were four empty lanes. Talk about putting a damper on my holiday spirit. A few short weeks later we were working an accident scene at the same time and one of the less reserved officers offered to shoot him for me. The charge was later dismissed because it was my first violation.

I haven't had much of an issue with speeding more recently. My last ticket was for expired registration in our "farm" truck. Way expired, as in about a month out of date, but then we don't drive the truck on even a weekly basis, so it had somehow been forgotten. I rectified the situation and the charges were dismissed.

This time, however, my resources aren't what they were five years ago. I have never worked in Forsyth County and don't know anyone with the Winston-Salem Police Department.

I have, however, received multiple offers of legal assistance in my dilemma -- something that didn't happen the last time I received a speeding ticket. The week after my ticket I received no less than eight offers to handle the matter for me. I took them on like a bidding war and held on to the low bid -- $50 and I don't even have to go to court, just pay whatever fines they assess.

If Forsyth County is anything like the other courts I've covered, and I'm sure it is, then it's probably easy money for the attorneys who wind up making many of the same calls I've had other people make in the past. Speeding is an easy drop to improper equipment, the court and county get their money (probably still in the neighborhood of the $200 I'm looking at if I just pay the ticket), and the attorney gets paid for his time. If I wanted to go to court, I could probably get the same deal myself.

At the same time, I don't think I'll be making an extra trip. It's probably worth $50 to avoid a court appearance and the hours that takes off your life.

I do know I'll be doing one thing different in the future, and that's setting the cruise control, not just for the open road where it's too easy for 65 to become 75, but for those long stretches of seemingly innocent city streets where 45 mph is the limit.

No comments:

Post a Comment