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Car Insurance

A Blog About Driving and Car Insurance in the USA

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Right Choice Got Me Two Traffic Tickets

fighting an unjust traffic ticketThe other day I was cruising down a local boulevard, a three-lane road that's peppered with traffic lights. I was on my way to a supermarket to do some food shopping, so I wasn't in any kind of hurry.

I came upon an extremely busy intersection, an intersection that just happens to be famous for being one of the most dangerous intersection in the country, due to the number of accidents that happen there. It's 4 lanes of traffic, with a local and express lane for each direction. If you've never driven on this boulevard before, turning onto this road from an intersecting one can be very confusing and very hazardous. Drivers often end up turning into the wrong lane, and then have to deal with driving up a road where everyone else driving in the opposite direction. It's sound ugly and scary, and it is. When you add lots of impatient drivers trying to get home during rush hour to the mix, it a recipe for disaster.

I was not new to this intersection, so I knew how to handle it. Whenever I reach this intersection and the traffic light has just turned green, I generally slow down a little and cross it without a hitch. If I'm not sure if the traffic light is about to turn yellow, I take it easy and start slowing down a good distance from the light, so that I don't have to worry about hesitating or stopping hard and possibly causing an accident.

I was very close to passing through the traffic light when an extremely aggressive driver showed up on my tail, seemingly out of nowhere. He was tailgating me hard, and I have no tolerance for tailgaters. My plan was to go through the traffic light, change lanes, then pull up next to him and give him a lesson on why it's really stupid to tailgate. At that point, the traffic light turned yellow, and I eased through the intersection. To my surprise, the aggressive tailgater slammed on his brakes, and came to a complete stop. He slammed his brakes so hard that a small plume of smoke rose from his tires, and there was a loud screech.

Then it was time for surprise #2: a police van turned onto the boulevard behind me, and pulled me over. I was cool, because I had done nothing wrong. I released my seat belt, reached over to the glove compartment and retrieved my driver license and vehicle registration. Just trying to be efficient. A police officer came to the driver-side window and asked, "Didn't you see the traffic light?"

"Oh, I know all about that traffic light. It had just turned yellow when the front of my car passed through the intersection," I replied.

"License and registration," she demanded.

"Sure," I answered, and handed her my documents.

"OK. Wait here," she grunted.

When the police officer returned, she gave me two tickets: one for running a red light, and another for driving without a seat belt. As you might have already guessed, I was outraged.

"First of all, the light was yellow. Second, I was wearing my belt. I took it off to get my driver documents," I said firmly, without yelling.

"If you get another ticket from the traffic camera system, you can ignore it. Just pay the ticket I gave you," she advised as she simultaneously ignored my protests.

And at that, the police officer turned and walked back to the police van before I could get another word in. I switched on my interior light to examine the tickets further, at which point I heard a short blast from the siren of the police van. It was the cops telling me to move along. Lovely.

My instincts prompted me to get out of my car and confront the officers in the van, but then I ran through a number of possible outcomes in my head, and decided that temperance was the better choice of action. I turned off my hazards, and made my to the supermarket.

I will be fighting both tickets, of course. I'm good at it. The last time I was in traffic court, it was to fight a ticket given to me for making a right turn at a red light at an intersection that doesn't allow it. My defense was that the No Turn On Red sign was blocked by a bus so I wasn't able to see it. It was the truth. I took a few pictures with my digital camera to support my case. I had to stand and wait at a street corner for a few minutes for bus to show up, so that I could show the before and after shots, but it was summer so I didn't mind. I won the case, easily.

In my opinion, I made the right choice by going through the yellow light. If I had decided to brake instead, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would have been involved in an accident. The accident would have resulted in:

  • Costly repairs: I have comprehensive insurance coverage, but I would still have to pay a deductible.
  • Ruined vehicle history report: my car has never been involved in an accident, which adds to it's resale value. An accident would have been noted on my car's vehicle history report (CarFax, AutoCheck, etc.)
  • Higher insurance premium: my car insurance premium would go up, no doubt.
  • Serious injuries, or death: the accident could have caused a multi-car pileup, which could cause serious injuries and perhaps even cause a fatality or two.

So, readers, I ask you: what would you have done? stopped hard and let the tailgater slam into your rear causing a serious accident, or cruised through what was clearly a yellow light?

So here's the funny part. I posted the above story to a popular Internet forum where all kinds of police officers (county, state, etc.) hang out. Most cops wrote that I should just go to court and let a judge decide. I was OK with those responses. But one police officer actually posted that if he had been in my shoes, he would have stopped at the light and let the accident happen. He wrote that he would have preferred that because it might have resulted in a generous insurance settlement. Yep: I guess there's one in every bunch. A sickening example of just how perversely litigious our society has become.

Comments are always welcome and appreciated.

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