The Suburban Traffic Cop Game


A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

Suburban Traffic Tickets are a game where the government will eventually win and the best a person can do is generate a tie. I prefer playing games that I can win, but this being what it is, not playing isn’t an option. Wouldn’t it be nice if people who didn’t have a badge could write traffic tickets to those who did? The game might actually be fun.

In the town I live in I’ve played the game to a tie for eleven years, but that ended this week. That’s meaningful because there are a lot of traffic cops around here and I drive late at night a couple times a week. I’ve been followed for miles only to frustrate the local constabulary as officers made hard acceleration, wheel-spinning U-turns when I arrived home. They have to find the "evil-doers" of the roadway; it’s their job.

I am a very exacting driver about coming to a complete stop, signaling, and every thing else of that nature. (It’s an outgrowth of my bicycling civil-obedience.) I rarely make mistakes driving or bicycling. I follow the golden rule of not requiring another driver to take evasive action for me provided he follows the rules of right of way. Or as some put it: priorities of “skin, tin, ticket." I know and follow entire sections and details of the vehicle code that cops don’t even know exist. This fact has resulted in a few confrontations with officers over the last dozen years as the law and what many people (including police officers) believe it is are not the same thing.

It’s been a little over two years since I last made a "mistake" while driving where a government employee (highwayman may be more appropriate) was present. That last time, I wasn’t guilty, it was due to the government not following the law. It was at a rather oddly set up intersection with various issues and the stop line considerably back from the plane of the intersection. One can actually reach the crosswalk on green and cross the plane of the intersection on red, which is what happened to me. This is not a violation. (625 ILCS 5/11-306 (c)1.)

I showed in court that the traffic light was not set up properly under IL law (625 ILCS 5/11-301) that requires following the MUTCD and that one could enter on green and exit on red at parking lot speeds. This isn’t a problem in traffic court. There is an easy solution. The judge just says the physical details of the intersection were manufactured after the fact and laughs. For securing a conviction the prosecution declared that the parking lot drive is a "street," making testifying to low speed unbelievable.

For my efforts the judge raised the base fine by $25 and added $30 in "court costs." Before that it had been several years since I last had to pay a traffic ticket, so I got court supervision, avoiding the insurance rate hikes. The judge also asks if the fine can be paid today. Maybe this is where one is supposed to play "poor" to pay less? It has the feel of a shakedown. I was escorted to the door of the courtroom by a bailiff who remained uncomfortably close to me. At this moment I realized why there is so much security at the courthouse. The way they treat people would naturally cause some to lash out physically.

I may have won some sort of minor victory after all. As I left the court (and later in a letter to that city), I stated that I would drive 30mph on that parking lot drive in the future (I didn’t really intend to and never did, it was to make a point). The reason was I now had a court record that it was a road and not parking lot drive. There were no speed limit signs, so it defaults to 30mph (625 ILCS 5/11-601). Some months afterwards, 15mph speed limit signs appeared there. It is funny how that works. I can only hope the city paid for the signs, but I guess the property owner was probably forced to.

Driving home from work recently I look up and what was a green light is now yellow. I have no excuse for missing the beginning of the yellow signal besides that I was looking at the conditions at the intersection ahead when it changed. But it’s yellow and I am very close to the intersection. I don’t have time to check my mirrors to see if anyone is on my bumper (I drive the under posted speed limit on these roads, so I am usually being tailgated and have been nearly hit and hit for stopping for yellow signals in the past). To stop before the line I would have to put my car’s Brembo brakes to full use. I decide I don’t want to be hit, I don’t want to take the risk, as the intersection is clear. There is a risk of a "rolling stop," but ticket comes after skin and after tin. I had to make this decision quickly and I went with what I knew, it was clear and safe to make the turn. I tap the brakes and make my right turn just as the light flicks red (according to the officer). I see that a car waiting in the left turn lane of the crossing road is a police cruiser. Sure enough the lights come on as he crosses lanes of traffic to nab me. For his performance objectives it must be a suitable trade off to risk a collision to punish me for not risking one.

So I get to talk to this man whom I’d rather have nothing to do with. I get a short lecture about obeying the law (safety is oddly absent). “Yeah, like I haven’t seen you guys do rolling stops dozens of times over the years” I think to myself. The robotic officer asks me if I have had any tickets in the past twelve months. I answer no. This means I’m probably getting a ticket. The local officers don’t want to over fish. A year between tickets is required so one can take automatic traffic school and get supervision to avoid insurance rate hikes without going to court (costs an extra $30 on top of the fine, a nice private-public partnership profit center). The government does this to streamline the system and get people to pay instead of fight. Only the poor and the principled fight regular traffic tickets because it is not worth the time value of money for most people, not to mention the penalty for fighting and losing.

He goes back to run my license through the system. I wonder what comes up. Some time ago an officer in the next town was talking on his cell phone and turned left across my path well after his arrow had expired and my signal turned green. I stopped to avoid him. He became angry, so angry he doubled back after me at a rather unsafe speed, because I "made a face" at him, but not angry enough to risk his job by manufacturing a ticket. I wonder if that cop’s anger resulted in commentary in the system, if it is even allowed. My wondering about the technology doesn’t last for very long, the officer is on his way back already. I think a verbal warning is coming since he didn’t have enough time to write a ticket. Alas, no, the officer comes back with a nice computer printed ticket. Wow, no illegible handwriting, high-tech efficiency of the most modern sort, so unlike most government operations.

Now I have to pay a ticket. I would just shrug this off as another tax, maybe curse about it, complain about the selective enforcement, and feel like I’ve just been robbed at the point of a gun. But it is a little different this year.

Earlier this summer I was bicycling past the local police station at the posted speed limit of 25mph. As I am nearing an intersection a Pontiac driver (who had just left the police station’s back lot) passes me close (1.5ft away or less) and I sound my horn (a long blast) to let the driver know I am there. When bicycling at speeds faster than most drivers are accustomed to I’ve had drivers cut back to the right when they are next to me. I’ve nearly been hit a few times when this has happened. (I guess most drivers think bicyclists vanish into the ether once behind their vehicle’s A-pillar, or all move at 5mph) With very little spacing to my left and not all that much room to flee to the right this was not a comfortable situation.

The driver cuts in front of me and hits the brake, stopping short. I dive right and the passenger opens the door into my path, which I also avoid. A police officer (in plain clothes, with a badge on belt) gets out of the car. I stop at the stop sign in front of the Pontiac.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had a badge holding government employee decide to exercise his authoritah when I’ve been bicycling. I’ve learned that I have to hold my ground, show I know the vehicle code, and wait out their routine of yelling and trying to dominate until they calm down. The very nature of vehicular bicycling seems to enrage some police officers as it does some drivers. It seems despite complaints about bicycle riders not obeying the law, obeying it upsets them much more. People have funny ideas of what the law is with regard to bicycles too. I know what I am in for as the officer approaches me.

He begins to harass me saying that I have to yield to cars (because they are cars and I am using a bicycle, which is of course false) and I could not be as far left as I was. (I was slightly inside the right tire track and IL law only requires being as far right as practicable when going less than the normal speed of traffic. At the speed I was traveling I could have been centered in the lane if I had chosen. (625 ILCS 5/11-1505)) He threatens me with a ticket. I tell him how fast I was going and to read the vehicle code. He keeps on going in a loud voice, trying to dominate the situation. I repeat that I was going the speed limit, they brush passed me, they endangered me, and that he should read the vehicle code. Went through this three times. He then walks back to the car. He calls me an “as**ole” and gets back in the car and they go on their way. (speeding of course)

The driver committed at least THREE traffic violations, maybe FOUR (could be five or six if I take some time to think about it some more):

  1. Speeding.
  2. Passing a bicyclist within 3 feet. (625 ILCS 5/11-703)
  3. Passing on a two lane road within 100 ft of a stop sign. (625 ILCS 5/11-706)
  4. Whatever is applicable to stopping in the traffic lane to discharge passengers. (625 ILCS 5/11-1303)

As employees of the government there was no ticket for their dangerous behavior. Me, making a turn where at worst I made a small unintentional error, got in nobody’s way, delayed no one, caused no one any problem, was entirely safe, got ticketed. They can deliberately put me at risk of severe injury for no good reason three times inside a few seconds and that’s okay, they’re the government and exist to keep us "safe." Why don’t I feel "safe"?

September 13, 2008