You know there is something going on under the table when nearly all traffic exceeds the posted speed limit and a Lieutenant in charge of an area's traffic enforcement asserts that exceeding the speed limit is the number one cause of all traffic accidents. For a respected officer to create such a rationalization and for such wishful signage to exist, there must be some significant pressure from somewhere. One result is a traffic enforcement effort that promotes unsafe traffic behavior and contempt for enforcement.
It is a mistake to take traffic tickets as lightly as the ticket might suggest. Not only does a conviction or acceptance of the ticket mean paying the fine, you will also have your driving safety record placed under suspicion and your insurance company may increase your premium for several years. Contesting your ticket will take up to a day or so of your time and require maybe two visits to your local court with several dollars needed for parking meters. (the court is very kind to those who need to excuse themselves for a minute to feed a parking meter). It is up to the state to prove that you were indeed an unsafe driver and if you believe there is any reason that they may be wrong, make them prove it. You won't be punished for your standing for your rights and you might well prevail.
The judicial process for traffic tickets may take about a day of your time overall and most of that will be sitting in court watching what others do. It should not be a day wasted as you will see our legal system in action in front of you and will most likely gain a great deal of respect for most of the people who make it work. It is your system and you need to approach it as one that protects your rights and is built for you. Learn how to use it effectively by watching others use it.
You get a ticket. It will tell you when and where to show up to plead your guilt or innocence and will likely give you the option to pay a bail (exit option 1) so you can avoid the hassle of appearing.
You appear before a judge and make your plea. If you plead guilty or no contest, you pay the penalty and are done (exit option 2). If you plead not guilty then you will then proceed to step three. No contest is the same as guilty except that you reserve any responsibility for claims about the liability for your actions.
You will likely have a meeting with an assistant District Attorney (DA) to see if a deal can be struck to avoid trial. Depending upon the evidence, the severity of the accusation against you, and other factors, the DA may offer a reduced sentence or other incentive to encourage you to settle the matter (exit option 3). The DA represents the state and is your opponent - do not fall into the trap of thinking he or she is acting in your interest in any way. If negotiations with the DA fails, then you move to the next step.
Your court date is set with a visit to the court clerk on the way out the door from the meeting with the DA. Any exit option before this point means you are considered guilty and will suffer the consequences.
Court preparations occur next. You will likely receive a letter from the DA saying that they have asked the officer who ticketed you to appear as their witness. This is the time when you should prepare an extensive list of questions (see examples below) to ask the officer about any issues related to his giving you a ticket. It is also the time when you can ask for certain documents related to your case such as certifications for equipment and training but a lawyer may be needed to do a thorough job of this. (This process, called discovery, can be a useful tactic for defense but requires skill and knowledge to execute effectively).
Your trial is the last step. The officer will be asked to testify about his giving you a ticket. There are reasonable odds that he will not be at court which means your case will be dismissed for lack of evidence (exit option 4 . whoopee!). If he does show up, then you will have the opportunity to ask him (or her) questions about the ticket. The purpose of your questions should be to bring to light specific evidence concerning your ticket. After the officer testifies, it will be your turn if you choose. If you testify for yourself, the DA will have the opportunity to grill you as well. Then both you and the DA tell the judge what you think the outcome should be, the judge passes sentence, and you live with the results (exit option 5 . your verdict).
It is possible to appeal the initial trial verdict but that process is beyond the scope of this discussion. Get a lawyer and lots of monetary support.
In a typical traffic court trial, you will probably be representing yourself as the issues involved do not warrant the expense of a lawyer. The court may have an instruction sheet for you to help you understand court procedure and what is expected of you. You can and should be able to expect assistance from the DA, the judge, the bailiff, and others in the court if you maintain a polite demeanor.
In your cross examination of witnesses, it needs to be very clear that your purpose is to obtain information and not to give information. Ask simple questions that can be clearly answered. Have a plan and a goal for your questions. The information you seek is to build your case and the answer to every question should contribute to your argument about why you don't deserve a guilty verdict. Here are some examples of questions you might ask.
Where were you parked to observe traffic at the time of the ticket?
How did you come to choose this spot at this time?
How far from the side of the road were you parked?
What kind of road is it at this point? What are the characteristics of the road related to traffic safety? (lanes, shoulders, surface, crossroads, etc.)
What was the weather like?
What were road conditions like?
Was the road straight or curved at your observation
(If curved: Were you on the inside or the outside of the curve?)
How far up the road could you observe traffic on the road? (up should be replaced by a direction of the road away from traffic being monitored)
What limited your view in that direction?
How down the road could you observe traffic? (down should be replaced by a direction of the road toward traffic being monitored)
What limited your view in down the road?
Was there traffic in all lanes in the region of the road you were observing?
Were there several cars in both north bound lanes?
About how many vehicles were in the left lane going north between x and y?
Were there many large gaps between vehicles?
Did you see anyone following too closely with less than a second between vehicles?
Was there any lane changing to pass others that you observed in this traffic at this time?
How long do you estimate it would have taken a car in the left lane to pass one in the right?
About how many vehicles did you observe going at less than the posted speed limit as they passed x Street as a percentage of observed vehicles?
What were you using to measure vehicle speed?
When were you last trained and certified competent in the use of this equipment?
When was the equipment you used last calibrated and certified as suitable for measuring traffic speed?
What was the approximate angle between your line of sight to the vehicles you were observing and their direction of travel?
What means were used to assure that the speeds you recorded were those of the vehicles whose speeds you thought you were measuring and not of others in the line of traffic?
What length of observing time is needed to obtain an accurate measure of speed with the equipment you used?
What accommodations were made to adjust instrument readings for the angle between observation direction and direction of travel?
What measures were taken to assure that reflection and diffraction from the fences and telephone poles and other artifacts near your line of sight did not influence the speed measures?
You should obtain a copy of the driver's manual for the state in which the ticket was issued in order to determine the guidelines for drivers related to the offense involved. You may find ameliorating considerations related to your offense to ask about. Sometimes a look at the actual statutes you are accused of violating may also indicate considerations and factors that may indicate questions to be asked of the ticketing officer. Here are some simple examples based on Nevada's Driving Handbook relating to a typical practice of pulling people out of a commute crowd for speeding. Nevada has a Basic Rule for driving at a "reasonable or proper" speed. This means that, in addition to any posted speed limits you must consider: [traffic, weather, visibility along road, road condition, road type ] Driving too slowly can be unsafe.... [ emphasis shown as in handbook ]
What is Nevada's Basic Rule for driving? ("Nevada has a Basic Rule for driving at a "reasonable or proper speed")
What factors, if any, would cause you to believe this basic rule was not being followed? (see driver's manual for list of possibilities)
Can you summarize the instructions given to you that you were following in performing this particular traffic duty?
mph*1.467 = feet/second; 45 mph=66fps; 35 mph=50fps
At 45 mph, each vehicle occupies 20 feet plus 2 seconds or about 150 feet so a full lane would have maybe 7 vehicles in 1000 feet. At 35 mph, 2 seconds is 100 feet for 120 feet per car or about 8 vehicles per thousand feet of road.
Research indicates that most people do not use posted speed limits to set their driving speed but rather their feel for the road, conditions, traffic, and their vehicle. Most people drive safely most of the time.
Engineering guidelines suggest that speed limits should be set by observing traffic and using a speed so that 80% of the drivers are going at or below the speed limit.
Excess speed for conditions is well below number five in the list of causes of accidents.
The major influence of speed in accidents is in the energy it brings to collisions. A vehicle hitting a pedestrian at as low a speed as 10 mph can be fatal yet drivers with proper restraints in a properly designed vehicle can survive high speed collisions with only minor injury.
Perceptions of speed are often faulty. Highway hypnosis affects drivers on long drives down the freeway. Front porch busybodies often see 5 mph traffic as speeding recklessly.
A person walking across a road takes about three seconds to cross a lane.
Speeding citations are usually based on measurements made with an instrument. This provides a hard number and a machine to argue about. Most people take machine based numbers as a given but any good scientist would take a machine measure as a starting point for a good debate about the reliability and accuracy of conclusions.
Did the officer park at a place that limited his ability to observe 'going home from work' traffic?
Were there any adverse conditions at play?
Was traffic heavy yet flowing smoothly?
The measurement of speed had many error factors to consider.
e.g. The measure of speed was near instantaneous and made during a short interval where the traffic was adjusting speed approaching cross roads or other condition. It was not an accurate measure of the safe speed nor of the actual average speed of any particular vehicle at the point where the measurement was made.
e.g. There was no indication that any specific vehicle was driving in violation of Nevada's Basic Rule at this date and time.
e.g. There is good indication that adherence to the particular issue cited would create conditions that the Driver's Handbook emphasizes as unsafe.
The Basics. Beat a speeding ticket to keep your rates down. A hefty fine may be only the beginning if you get nailed for speeding: Your insurer can slap a surcharge on your policy that could run for years. By Ed Henry and Ronaleen R. Roha, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
NOLO Publishers Cars and Tickets - books to help you do your own law at nolo.com
National Motorists Association - The National Motorists Association is a membership organization devoted to representing and protecting the rights and interests of North American motorists.
Safe Speed Claims - In this area of the Safe Speed web site we set out the key arguments and evidence to support our beliefs. You can click the paragraph number to see "the comments page" for each claim. If you want to add to the comments page, click the mail link relating the the claim you wish to comment upon. We will post all suitable original comments, including those that we disagree with.
This is not intended to be legal advice. For legal advice, please consult with a lawyer properly qualified to practice law in the location and topic of law appropriate to your needs.