Sierra Nevada Airstreams

Speed Trap Victims

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 process

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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).

  6. 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).

  7. 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.

Questions to ask of a ticketing officer

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.





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 ]


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.

Facts about driving speed

Example of points to note:

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

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.

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Last updated 03/03/2003