How to avoid a speeding ticket

Don’t speed, of course.

But you will so here is some advice that might work. Most traffic stops are for speeding because speed limits are often set lower than they should be and about 85% of traffic moves at a higher speed. The safest way to operate a vehicle in traffic is to stay with the flow of traffic. So you’re probably in danger of a speeding ticket at any time.

Nothing said below applies to any other kind of traffic stop. Except for red-light cameras, red light and stop sign violations are not usually policed for profit. Speeding is. Everyone knows this but some will not admit it. Red light and stop sign violations are genuinely dangerous so you should probably never expect to avoid a ticket for those violations.

First, the ground rules. Cops like people who are cooperative and somewhat friendly. But never lay it on too thick. Don’t be a bootlicker or the cop may think you are hiding something. 

Everybody should know this one, but it won’t hurt to repeat it. Open both the driver’s side and the passenger side windows so the cop can see into your vehicle. If at dusk or night, turn on your interior lights as well. If the rear windows have heavily tinted glass I’d open those as well. Keep your hands at ten o’clock and two o’clock on the steering wheel as the cop approaches.

Routine traffic stops are almost as deadly for cops as domestic calls. Don’t lunge for the glove compartment to get your registration and insurance card, tell him what you’re doing. If it’s possible to get to these things before he (or she) even gets you stopped that’s good, but remember that from the moment he lights you up he is trying hard to watch your every move. You don’t want to do anything that might look like you are trying to retrieve a weapon. Officers look for furtive movements before they approach your vehicle so it may be better to wait until the contact begins if your documents are not easily accessed on your person.

Don’t be alarmed if the cop stands well back from your window so that he has to lean forward quite a bit to seen into the front seat of your car. This makes it more difficult for you to see him, you have to turn back quite a bit. That’s the idea, and it’s becoming standard practice. It’s so if you are going to try to shoot him, you’ll have to do from an awkward position of disadvantage.

Next, learn to balance two seemingly inconsistent rules: First, never lie to a cop; Second, don’t make categorical fact statements.

For example, to this question: How fast were you going?” The speed limit is 60 and you know you were going 75.  So you try to soften it a little  and you say, “Oh, a little over, maybe 65?” I think you’ll probably get a ticket about right then.  But should you say the categorical truth, that you were going 75?  Well, if you do that you’re putting the cop in a difficult situation. If he (or she) hasn’t yet decided to write you up you’ve made it hard for him (or her) not to write you up because you’ve completely confessed.  So what do you do?

First, remember Rule No 1: Never lie to a cop. Here’s what I do and it isn’t a lie because I don’t know exactly how fast I was going. You probably don’t either because you probably don’t run at an exact uniform speed anyway, and you don’t know when exactly his radar nailed you. But you do know you were going “too fast.” Those two words are general in nature, not categorical factual statements. So, there you have it. You can avoid insulting the cop by not lying to him, and you haven’t exactly confessed either.

You could answer the question with, “I’m not sure officer but I must have been going too fast or you wouldn’t have stopped me.” I’ve found this to be a pretty good way to keep everything at a low key, which is what you want.  If you’re going to be let go with a warning, you must never forget that you won’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.

An alternative open question the cop may hit you with: “Do you know why I pulled you over? You can answer this one with a slight modification, such as, “I was probably going too fast.”  Again, general words, not categorical facts.

In addition to the above, there’s a more practical reason not to make categorical fact statements to a police officer that has just stopped you on the road. People have varying degrees of stress when they see those red and blue lights in their rear-view mirror. Whatever your personal level of stress in these situations, trying to be give accurate answers to questions from the cop while under stress can lead to unintended factual mistakes.  That’s why general statements are better.

Adrenaline and cortisol are the two hormones that your adrenal gland will release when you are under stress. The stress hormone cortisol will linger long after the adrenaline has receded.  Cortisol treats the effects of stress, but it also inhibits short-term memory retrieval. Not only do you not want to lie to a cop, you don’t want the cop to think you are lying. If you say something that is contradicted by obvious facts, the cop isn’t a psychiatrist. He or she will simply conclude that you’re lying. Automatic ticket will be the likely result.

OK, you followed the above, what next? At this point I have had cops respond in ways such as this: As he takes control over my license, registration and insurance, he says, “OK, let me check this out and if everything checks out we’ll handle this with a warning.” I respond, in a normal voice, “Thank you, sir. (or Ma’am). Sometimes, it’s more like, “Well, you’ve been honest and you haven’t made any excuses so we’ll handle this with a warning.” Or an alternative, same statement except instead of the warning he says he’ll check the box for the lower fine (this isn’t a possibility in most states, but apparently it is the city of Rawlins, Wyoming. For 55 in a 40 several years ago I paid a $25 fine, no points, no record for insurance. Very cool).

What if you truly believe a mistake has been made, that you were not over the speed limit? First rule in that case is to know you probably won’t resolve the matter with the police officer. Arguing with the officer is not going to help you. It’s going to be a matter of negotiating with the county attorney or making an argument to a judge. In this case you won’t want to give  the answers I’ve suggested above. Just be polite, don’t argue, say you know the officer is just doing his job but you believe a mistake has been made and you don’t want to say any more.

Even if no mistake has been made but your ticket history is such that your license may be in jeopardy by another ticket then you just want to preserve your right to contest the matter in court or negotiate a deal with the county or city attorney. It is usually possible to get some sort of break on points by pleading to a lesser violation, but that seldom helps with the insurance problem. It won’t help with the fine, they only agree to the deal on points if they still get the same money.

What if you (legally) have a firearm in your car? Should you tell the cop right away?  If you are in Alaska the answer is yes and you don’t want to hesitate because for some reason they get pretty angry if you do. It’s the law in the state of Alaska. Texas may be the same. It’s not the law in many other states. You need to know the law on firearms in cars in the state you are in. If you are like me and travel mostly in states where firearms in cars are perfectly legal so long as you have it lawfully and for a lawful purpose, then it depends on the particular circumstances whether you should mention that you have a firearm.

Sorry to say, this can be tricky. Some cops are jumpy at this point. Bad things can happen. If the law doesn’t require you to inform the officer, then you must consider the circumstances to determine whether or when you should disclose it. If the gun is not on your person nor is anywhere the officer will see it then and state law does not require it, I don’t think there is any reason to disclose it unless he asks if you have any weapons.  Then you revert to rule no. 1, never lie to a cop.

You do not want a cop to ever see a firearm you have not already told him or her about. If it is in the glove compartment (that’s not where it should be, ever) with your registration tell him that and ask him if he wants to retrieve your registration himself.  Whatever, just do as he instructs from that point on. If it’s on your person, show him both hands and say, “Sir, I would like to inform you that I have a concealed carry permit and I am currently armed. My firearm is in a holster on my right side. How would you like me to proceed sir?”

Here are four words you should never say to a police officer: “I have a gun.”

Do not say those words under any circumstances. The bad guys use that phrase … “I have a gun” and officers may be conditioned to respond. The word “gun” is an action word in law enforcement training, such as “gun partner gun” and not many bad guys use the word “firearm.”  So when you say “firearm,” you don’t sound like a bad guy.

State laws vary. Some do not require that you disclose that have a firearm unless the officer asks you specifically. Some require you to announce that you have a firearm upon any contact with a police officer. Some states may require that the drivers’ license and carry permit be presented at the same time. You must know the laws of the state you are in at the time. There are books available to help you, here are a couple I like:

2017 Traveler’s Guide to the Firearm Laws of the Fifty States

Self Defense Laws of All 50 states

There are also websites you can consult, such as:

For any question not specifically answered in one of these sources you should consult the attorney general’s website for the each state in which you intend to travel.

Whatever, make sure you are in compliance with local law. If a concealed carry permit is required to have a gun in a car, make sure you have the permit in your possession. Remember also that nowhere is a CCW permit an acceptable ID. You must have your drivers’ license or some other official sort of ID when you are carrying a firearm.

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