So this post spun off the comments thread of a previous post in which I related a story about getting a ticket. Some of the specifics of this post apply to both Ontario and New York. Different States and Provinces have a different policies, but many of the general rules here apply anywhere. I have a lot of experience dealing with traffic infractions — most of it from my (air quotes) wild (air quotes) youth, so here’s a few things you may or may not know…
Dealing with the Officer
If you’re a girl, and the cop is a guy, probably your best bet is to cry. Seems to work for every girl I know. For any other situation, here are some good rules:
- Turn your engine off, and (if its dark, or even dim out) your cabin light on as soon as you’re pulled over. Turn on your four-ways as well. Pulling someone over is very dangerous for a cop — for all he knows, you could be an axe-murderer on the run from your latest slaying. If you turn your car off, he knows you’re not going to run. If you turn your cabin lights on, he can see what you’re doing, and be confident that you’re not going to pull a gun on him. Calmly reach for your insurance and license and have them ready. Roll down your window then put your hands on top of the steering wheel where he can see them as he approaches. Look friendly, chagrined, or scared. Don’t look angry.
- Be polite. Don’t B.S. the cop, and don’t be a jerk about it — he’s heard everything before, and you’re just going to make him mad.
- Don’t lie, but never admit to anything! “Do you know how fast you were going?” is a trap — it may very well mean that he doesn’t know either. Say “How fast was I going, sir?” or “I didn’t think I was going that fast.” or something non-committal. Ignorance is better than incriminating yourself.
- Once he’s established your offense, but before he walks away with your license and insurance papers, look for an opportunity to explain — if you have a good explanation. Ask “Could I just explain, sir?” And be polite. Especially now, when you’ve deviated from his normal script, keep your hands visible, your movements calm, and your face looking honest. Don’t be threatening or confrontational.
- Once he’s gone back to his car to look up your record and write your ticket, this round is over. There’s nothing left for you to do but wait. Don’t get out of your car, or turn it back on. If you want to turn your cabin lights off so people aren’t staring at you as they drive by, that’s OK. Just turn them back on when he leaves his car again, and put your hands back on the top of your steering wheel. If your record is clean, and you haven’t ticked him off, unless he’s power tripping or having a bad day, he’ll likely cut you a break. Whether he does or not, accept the ticket, be polite, and drive away (at the speed limit.) You’ve done everything you can for now.
Dealing with the Ticket
Your next best bet for getting out of the ticket is the court system. Depending on what happened with the officer, you might want to take things to the next level.
We have the same three options here in Ontario as I was given when I got my one ticket in New York. You can chose to plead “guilty” and pay the fine, you can choose to “plead guilty with an explanation” to ask for a lowered fine (but no change in points on your licenses), and you can choose to plead “not guilty” at all.
Those last two options require you, or a lawyer on your behalf, to appear in court in the jurisdiction where you got the ticket (in New York, you can just write a letter if you want to offer an explanation)
Offering an explanation is almost always worth it — it doesn’t take much of an excuse to get it knocked down. However, it will cost you about half a day waiting for your turn before the Justice of the Peace. If you’re a student, you should do this — they’ll always take pity on you.
Getting a lawyer/paralegal to defend you as “not guilty” is only worth it if the insurance implications of your infraction are too onerous to be able to live with (or if you’re actually innocent.) Its expensive, it takes a long time (for the lawyer, but not really much of your time) but it almost always works — the courts/cops usually don’t care enough to put up a big fight.
In my most recent situation, I already got about the best deal I could hope for — pretty much the lowest ticket they can give (unless they’re really bored, cops won’t even bat an eye if you’re going less than 15km/hr (5-6 miles) over the speed limit) and a half of my day is worth more than the $50 it would cost to just plead guilty.
If you chose to plead “not guilty” the officer is obliged to appear in court to state the government’s case. Sometimes they won’t show up because they’re too busy, and the ticket will get thrown out. However, if they remember you, and what you did — or if they already cut you the best break they felt you deserved — they might make a point of being there, just to stick it to you. If he’s already given you a break, he could let the court know how fast you were really going. And, here’s where the tips above are important: anything you said during your time pulled over can be used against you — especially if you explicitly admitted to the infraction, or were verbally abusive to the officer.
If you live in a small community, as I do, you’ll likely see that cop again — especially if you have a bit of a lead foot — and he’s likely to remember you if you’ve dragged him off the streets and into court. Its never a good idea to get on the bad side of a traffic cop…
The final, and “secret” option is to look for mistakes on the ticket. One time, I had a cop put down the wrong year on my ticket, meaning it was garbage. Double-check your license number as well, since that’s a common place for transposition errors. If you find a mistake, you might still need to hire a paralegal to deal with it in court, but it’ll be a lot cheaper if the case is ready-made for them.
In some States, there’s also the option to defer the ticket, or take a driving class. Ontario has no such provisions, and our Insurance companies are a government sponsered Mafia, of sorts, that will screw you over at the first chance they get. Your best defense, unfortunately, is to keep your record clean, and your drag racing to a minimum — and on back roads with no posted speed limit!