Saturday, November 19, 2011
November 20th, 2011 - What a Racket!
The other day I had to go to court for a speeding ticket I had gotten about six weeks prior. It was the first speeding ticket I had gotten in about fifteen years. Now of course I technically broke the law by speeding, but I really don’t think that’s what it’s all about that for our wonderful local authorities. This is a topic I could go on about forever, but the bottom line to it all, based on my experience from the other day, is that the whole thing is just a freaking racket for making money, and lots of it!
I Broke the Law
I guess I’ll go back to the day where it all started. I was on my way home from work and I had been following a very slow-moving gas truck for about four miles on a one-lane highway towards Sunrise Highway, which is about halfway home for me. When I reached Sunrise, I was finally able to go around the truck and so I went around him in the left lane, picking up speed as I went to pass him. There were not many cars on the road.
Once I had passed the truck, I slowed to a regular pace, about 62 mph, but by then it was too late. Apparently I hit 81 mph during that short stretch of road when I was passing him and that was enough for the officer who pulled me over. At first, I really had no idea why he was pulling me over, for I did not realize I had been going that fast, but when he told me that he clocked me doing 81 there was nothing I could really do to defend it. After all, I was speeding.
When he issued me the ticket, the officer advised me to plead not guilty so I could get my conviction reduced by making an appearance in court, so that’s what I did. This had happened to me before, and I figured that reducing the speed on my ticket would help me both monetarily and with the points on my license. I should be happy about what happened, and I am to a degree, but I couldn’t help but see things in a different light.
The Southampton Courthouse in Hampton Bays does not look like a courthouse at all. The court is situated in what looks like a modular trailer, and it was full of scofflaws like me, about 100 of them. In the courtroom there were two lawyers, D.A.’s who were there to negotiate pleas with all of the ticketed persons who were there. As I sat and waited my turn to be called, I couldn’t help but notice that about 80% of the people in the room were men.
Gender Bias in Ticketing?
Is there a gender bias in traffic violation ticketing or do men really tend to break traffic laws more often than women? In the past year, I’ve been a passenger twice in which the driver was pulled over, and I know of a third person who was seen by a police officer speeding, yet none of them were issued summonses for speeding. All three of the drivers were women.
In one of the instances in which I was a passenger, the driver began to cry as soon as the police lights went on. She was sobbing almost uncontrollably once the officer came to the car. He let her off with a warning. The other two women are easy on the eyes, so to speak, and I say that as a gay man. Neither of them were ticketed either. You’ve got to wonder why.
I used to be an insurance salesman and I know that statistically men are considered a higher risk for breaking traffic laws because they tend to get more summonses than women, yet I see plenty of women drivers in my own travels that drive like maniacs. The result is, of course, higher premiums for men. Just sayin’!
Do They Really Give a Crap if I’m Speeding?
I don’t know, but isn’t the whole point of getting a speeding ticket supposed to be that it deters a driver from speeding again? I know that in the weeks following the ticket I was extra careful not to speed as I drove around, but now my cautiousness is a little less after my court date on Wednesday.
After about fifteen minutes of waiting, I was called up by one of the D.A.’s, a twenty-something woman. When I stepped up to the front of the courtroom for my ‘plea conference,’ she admonished me by telling me I needed to slow down out there. You can imagine what I wanted to say to her, but all I could mutter was a simple, “yeah, I know.” She told me that they were willing to drop the case down to a parking ticket with no points and just a fine. Was that agreeable to me? Well, duh?
I was told to sit and wait for the judge to arrive and then I’d have to officially accept the plea deal before her and be on my merry way. Within five minutes or so, the judge came in. Everybody rose and the proceedings were underway. I listened carefully as my fellow scofflaws were called up one by one, and each one heard the same line:
“You’re charged with a misdemeanor for braking section #1202A of the traffic code and have been offered to plead guilty to that charge. Is this agreeable to you?”
I figured that section 1202A was the section of the law that pertained to parking violations, as I heard the same thing when it was my turn. Nearly all of the violators in the courtroom were presented with the same plea bargain. Ten minutes later, me and all of my fellow violators were in the cashier’s office waiting to pay our 150 bucks, all 100 or so of us.
It's all about the Benjamins...
What a Racket!
In all, I was in the Southampton Courthouse for a little over an hour, and during that time almost 100 people pled guilty to parking violations, none of which they actually committed, and they all paid their dues to the tune of $150. That’s a take of just about $15K in a little over an hour. Not bad, huh?
I know that many of you will say that I should be relieved, and I am, but I can’t help but think that these local “law enforcement” agencies don’t really give a hoot whether or not I speed. It’s all about the money, isn’t it? And maybe some of the bogus traffic codes that are out there are simply there so that cops have a reason to pull you over so that they can get their hands in your pocket.
In the end what’s the result? Since my ‘conviction’ I’ve been paying far less attention to how fast I’m going because now I don’t have to worry about adding points to my license as I now have a clean slate. Though I did break the law by speeding I was in the end convicted of an entirely different offense and all that the town got out of it was 150 bucks from me. Good for all? Maybe, but I still think it’s nothing but a crock of ….