September 2011

SEPTEMBER 2011: A Line In The Sand - Speeding Tickets

Author: Frank Dunne, Jr. and Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne

What happens when a police cruiser is parked beside a highway on the blind side of a curve or the down side of a hill where nobody can see it until the last second? Right. The lead car driver suddenly applies the brakes and in doing so, increases the probability of a chain reaction collision. Not very safe.

So doesn’t it follow that more drivers would be obeying the speed limits and on their best behavior, ergo, making the roads safer, if those parked police cruisers were actually cruising in plain sight of the maximum number of drivers?

Of course it does. But you can’t levy fines against people for obeying the speed limit and driving safely.

What? That’s it? That’s not Line in the Sand material, Frank! What the heck are you doing?

Oh, relax. You know I wouldn’t leave you hanging like that. Here’s how I proposed the question to Courtney: “Speeding tickets: public safety or government oppression and extortion?”

A little harsh, a little over the top with the superlatives, I know, but I had to come up with a way to raise her hackles over something that’s not really a big deal to her. You see, being the God-fearing (bet you didn’t know I saw that one did you, Sweetie?), by-the-book kind of gal that she is, Courtney’s only had one speeding ticket in her life. I also wanted to bait her and see how quickly she’d try to draw a tie-in with my being a Conservative. Just for fun, turn the page now and have a look!

Conservative conspiracy theory? I think Courtney’s watching too much Chris Matthews. All I see is an inconsistency between the spirit and intent of a law and the method by which it is enforced. The spirit and intent of traffic laws is public safety, and that’s a very good thing. However, the method by which speed limits are enforced does less to ensure public safety than it does to raise revenue for the municipality. That’s not so good. It’s dishonest, unfair and a little unjust.

How did it get this way? I don’t know. My guess is that somewhere in history somebody observed that there aren’t enough cop cars to cover every stretch of road in town every minute of the day. So imposing fines as a deterrent to speeding made perfectly good sense. Nothing wrong with that, but how long before the people counting the money would say, “Hey! If we write more tickets, we’ll make more money”? I don’t call it a conspiracy, but I know it’s wrong when the revenue imperative takes precedence over the public safety, especially when it diverts police officers from their higher calling.

Speaking of police officers, I take serious issue with Courtney’s suggestion that I don’t respect law enforcement personnel, so please spare me the sanctimonious lecture. My respect and admiration for the brave souls who wear the badge is well documented in my DEA series for this magazine. The strength of character and sense of purpose that I observed in the men I interviewed for that series was awe-inspiring, and my admiration and respect extends to everyone who has chosen a life of police work, from the DEA to the NYPD to the BCSO deputies who serve us every day.

Conservatives. Everything is a damn conspiracy, isn’t it? Next month Frank will probably want to pontificate on the John F. Kennedy assassination, which happened a decade before I was even born, so I’ll have to dig deep and put on my research boots to make that one happen.

But I digress. This month, Frank threw out the topic of speeding tickets. His position is that speeding tickets are a form of government oppression and extortion. I’ll bite and argue that they may simply be an effort in public safety. I actually have little experience in this area, however, I tell a mean story, so stay tuned.

I got my driver’s license in 1990. I cruised, in control, sans speeding ticket until 2008. Eighteen years with a clean record. That’s not to say I didn’t have a few close calls—like the weekend I had the luxury of driving my father’s car, the Thunderbird. She was fast in those days (long before my sister inherited the car, and the car inherited the nickname “Tin Lizzy”) and on the rare occasion that I was behind the wheel, it was pedal to the medal. On this particular weekend in 1992, I was up and back on the Garden State Parkway a number of times. I have no actual recollection of where I was headed, but I do remember being pulled over by the state police, thrice.

As the officer moseyed up to the car the first time, I rolled down the window (with a press of the button—a luxury in those days), and the trooper said, with a snap of his gum, “Where’s the fire?” I chuckled nervously and said, “Um, what?”

“The fire,” he said, “You have a firefighter sticker on the back window.”

Ah yes, the firefighter sticker, my ticket to freedom. “Yes,” I replied, “my father is a fire captain … and, I guess I was going a little fast.” Luckily, those serve and protect civil servants stick together, and I was off again.

Until, I got pulled over a second time. This time, I used my father’s cousin’s name, Cliff Miller. Cliff headed up all of the state troopers on the Parkway, and even though I don’t think I ever met him, I was free again. You’re not going to believe this, but as I approached my final exit, yup, sirens and lights in the rearview mirror again. I clenched my teeth, muttered Cliff’s name for the second time in as many miles, got off with a warning and didn’t surpass 30 MPH for the remainder of the trip.

When I walked in the front door, my Dad asked, “Where’ve you been?”


“Out where?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied with a shrug.

“Well, I do,” he said. “Cliff called and said, “I don’t know what the heck Courtney is doing today, but my troopers have pulled her over three times in the last hour.” Busted. And that was the last time I ever got behind the wheel of Tin Lizzy.

Bottom line: I was clearly driving like an idiot, and I mostly definitely should have received a ticket. I wised up that day and remained in the clear until a Bluffton police officer gave me my first ticket, on my 35th birthday, while driving to vote! Talk about a perfect storm. He stood strong, despite my sass and “But, it’s my birthday,” and “But I’m going to do my civic duty” pleas. And he was right. I was speeding in a school zone. Running over a child never looks good on your résumé.

I say, Frank, cut the police officers who risk their lives for us every day a little slack. After all, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, there is one traffic collision in South Carolina every 4.9 minutes, one person injured every 11.2 minutes, one fatal collision every 16.9 minutes, one person killed every 9.5 hours, one child under six seriously injured or killed every 8.7 days. Further, traffic fatalities in Beaufort County hit a four-year high in 2010.

According to Frank’s logic, the government is monitoring traffic and enforcing traffic laws, not to ensure our public safety and save lives, but to syphon money from our pocket books? I’m not buying it.

Buckle up, my friends. This is going to be a bumpy ride.

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