It’s easy to avoid traffic tickets. It’s more difficult to avoid traffic tickets while also getting where you’re going efficiently and quickly. The tips below – some old, some new – can help you avoid traffic tickets in a variety of situations.
My PhD in Traffic School
California, like many states, has a statewide system of licensed Traffic Schools. If you cannot avoid traffic tickets, at least you can ease the pain of increased auto insurance premiums. Sitting in a classroom for eight hours allows you to wipe one moving violation off your slate. Almost every state has Traffic Schools or Defensive Driving courses, either as part of a state-licensed program or sponsored by auto insurance companies.
In the late 1980s, perhaps due to my turbulent personal life, I started getting speeding tickets driving on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. These were the first citations I had received since I was a teen, long years before.
When I received the first ticket, I spent a Saturday in a comedy traffic school and that was that. Until I received a similar ticket just a few weeks later.
Back to traffic school? Not so fast. In California you are only eligible to attend traffic school if you have not attended one in the previous 18 months. I was far from being eligible. However, I learned that an exception could be made, and that turned out to simply require me to appear in a courtroom and ask the judge to allow me to take traffic school again. And the new course turned out to be an “advanced” class.
This masters-level course in traffic school was much better than the first one. For one thing, we actually got to drive our cars around a parking lot littered with cones, practicing S turns and parallel parking. I always learn better by doing, so this knocked a boring classroom, even a “comedy” one, to shame.
Imagine my surprise when a couple of months later, I received yet another speeding ticket on PCH. I trundled back to the courthouse and groveled to a different judge. She squinted at me but gave me a waiver to attend yet another advanced traffic school.
Fortunately, upon completion of this third course I stopped getting speeding tickets – knock on wood. It’s a good thing, because I soon would have run out of judges and exhausted all judicial patience.
I try not to brag, but I thought you might like to know that thanks to this experience I do bring some credentials to the table when I discuss how to avoid traffic tickets. And that I may be the only person you know who has effectively earned a PhD in Traffic School.
How to Avoid Traffic Tickets
We must immediately narrow the scope of this very broad topic:
– I am not addressing professional drivers, who by a combination of personality, skills and experience can drive a lifetime without a moving violation.
– I am not advocating obsessive compliance with the law: that is, being the only person on the road who stays under the speed limit 100% of the time, and never executes the California Rolling Stop.
– I do not wish to address how you should behave if you actually get pulled over. Edmunds gives advice that may help you avoid an unpleasant confrontation that could put you in the evening news, hospital and/or morgue.
– Similarly, I will not touch on how you actually fight a traffic ticket, which is well covered by Richard Diamond and others.
Instead, I will offer some tips to avoid traffic tickets based on the advice of experts plus some personal research. You’ve heard some of them before, but Hill Surfing, at least, may be new to you.
On a multilane road such as a freeway or interstate highway, your choice of lane is all-important. With wise selection you will avoid traffic tickets but also make good time.
The first stage of wisdom is to avoid the number one lane – that’s the “fast lane,” the one closest to the median. This advice is well attested by Edmunds, AutoBlog, FindLaw and How Stuff Works. It was also gospel for my traffic school teachers, who told me that “police are trained to watch the fast lane to find speeders.”
However, simply avoiding Lane Number One leaves N Minus One other lane choices.
The second stage of knowledge is to avoid both the far left and far right lanes. Edmunds tells you to eschew the far right lane because of on-ramps and off-ramps, and people “doing stupid things” that lead to traffic tickets. But it turns out that the far right lane is also bad because it gives you fewer options.
I came to this conclusion from riding many taxicabs between Malibu and Los Angeles International Airport, often but not always via the San Diego Freeway, which has 6 lanes on each side. I observed that these professional drivers would use lanes 2, 3, 4 and 5 freely, but strongly avoided lanes 1 and 6. After talking with some of them I concluded that an important factor for many drivers was to have lanes on both sides, into which one could escape if your own lane stalled. The perimeter lanes have only half as many escape routes as the middle lanes.
Yet I found even one more level of sagacity: local knowledge trumps. That is, when I drove my own car on that route, typically at 6 or 7 pm on a weekday, I consistently found the far right number 6 lane to be the fastest and smoothest. It’s probably because trucks avoided that lane due to slow traffic entering or exiting, yet at the particular times I drove that particular route, the ramps were not being used very heavily. Thus in this case my personal knowledge of my specific route, day and time trumped even the taxi drivers’ more extensive experience.
Here’s what I conclude from all this lane voodoo:
– Always avoid the #1 lane, except for passing.
– If you don’t know the route well, favor the #2 lane, except on a very wide highway, where #3 might be better; the point is to avoid the lanes that have trucks cruising, or trucks passing trucks.
– If you know the route well, pick any lane that allows you a good steady speed, except #1.
Herding and Schooling
The concept of schooling is illustrated by a story dating from my Caltech days.
One year I carpooled with other grad students to a summer job, 30 miles from Pasadena, in Anaheim. Bill G, a chemist and materials scientist who has since enjoyed an illustrious career, told me a tale of woe while driving us south one day.
Bill’s car was a clunker whose speed was limited by its age and condition. One day Bill was following a cluster of cars driving 50 mph on a road whose speed limit was 40 mph. He noticed a California Highway Patrol cruiser following some distance back. The road widened and the speed limit rose to 55 mph. All the other cars speeded up to 65 mph and zoomed up the road. However, Bill’s car couldn’t go any faster than 50 mph, so he continued to drive at 50.
What do you think happened? Instead of speeding up and passing Bill, the CHP stayed at 50 mph, a quarter mile back, for quite a while. Finally, the officer made a decision, pulled Bill over and gave him a ticket for 50 in a 40 zone. Bill protested that he was only one of two dozen cars all going the same speed. The cop said, “That doesn’t matter. You were exceeding the speed limit.”
In the Serengeti, prey animals stick together. The predators have to conserve their energy, so they don’t attack the herd; they simply pick off the weak, the laggards who can’t keep up with the group. Similarly, fish school together for many reasons, including avoidance of predators by sensory confusion, collective vigilance and fewer individual encounters. The strongest individuals will often command a position near the center of the pack for safety.
Bill’s problem was being the slow member of the herd, so he couldn’t stick with the group. There is protection in numbers, because the “predator” (CHP) usually can’t stop and ticket everyone. Unless he can quickly radio ahead for reinforcements, when he encounters a group of speeders he will peel off the last one, or the funkiest-looking one, or the one that is driving erratically. That is the driver who will get the ticket. The moral of the story is to school with the other fish, drive in the middle of a group of cars all going about the same speed, and you are unlikely to pick up a speeding ticket.
What if there’s no “herd” traveling the speed and direction that you favor? AutoBlog gives this answer:
Find a “rabbit.” …a solitary driver traveling the speed you’d like to drive that you can follow discreetly, about 50-100 yards back. If there’s a cop using radar, hopefully the rabbit will trip the trap and get a speeding ticket, not you. And if he brakes suddenly, you have just received your early warning in time to take defensive action.
The FindLaw article advocates invisibility to avoid traffic tickets. Basically, if your car and your driving behavior are unmemorable, law enforcement’s eyes will not linger on you and are more likely to select another ticket-ee. These experts discourage heavily tinted windows, bright colored cars, dirty cars and any kind of car customization. AutoBlog adds to the forbidden list frequent lane changes and aggressive driving. They also advocate driving a dorky car but hey, enough is enough!
This last tip to avoid traffic tickets applies to road trips. Nola and I regularly drive long sections of I-80 and I-25. The terrain undulates, so that you drive up long inclines, crest the top, then go down the other side.
Both highways have their share of speed traps, but in my years of driving these highways I have never seen a speed trap on an uphill section. This is not surprising: cars tend to slow down going uphill, and speed up going downhill. This occurs if the driver does not adjust the gas pedal with the terrain; it even occurs if he uses cruise control, because the servo does not do a perfect job of maintaining constant speed.
A patrolman might want to issue citations to discourage dangerous driving; he might also be striving to meet some goal, either for his department or for his own self-respect. Either way, he achieves his objective more efficiently if he clocks drivers on the downslope, where careless drivers are likely to let their speed get away from them.
This logic suggests a tactic I call Hill Surfing – a way to speed your trip but still avoid traffic tickets. Simply push your speed higher on uphill stretches, and pull back closer to the speed limit on downhill sections. Since the crest of a hill might conceal a radar-equipped patrol car, you have to correct your speed before you reach the top.
Hill Surfing is counter-intuitive and requires close attention. That’s beneficial: mindful driving not only keeps you safe, it also helps you be aware and thereby avoid traffic tickets.
Lane Voodoo, Schooling, Invisibility and Hill Surfing – these are four tools to avoid traffic tickets. I welcome your feedback on good ways to both avoid traffic tickets and to enhance driving safety.
Drawing Credit: liftarn, on openclipart.org