Sunday, August 10, 2008


"Could you at least go the speed limit?" "We’re going to be late." "You could have made that light!"
These are just a few of the suggestions my wife often makes when we are in the car together. I always counter with, "I stand on my record. I haven’t had a traffic ticket in 35 years."
In the past five years she has failed to see a very large, green, garbage truck stop in front of her in a mall parking lot. It turned our nice little Saturn into garbage. The insurance company totalled it. I bought the car back from the insurance company and replaced under $200 worth of plastic parts which reattached with only ten screws and the car was brand new—in case you are wondering why your insurance rates are so high.
My wife thinks 25 m.p.h. speed zones are stupid. "Cars were not made to go that slow." Unfortunately the local County Mounty’s don’t feel the same way. She cries every time she watches "Little House on the Prairie" but can’t seem to generate a tear when the police pull her over. She has become very proficient at reducing her speeding fines. She goes to the courthouse and offers to work it off doing clerical work. The first time the court said, "That will be fine. When can you start?" She said, "Well, it’s our busy season right now. How about next month." The court said, "No, that’s not how it works." But, they did cut the price of her ticket in half. It was still a money maker for the county. That was the time she racked up five tickets with one pull over. The officer started with rolling stop, speeding, and not wearing a seat belt. Then he noticed the address on her license was not current and that our van windows looked too tinted for Michigan vehicles.
Being pulled over is such a common experience for her that now she just confesses as soon as the authorities walk up to the car. The last time she said, "I’m sorry. I know I was speeding but I’m in a hurry—I have to pick up my daughter." The cop said, "I pulled you over because your taillight is out."
It’s not that I’m completely innocent. One day I pulled out of the post office in beautiful downtown Acme and the sheriff pulled me over a mile up the road. I knew immediately what I had done wrong. I didn’t have my seat belt buckled. Since I have a two belt system in my old car I buckled the bottom half in a stealth move that would not look obvious as I rolled down my window. The sheriff asked if I knew why I was being pulled over. Even though the local paper had a big article on a week-long seat belt sting, with a straight face I said, "I have no idea." He pointed out my unattached upper belt. "Do you usually wear your belt?" This was my wife’s perfect opportunity to blacken my untarnished record and silence my usual comeback about "Standing on my record."
At the same moment I was saying to the officer, "Yes, I always wear my belt"—my wife was saying, "No, he never wears it. Our daughter is always reminding him to buckle up.’"
As he slowly returned to his cruiser I said to my wife, "That was a great answer—it probably cost us about ninety bucks." He came back to the vehicle, gave me my license, registration and a stern warning. I explained it this way to my wife: "He went back to his computer, checked my record and found out just what I have been telling you for so long—I haven’t had a ticket in 35 years. Then he checked your record and found out you are a regularly convicted traffic felon. Now who do you think he is going to believe? Besides, I did everything right—I cried, said thank you a lot, and always answered his questions with ‘yes officer.’"
Since my official record is spotless, my wife will bring up now and then my unofficial record. I had to take a mountain of bird feeder sawdust and wood chips to the dump one afternoon. I borrowed an old utility trailer from my Uncle Vic. Vic had taken the trailer in on a car trade and it seemed good and solid. I also borrowed a hitch bar and ball from him. Everything looked fine, but I never checked to see if the ball was tightened onto the bar. Half way to the dump I saw something pass me on the right. Since that is my blind eye it didn’t quite register with my brain what it was. My first thought was a ball-bearing from the trailer axle. But when the trailer passed me I knew it was the nut from the ball. The trailer didn’t go far. When it hit the big telephone substation it stopped on a dime and a large, sawdust, mushroom cloud appeared. A lady came out of her house and said she would call someone, but her phone didn’t work anymore. That’s right, when you’re in trouble, the first thing you want to do is cut communications.
I knew I was going to do hard time for this one. Not only had I wiped out local phone service, I had put the license plate from my Airstream travel trailer on the utility trailer because I was only going up the road five miles to the dump. As Murphy’s law would have it, the sheriff showed up just when we didn’t need him. Lucky for me, when the sheriff found out the trailer belonged to my uncle Vic, I didn’t get a ticket. How did he find out? I knew they were friends, so I made sure I used my uncle’s name in every sentence, unless I could somehow fit it in twice without sounding to repetitive.
A year or so later I was looking over my insurance coverage and noticed the cost had jumped significantly. Knowing I had such a good driving record I called the agent. She said, "I don’t know why the sharp increase Dick, let me check out your account on the computer." Seconds later she said, "Does a telephone substation ring any bells? They are very expensive to replace." Sorry I asked!
Current technology now allows authorities to monitor roadways with sensor cameras that check speed and tag numbers and automatically ticket speeding drivers. You will not even know you’ve been busted until the postal service delivers your ticket in the mail. Soon my wife will be looking over her shoulder for mail trucks instead of police cruisers.
Seriously, traffic tickets are not all bad. Paying tickets is actually your civic duty. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. It creates jobs, heavily funds most court systems, justifies the existence of entire police agencies like state highway patrols, and virtually funds numerous local governments.
When you begin to grasp the full magnitude of the public and private good that depend on ticket taxing motorists, you begin to understand why my wife continues to contribute so heavily every year. No one knows how many traffic tickets are actually issued to her annually. Many local units of government deliberately hide this information so they don’t have to split her revenue with the state. No other class of "crime" is as profitable for state and local governments as is that of traffic tickets. They rely heavily on these people who contribute regularly.
Traffic fines are a seven billion dollar a year business. That explains why they can give a 50% off deal to regulars like my wife and still make good money!

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