Fight Unreasonably Low Speed Limits
Fight Unreasonably Low Speed Limits
As an ex-Massachusetts resident I’ve had more than my fair share of encounters with police officers tasked with enforcing low speed limits and other absurd traffic laws in that state. Massachusetts motorists are lucky to have Ivan Sever and John Carr working for us, and they’ve done a great job under the umbrella of the National Motorists Association. If you plan on fighting a speeding ticket read all the information at those sites, especially the MA specific site.
I do not advocate reckless driving, and in general I support and recognize the difficult job our police have enforcing the law, but traffic law is often used as another source of revenue, and thus towns and the state generally have a vested interest in seeing unreasonably low speed limits.
I personally learned about speeding tickets the hard way. When I was 17 I was pulled over late at night while driving home after a wrestling meet. There was no traffic on the road, and the diesel dump truck with a 2 ton cement block in back was able to pick up a LOT of speed coming down a long hill on Rt 3A in Scituate. I meekly paid that ticket, not knowing the repercussions it would have.
Two years later I was in college, driving back to campus after volunteering at a local elementary school. Again coming down a long hill, this time in Worcester with a dump truck beside me while I was driving a pickup truck. This time I noticed that I could contest the ticket, and did so. Unfamiliar with the process I went in front of the magistrate, briefly plead my case, and received the standard response – fine reduced, you’re still responsible. Again not knowing better I simply paid up.
Again two years later I was driving home from Providence when I was pulled over on Rt 146 in Sutton. After the officer finished writing my ticket he said something that upset me. “Thanks for speeding.” It wasn’t a lecture about how dangerous it was, not an admonition to slow down, just a simple sentence that brought to light what the speed limit fines were all about. This time I did some research about how to fight speeding tickets and came across the NMA web site. I fought that ticket and won. As usual the magistrate merely reduced the fine, so this time I appealed to the judge. When I had a chance to present my case to the judge he agreed I was not responsible.
This is the advice I give to people about fighting speeding tickets.
- Join the NMA.
- Drive a reasonable and proper speed for conditions.
- Maintain proper following distance, and do not weave through slower traffic. You may be able to safely do so, but the grandmother you just moved in front is likely to slam on her brakes.
- If you are pulled over
- Pull far to the right, leave plenty of space for the officer to approach the drivers side door.
- Open the window, shut off the car, turn on the interior light if it’s dark, and keep your hands in sight.
- Be polite – yes officer, no officer. Don’t argue with the police.
- Do as much as you can to make your traffic stop as routine, and thus forgettable as possible.
- Others may disagree, but I feel you should not admit that you were traveling at a certain speed or that you were speeding. Your admission may come back to haunt you. Others feel if you admit it and sound repentant the officer may be more likely to let you go.
- Once you’ve gotten a ticket
- Make a clear photocopy of both sides of the ticket.
- Request a court hearing.
- Write down everything you can remember about the incident. Be sure to double check every line of the ticket with the facts. Make note of where the officer was running the speed trap, as well as where you stopped. What was the weather like? How much traffic was on the road? Where any other vehicles driving faster than you? This information can be crucial later on.
- Appear in front of the magistrate. I do not know anyone who has been found not responsible by the magistrate without strings being pulled in the background. Therefore I view this as an opportunity to glean more information about the incident. You will hear the officers testimony. Make note of any discrepancies. Write down any information you may not have had earlier. Then appeal the magistrates decision to merely reduce the fine.
- Make a public records request. There’s a lot more information on the MA NMA site about this step. Pay particular attention to the time frame in which they must respond, so you can initiate any further request needed.
- If you get copies of the public records again examine them for errors.
- Prepare other information to be used in your case. This could be photographs of the roads involved, documents about RADAR and/or LIDAR error, or other material you plan on using to prove your point.
- Show up in court on time and neatly dressed. Now wait. If you aren’t first to be called pay close attention to other speeding cases the judge hears. You should be pretty calm once you notice how much better prepared you are compared to most other people there.
- Chances are good that the officer involved will not show up, and the judge will find you not responsible. However it’s still only 50/50 in my experience.
- If the officer does show up stay calm and follow the instructions of the judge. Present your side of the case when asked, and carefully question the officer. You should know the answer to any question you plan on asking in order to avoid surprising yourself. Remember if your version of the case involves admitting that you were speeding, you will be found responsible and fined accordingly. Again the NMA web site has a lot of information about areas you can bring into question.
A quick note about LIDAR – The officer must be capable of holding point of aim exactly at the distance involved. LIDAR works by taking a series of distance measurements, and calculating how far you traveled during the time it measured your distance. The technical specs on the LIDAR gun used will tell you how long, but I have seen acquisition times in the range of .4 seconds. If the officer is trained to aim at your front license plate (a standard point of aim, highly reflective) but instead hits your windshield initially (another reflective surface) then over compensates and moves the beam down to your front plate, he has added another 5 feet to your distance traveled in 4/10 of a second. Doing the math, 65 mph = 95.3 ft/s, or ~38ft in .4 seconds. If instead you are measured to travel 43ft in that time, you appear to be traveling at 73 mph.
The important point to gather about this note is to justify your account of the incident clearly, and bring as much doubt as possible to the judges mind. The judicial standard you will be held to is not “beyond a reasonable doubt”, but instead “a preponderance of evidence”, so you must present a rational argument for the judge to believe.