My favorite Bookworm has an interesting article up about an unfortunate woman in Maryland ticketed to the tune of $90 dollars for a particularly egregious traffic violation:  She was driving 63 MPH in a 65 MPH zone.  The indispensable Bookworm writes:

“Too many laws, or laws enforced arbitrarily, simply become a trap for the unwary. Such was the case for a Maryland woman driving on Interstate 95 in bad weather, with wind speeds gusting up to 40 miles per hour. Because the winds were ferociously buffeting her car, the woman (who remains anonymous) dropped her speed from the maximum limit of 65 MPH down to 63 MPH.

Little did the woman know that the easiest target for law enforcement is people who break the little laws, not the big ones. As far as one highway patrol officer was concerned, driving two MPH below the speed limit in the left (or fast) lane is going to get you a moving violation. Not just any violation, but (a) a fairly expensive one, coming in at $90; and (b) a black mark against the driver’s record for committing a moving violation.

The woman later told reporters that she was ‘really shocked.’ Her first thought was, ‘Oh my God, you’ve got to be kidding me.”

Apparently the officer’s primary issue was the woman was impeding the flow of traffic by driving below the speed limit in the left hand lane.   I can sympathize.  I have often been annoyed by slow-moving traffic in the right and middle lanes, people holding up miles of drivers wanting nothing more than to travel at the speed limit.  However, in those cases, I’m talking about people driving 10 MPH or more–usually more–below the speed limit, people that cannot possibly be unaware they are actively impeding traffic.

This citation falls into the dishonorable category of what competent, professional police officers call “chicken shit” tickets.  Chicken shit tickets are citations given for the most minute, insignificant violations of the law, tickets most officers would never write because they would not have stopped a driver making such minor violations in the first place.  One can argue that any violation of the law may be cited–and chicken shit ticket-issuing officers often make that lame argument–but there are very good reasons never to issue such tickets.  Among them:

(1) Modern speedometers are inherently inaccurate.  At 65 MPH, one can expect the average speedometer to be off by +- 3 MPH, and in some cases, as much as 5-6 MPH.  Drivers have no way to know to what degree their speedometers are off, and even tire wear can affect this factor.  Professional officers know that a citizen traveling 3-6 MPH over the speed limit may believe they are actually traveling at the speed limit.  Writing people doing their best to obey the law is a particularly stupid thing to do and greatly diminishes respect for the police and the law.

(2) Any driver doing their best to keep up with the flow of traffic while obeying the speed limit can easily vary their speed a few MPH from time to time.  Absent running with cruise control continually on, this is common and not at all dangerous.  Again, writing tickets only angers people who have no intent to violate the law.

(3) Radar and laser speed measuring devices are accurate to only +- 1 MPH–or that’s what their manufacturers claim.  I always assumed the units I used were accurate to no more than +- 2 MPH, and added in an additional MPH just to be safe.  Writing tickets within this range is grossly unprofessional and unethical.  During my police service, I generally wouldn’t even stop a driver for speeding unless they were traveling 13 MPH or more over the speed limit.  That’s 38 in a 25.  I wrote more tickets than any other officer using that standard, and had a near 100% conviction record.

(4) Professional officers know that it is quite impossible to be in perfect compliance with every traffic law at all times.  They understand that legislators get carried away, and in effect, make criminals of us all.  Therefore, they avoid chicken shit tickets at all costs.

There is one other factor of interest: the citation was issued by a Maryland Highway Patrol officer.  In law enforcement, HP officers are often known as the most chicken shit of chicken shit officers.  Traffic enforcement is much of their job, and some of them are stubbornly determined to ticket any and every violation, regardless of how trivial.  Certainly not every HP troop is this way, but some are.

An example: in the final years of my police service, my wife lived in an adjacent state as she had a few more years to finish her first career.  I lived, most of the time, in the state where I was serving, and we would travel back and forth to visit on our respective days off (we were separated by only about two hours).  Because the laws of each state required that residents register their vehicles in the state of their residence, we registered our vehicles, one in each state.  To even out the mileage, we often traded vehicles.

A local highway patrolman noticed I was driving a car with the plates of the neighboring state and took to stopping me, even when I was in uniform on the way to and from work, and threatening to ticket me for failing to register that vehicle in state.  It made no difference to him that I explained the situation and pointed out that it was entirely legal for people with out of state plates to drive in our state, and that I did, in fact, have one of our vehicles registered in state, the one I usually drove.  The trooper knew all of this; he could easily run registration checks for both states and see all vehicles registered to me.

I finally went to the local prosecutor, who was amazed and said they’d never prosecute a citation under those circumstances.  Armed with that information, my boss called the trooper’s boss and I wasn’t stopped again.  I have no doubt, however, that if I were a citizen, I would have been forced to take time off from work to defend the ticket in court.  The prosecutor may have dropped it, but the time, bother, and the ethics of the situation would still have been very annoying, and entirely unnecessary.

The Maryland trooper had the power to issue the citation but he’s a fool–in more ways than one–for doing it.  Hopefully his supervisor has had an attitude adjustment session with him, and hopefully the judge involved will dismiss the ticket and have a few choice words with the trooper.  Hopefully.

In the age of Obama, when the state is encroaching on individual liberties more and more each day, police officers know they need the support of citizens more than ever, and that support is harder and harder to earn.  Smart, professional officers know this, anyway.