At least I got to see the officer squirm
The article is right on the money. I was given a ticket for doing 35 in a 20 mph school zone. While I was waiting for my chance, I saw:
- An elderly lady on welfare lose a case where she had her seatbelt tucked under her arm instead of over the shoulder. She even brought a copy of the law, challenging the judge to find anything indicating exactly how the seatbelt should have been worn. The officer produced a amendment to that legal paper, that was only ten days old, that specified that seatbelts must be worn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Evidently, traffic court expects people to be aware of ten day old amendments to laws that only the police have access to and you can be held accountable for infractions you made before they were offically even infractions!
- A guy lost his case of using part of an unused carpool lane just to get around an accident. Evidently, traffic court expects people to just sit there behind an accident even when it is easy and logical to navigate around it.
I fared no better.
I’m a computational scientist supporting the Intel Tflops supercomputer in use at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque New Mexico. The truth was, I wasn’t even watching my speedometer at the time I passed the school zone sign. But bang! The officer was behind me seemingly before I even passed it. I pulled over, he told me how fast I was going and gave me a ticket. I looked over the ticket and as I looked behind me, I noticed that he was already giving a ticket to someone else! So I took a quick picture of the scene with my digital camera and went home. The incident bothered me, so I did some simple math to try to figure it all out. In order to be going 35 mph at the sign, I’d have to be doing about 60 feet per second. But I was pulled over only about 100 feet from the sign. That meant that in the space of a little over 1 1/2 seconds:
- He clocked me
- He got behind me
- I noticed him behind me
- I pulled over
- I came to a complete stop.
It didn’t seem possible. According to the driver’s handbook, 80 of those 100 feet should have been used for stopping alone, which would have been a full-brake stop at that. So I wrote a simulation program and asked a fellow comp-sci if he could get permission at SNL to run it for me on Janus--our nickname for the big Tflop machine. He did and had some other fellow comp-sci’s sign a note indicating that my simulation program and results of the run was accurate and reflected real-world physics. He even included a declassified case study that another science group at SNL did on doppler radar, that explained why dopplar radar should not be used to measure the speed of objects for scientific purposes and listing all the factors that could affect the readings from even the most accurate instruments. Armed with the note, case study and the results of the simulations I felt I had an excellent chance of winning my case, even after the first two lost theirs.
First I asked the officer if the school zone started offically at the sign or before that. He said it started at the sign. I asked him where he clocked me. He said he clocked me at the sign. I then asked him if a larger vehicle was moving in the other direction at the time he clocked me. He started squirming in his seat and finally said “no”. I asked him if it was raining that day. He said he didn’t think so. I asked him if he was certain about that. More squirming. He finally said he wasn’t sure. I asked him if he knew what “transpondance coefficient” (a term used when dealing with doppler radar) was. He said he didn’t know. I asked him how far after the sign he thought I was when I was pulled over. He said “about a block”.
I then presented my evidence. First the picture showing that I was less than 1/4 block from the sign. Then the weather report for the precise time the incident happened. Next the report on doppler radar indicating that weather conditions, large objects moving in the background, the shape, size and material composition of the object being clocked all had adverse effects on the accuracy of the radar readings. Finally I produced the results of the simulations and the letter from my “Einstein” friends as to the soundness of the simulation and its findings. As the judge looked this over, I felt I had proven my innocence. I looked at the officer and noticed sweat dripping down his face.
The results of the simulations showed that either the radar gun was off by at least 17 mph or that I was clocked at least 278 feet before the school zone even started, or a combination of the two. In any case, I should have had all charges dismissed. But, instead, she turned to me and I noticed that she avoided looking directly at me, and said “the radar gun readings showed you were going 35 mph in a school zone. I see that you have a perfect driving record, but because it was in a school zone, the law doesn’t allow me to change the amount of your fine.” Just like that, all the hard evidence I and my friends painstakenly collected was thrown out!
Traffic court is definitely not just. Well, at least I got to see the officer squirm a little bit.
In response to The Guerilla Guide to Traffic Court: Traffic court is a real eye-opener, especially when you know what really happened because you were there.