Editorial Comment July 11, 2002


One thing I've noticed is that every time I've been stopped, the policeman asks where I work. I could never see why that mattered but simply dismissed it as an idiosyncrasy of cops. Then I read something that gave me a clue about what was going on. It was an expose in a newspaper about the preferential treatment our highway patrol gives to members of the state legislature.

The matter even made more sense when we got a Corvette to test for our "Behind the Wheel" column. The editor who had the car happened to live next door to a policeman. "Let's take her out on the freeway and see how fast she'll go," said the policeman. "We can't do that," protested the editor, "I'll get a ticket." The policeman replied, "No, we won't. Let me drive. I can't get a ticket. I'm a cop."

Later, I struck up an acquaintance with an engineer who serves as a consultant to people who feel they were unfairly charged with traffic violations. By using engineering principles, he generally can prove the alleged offenses could not possibly have occurred. He also has gained an insider's view of traffic enforcement, and what he knows is quite disturbing. Yes, your occupation has a lot to do with whether or not you get a ticket when you are stopped by a cop. In fact, there is a whole hierarchy of people who are immune to traffic citations.

At the top of the heap are law-enforcement officers regardless of the jurisdiction in which they work. This includes local, state, and federal officers or law-enforcement agents of any type, including game wardens. Anybody in this group rarely, if ever, gets a traffic citation. In the trade it is called "professional courtesy." A policeman from a small village in, say, Maine stopped by a state trooper in Nebraska is virtually assured of not getting a ticket.

The next level in the hierarchy consists of senators, congressmen, judges, members of legislatures, local officials elected and appointed, and even most attorneys practicing in the jurisdiction where an infraction occurs. Then on a somewhat lower plane, but still with a high degree of immunity, come federal, state, and local government workers of any type, including the guy who drives the garbage truck through your neighborhood. Finally, there are the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and other close relatives of policemen. They also have a high degree of immunity from traffic citations. One lady in our social circle has two sons who are policemen in our community, and she says that gives her immunity from traffic tickets.

All this could become a sticky wicket, however, thanks to a new technological development. Some cities are thinking of installing a system made by Redflex Traffic Systems, consisting of an automated camera that monitors speed by radar and then photographs the license plates of cars traveling over the limit. The owner of the offending vehicle, regardless of who the actual driver is, receives a citation in the mail sent directly by Redflex, which installs the system free of charge but gets a $75 cut for each violation. It is up to the city to put an additional fine on top of that if they want to.

I won't even get into the ethics or morality of photo-radar. But what I want to know is, with the Redflex system, how are police going to protect the legions of cops, judges, city employees, and relatives who now are immune to traffic tickets? It sounds to me as though Redflex will have to get a monthly computer printout showing who has immunity in each community where they install cameras. Or else, at long last, police will start asking for rational speed limits, something they currently seem incapable of doing.

Ronald Khol, Editor