17 Secrets Traffic Cops Aren’t Telling You About Avoiding a Speeding Ticket
We're not saying you should speed. But we do know a few tricks to keep you under the "radar," so to speak.
Don’t speed—or at least keep it to a minimum
You can keep yourself and your loved ones safe—not to mention the people you’re sharing the road with—by simply observing the speed limit. Slowing down makes a lot of sense—speeding is the number two cause of motor vehicle accidents. (Distracted driving is number one, drunk driving comes in third.)
That said, as a general matter you can probably drive a few miles per hour above the speed limit without attracting the attention of police officers, according to every police officer we spoke to—including retired Police Captain Michael Palardy (Millburn, NJ). If the only thing you’re doing wrong is driving a few miles per hour over the speed limit, says Harold Hilliard, retired Plano, Texas police officer, you’ll probably be fine.
However, if you do get pulled over, all it takes is going one mile per hour faster than the posted speed limit to get a ticket, says insurance advisor, Bradley Hamburger. And if you try to fight it in traffic court, it’ll be up to you to prove that you weren’t going even a single mile per hour over the speed limit.
Slow down near schools
When you’re driving in a school safety zone (as indicated by street signs), always stick to the exact speed limit, say our veteran cops. Not only is it a matter of basic decency and common sense, it’s a safe bet that police officers are keeping a sharp eye on the safety of those roads. The same is true for residential neighborhoods, particularly during the school day. One more time you should obey the letter of the law: When there’s a speed camera. Not sure where they are or what they look like? You can find apps that will warn you of the cameras’ presence. Brush up on these 11 driving etiquette rules you probably forgot since Driver’s Ed.
Don’t speed in a Bugatti
It’s not that police officers have anything against luxury cars—it’s just that they’re just curious like everyone else. What’s the car like inside? Who’s driving it?
“If you’re driving a Bugatti even slightly over the speed limit, you might get pulled over just because in addition to getting to write out a speeding ticket, the police officer now has the opportunity to check out your awesome car,” Hamburger jokes. But he’s not really joking. This is what happens in real life. If you drive an awesome car, be mindful of that.
Don’t try it in a beater, either
Actually, retired officer Hilliard refers to a rundown car as a “POS.” If your car is a beater, it’s just as likely to attract attention as a rare luxury vehicle. And this is particularly true if it’s emitting excessive smoke, making too much noise, or is down a taillight. In fact, if your lights aren’t working properly, you can expect another violation because your car is legally required to have its headlights and taillights intact. It’s a matter of safety. Make sure you’re not following these outdated tips for car safety maintenance.
Don’t speed with a baby face
Young drivers are catnip to cops, according to Hamburger. Being new to the road and lacking in experience, young drivers will provide cops with the opportunity for a teaching moment: They’ll be only too happy to point out to the youngsters that they’ll be held responsible for their driving choices. In other words, young drivers, you’re being watched!
Wear that seatbelt
“Cops can tell if you’re not wearing your seat belt,” Hamburger says. “If they don’t see the strap above your left shoulder, you’re just asking to be pulled over. Even if you’re not speeding.” But if you are speeding, you’re going to wind up with two tickets. One for speeding, and one for failing to wear a seat belt. In fact, don’t drive without a seat belt at all. Ever. Check out these 11 safe driving tips for scary driving scenarios.
Never speed with a smartphone in your hand
No surprise here: If you’re seen by a police officer driving over the speed limit with a smartphone in your hand, you will not catch any breaks. Distracted driving is dangerous. Distracted speeding is doubly dangerous.
In fact, don’t drive distracted at all
Driving with your attention on something other than the road is when you’re likely to drive too slowly, says Hamburger. If you’re driving significantly below the speed limit, you’re going to attract attention. Should a cop see you driving below the speed limit with a smartphone in your hand, you’re basically asking to get stopped.
Other signs police look for in distracted drivers include weaving in and out of your lane, looking down, stopping for too long at stop signs and red lights, and talking animatedly, even without anyone else in the car. We know what you’re thinking: “Seriously? Even if you’re using your phone hands-free?”
But the harsh reality is that “distracted driving isn’t only about what’s in your hand. Eighty percent of the distraction is the conversation,” says Hamburger. “The phone in the hand accounts for the last 20 percent.” These are some things you’re probably doing in your car—but shouldn’t.
Don’t take chances if your registration has expired
Don’t speed. Don’t drive slowly. Don’t use your hands-free device. In fact, don’t even park—because if you’re driving around with an expired registration, you’re just asking for a ticket.
Got pulled over? You could still avoid a ticket
When you hear those “whoop whoop” noises and see those flashing lights, keep your cool, slow down, and think polite thoughts because there’s a right way to talk to a policeman, and a wrong way, says Hamburger. The right way is to be “unfailingly polite.” The wrong way is any other way.
“Don’t get out of your car,” Hamburger advises, no matter how long it takes the officer to make his way to your car—because whatever you might be feeling when you’re stopped by a cop, you should assume the cop is concerned for his own safety. Being a law enforcement officer is a dangerous job. “Even with a weapon, every traffic stop a police officer makes could be the last,” Hamburger explains, and this is true even in the most bucolic suburb.
“Follow whatever instructions the police officer gives you,” Hamburger adds, “but don’t offer a confession.” Anything you say can be used against you in traffic court. Instead, as politely as possible, talk about how safe of a driver you generally are and how you understand that driving safely is of critical importance. “You have 30 seconds to convey that you’re a safe-driving, law-abiding citizen,” so use it wisely. If you’ve never gotten a speeding ticket before, let the officer know that. If you swerved or sped up in an attempt to avoid a pothole, let the officer know that too, because that may be enough for the officer to let you go with a warning. And here are some phrases you can use to avoid getting a ticket when you get stopped.
Get a boring colored car
Hamburger tells Reader’s Digest that cars in more conservative colors like black, navy, and dark gray, tend to get fewer tickets. It’s not that cops have anything against red, white, and yellow cars—these colors are just easier to see. Don’t miss the reason cops touch your car’s tail light during traffic stops.
Don’t speed the last week of the month
Yes, you should never exceed the speed limit: But definitely don’t do it the fourth week of the month, says Hamburger. Many jurisdictions have monthly quotas, he explains, and in that last week of the month, they’ll suddenly realize they need to “catch up” on ticketing to meet quotas. While you might get away with a few miles over in the first three weeks, you could get nailed that last week.
Be a follower
Consider the behavior of the other cars and drivers around you. If you’re the one passing every other car on the highway, who do you think is going to get pulled over? However, if other drivers are flying by, you could probably get away being a few miles over the posted limit—Hamburger says this is something he’s heard from police officers. To avoid a speeding ticket, make sure you don’t do any of these rude driving habits.
An easier way to stay informed
There’s one surefire way to smoke out hidden speed traps, Hamburger says, and that’s by using the smartphone app, Waze. The app isn’t just useful for getting travel directions and the best time to leave for your destination, it also crowd-sources the locations of speed traps. Drivers using Waze can (and do) input the locations of police cars, radar guns, and other forms of speed traps, and the app will warn you if it’s on the route you’re driving.
Heed the blinking lights of other cars
That guy driving toward you with his lights flashing? He may not be complaining about your high-beams—he could be warning you of a police car up ahead, Hamburger points out. Of course, it could be that your headlights need adjustment: Only a mechanic can know for sure.
Stop signs mean full stop
This seems like an obvious rule of the road, but people roll stop signs all the time, says Hamburger. Not only is this unsafe for other drivers and pedestrians, but it’s also a good way to catch the attention of a police officer, particularly in residential areas.
Consider an appeal
Even if you get ticketed, you can still appeal by following the directions on the ticket. For your trial, dress nicely (not in a clown tie, like this guy) and come prepared. That includes having a defense prepared (e.g., “I wasn’t actually doing 50 in a 20 mph zone). For this purpose, it’s best to write down—while it’s still fresh in your mind—all relevant facts, including:
- posted speed limit
- your own speed
- weather and traffic conditions
- technology or lack thereof used in detecting your speed (which you may be able to challenge, particularly if it involved only the officer’s eyes)
Next, don’t miss these things that will get you a speeding ticket—besides speeding.