PENNSYLVANIA (ABC 27) — Sometimes, what you don’t know can hurt you. Attorney Justin McShane says that line of thinking holds true for speeding tickets.
“We’ve had many horror stories of people coming back to us and going, ‘Oh my goodness, I didn’t realize that pleading guilty to a 30-over meant that my license would be suspended,’” McShane said. “‘I thought it was just going to be a fine.’”
McShane says the most important thing a driver can do is question. That’s why someone sent ABC27 a copy of her speeding ticket when she suspected the person who pulled her over made a mistake.
“It’s the slippery slope argument, right?” McShane said. “Which is that if no one watches the watchmen, it suddenly becomes a much worse place for us all to live in. By and large, most police officers are very diligent, want to do the right thing, but they also might not be aware of the law themselves.”
ABC27 compiled McShane’s advice, interviews with Harrisburg police, and research into Pennsylvania law into a checklist of details you should look for on your ticket. Even little things can be the difference between you and a $100-plus fine or points on your license.
It’s worth noting that you should go through this checklist at home after you get a ticket, not on the side of the road with the person who pulled you over. Being out there longer than you need to is dangerous, and getting into an argument won’t help your case.
Make sure the date, time, and location all match up. Although those details are important, typos will not likely lead to a dismissal of your ticket; the court can correct those. However, other errors could play a role once you fight the ticket.
Next, check which device police used to measure your speed. Most people assume they use radar, but in Pennsylvania, only state police use that.
On a local level, police use a variety of methods. One is “clocking,” or using a stopwatch to measure how long it takes a car to drive between preset lines. A system called VASCAR calculates the same thing; it’s basically a calculator for a physics problem.
“So that vehicle that just went through there was 34 miles an hour,” Harrisburg police Sgt. Kenneth Young said as he was showing ABC27 the VASCAR system. “It took the traveler to do .032 miles 3.36 seconds. So it’s time, distance, velocity, speed. And it does all the work for you so I don’t have to sit there and map all that out with the math.”
NRAD is the same idea, but using lasers instead of painted lines.
All the above local speed timing devices must have been calibrated within the 60 days prior to your speeding ticket. Speedometers (we’ll get into that next) must have been calibrated within the year prior to your ticket. If that didn’t happen, you have a case.
Pacing is a different method of measuring speed. Police essentially follow and match the car’s speed and track it with a speedometer, which can be hooked up to the VASCAR system.
Pennsylvania law says if police are pacing you, they must track your speed for at least three-tenths of a mile in order to ensure accuracy. If the distance is shorter, the ticket won’t hold up in court.
If the person who pulled you over is cutting you a break, he or she may write you up for going five over, even if you were really going fifteen. That’s allowed under the law. However, somewhere on your ticket, it should show how fast you were actually going.
Local police are not allowed to give you a ticket if you’re going less than six miles over the speed limit. If you’re in a zone with a limit of less than 55 mph, police cannot give you a ticket if you’re going less than 10 miles over.
Contrary to popular belief, police say they don’t enjoy ruining your day.
“This is not my most favorite thing to do – go out and write speeding tickets, traffic enforcement, things like that,” Young said. “It is a necessary evil. I believe in doing this over 14 years, it has cured a lot of the crashes that we investigate.”
Additionally, “bad stops” don’t help the department make money. On a $128 ticket, Young says the actual fine is only $25. The city keeps half, a cost that’s lost when a police officer is paid to go to a traffic hearing.
Young says he understands why people are frustrated when they are pulled over, but he appreciates when drivers can keep their cool.
“Cooperation goes a long way,” he said. ” I think most of us have hearts, that we’re going to actually do what we can to not issue that ticket for the most part, although there are some circumstances where we don’t have that choice.”
Of course, slowing down is the easiest way to avoid the cost of a speeding ticket.
“You would avoid running into me and we would both probably have a better day,” Young said with a laugh.