I'm the kind of person who skips to the conversation when reading a book.
“License and registration, please.”
I sat in our Honda Civic, the one with close to 200,000 miles on it. The Sheriff’s Deputy waited patiently while I fumbled around in the glove box and for my wallet.
“Do you know why I pulled you over?” he asked, leaning in and looking at my two big-eyed girls in the back seat. They were properly buckled and struck dumb by the situation.
“Yes, sir,” I said, handing him the papers he had requested. “I drive this road every week on Tuesday to visit my parents. My mother has Alzheimer’s. I just forgot where the village speed zone began.”
That was the truth. My mother was still living at home with my father and things were going downhill fast. I never knew what I would encounter when I got there. That morning, while driving, my head had been a jumble of thoughts about the whole situation. It was so jumbled, in fact, that I had forgotten that when I came around the bend into the little town, the speed dropped from 55 mph to 30 mph.
“Folks that live on this stretch have been complaining about people speeding on it,” he said.
“I’m so sorry. I’ve just been so worried about my mother,” I tried to explain, but he had left the side of my car and gone to his cruiser.
Lesson #3: It’s okay to ask for sympathy.
Yes, I played the Alzheimer’s card. But it was the truth.
The deputy was immune to my appeal. He returned with a ticket in his hand. “I’ve got you going 50 mph in a 30 zone,” he said. “The court date is on the bottom unless you want to plead guilty and send it in.”
My heart was pounding and my cheeks were flushed with shame. He was absolutely right. I was driving that fast in a little town.
Several weeks later, when I went to the court room, I signed in and waited for my name to be called.
“Sarah Langdon,” the judge called. “Please approach.”
I timidly walked forward. He was a kind man and immediately set to putting me at ease. “Can you tell me what happened?” he asked.
I told him the whole story, how I was worried about my mother, how I always slow down when I come into town, how I drive through every week. He listened and then said, “I used to be able to offer you a lesser offense, but New York has changed that. You need to write a letter to the District Attorney,” – and here, he pulled out a sheet of paper with instructions on it and handed it to me – “and just tell him what you told me. Get a copy of your driver’s abstract from the DMV to show that you have a clean driving record and include that with your letter. Good luck.”
And with that, I was done in the court room. I followed the printed directions exactly and received a letter a few weeks later from the DA. He had changed my charge to “Failure to obey a traffic device”, a charge which carried a lesser fine and less points.
I paid my fine and vowed never again to be distracted like that while driving.
All was well until…
Lesson #5 Sometimes you might need a lawyer.
About nine months later, I was making my usual Tuesday run to my parents’ house. About forty miles of the trip is on the interstate. They were doing on-again, off-again construction on one stretch of road that I traveled.
As I often do on the interstate, I was just driving with the rest of the traffic. When we entered the construction zone, I honestly hadn’t noticed that it was “on” that day. I stayed at the pace with the cars ahead of me. However, I was the last person in the long line of cars, so when the state trooper pulled out, I was the one who was pulled over.
“License and registration, please,” he said.
As I handed them to him, he asked, “Do you know how fast you were going?”
“No, sir,” I answered, honestly.
“I clocked you at 68 in a 55,” he said.
“I was just keeping with the other cars,” I said, but I don’t think he really cared.
He ticketed me, and I looked at that ticket with growing nausea. I no longer had a clean abstract that I could produce. I was in a work zone, to boot, something New York State was cracking down on that year.
I went to see a fellow I went to high school with who was a lawyer. He was out of the office so I ended up talking to his paralegal.
She shook her head as I told her my story. “We could try to fight it,” she said, “but the fact that it’s in a work zone makes it tough.”
In the end, the real lesson of this story is that sometimes you’re stuck. I paid a massive fine and am now one of those old people you see driving on the interstate at exactly the speed limit.
I used to shake my head at them — those grayed-hair people puttering along on the highway, wondering why they drove so slowly, and thinking it must have to do with aging and slower reflexes and all that. Now I’m quite sure that it has to do with one speeding ticket too many.
To Brandon, good luck. You’re early in your driving career. I hope they let you off.