Giving You a Break

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

I’ve had people criticize my criticism of “speeding” tickets. They say I’m encouraging or at least defending wrongful, dangerous activity. But I’d like to ask them a question. If “speeding” is indeed such a thing — not just illegal, but genuinely anti-social in the way that, say, kicking a dog or stealing something or even worse than that surely is — how come cops so routinely give people a break?

Think about it.

One day, you’re out driving. You are traveling faster than the posted speed limit — as almost all of us do every time we are out driving. This time, it’s your turn to be the first car past the radar trap. Red and blue flashing lights in your rearview. It’s time to get out your wallet — and not just to hand over your driver’s license, either.

The cop comes over — hopefully without his gun drawn. He takes your license and paperwork, asks if you know how fast you were going. If you are smart you will be polite but noncommittal at this point. But today is your “lucky” day. The cop explains that even though you were doing 62 in a 45, he is going to give you a “break” and knock it down to 54 so that your fine is lower and your DMV points fewer.

Here’s where it gets weird.

No, wait. It already is weird.

A cop — a sworn enforcer of the law — is openly reducing the charge against you (and therefore, the punishment as well) even though he believes he just caught you violating the law.

Imagine you have just been arrested for shoplifting.

The cop has the video of you stuffing the Wii into your pants. But he says, I’m going to cut you a break and only charge you with disorderly conduct. It’s a lower fine and you won’t have a record.

Just sign here, pay this — and don’t do it again, ok?

Apply the same test to any other offense — any other real offense, that is. One involving a victim.

It’s as useful for getting at the truth of the situation as brake fluid strips paint. It reveals in all its liver-spotted, cellulite marbled ugliness the corruption at the core of American traffic law. If the cops actually believed you had just done something criminal, do you think they’d ever cut you a “break”?

Instead of getting mad at the silliness of it all, we are reflexively grateful to the cop who cuts us a “break” — even though we’re usually still stuck paying a fine and facing DMV points on our record that will very likely result in us paying more for our car insurance policy.

This is genius.

Manufacture an offense — stuff everyone is going to do anyway because it’s almost impossible not to do it and more importantly, everyone knows there’s no harm in doing it.

If “speeding” and other such traffic offenses really were dangerous you would rarely hear about cops giving people “breaks.” The proverbial book would be thrown — every time. The fact that it is not tells you all you need to know about the true nature of the system.

It is a con — and we are co-conspirators, just like Patty Hearst was.

Maybe someday, we’ll be deprogrammed, too.


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