I work near Fenway Park in Boston. I was heading west along Commonwealth Avenue and onto Brighton Avenue, both four lane, busy streets with plenty of traffic lights to control the flow of cars. I was returning from work along the route I often use and took a side street shortcut to avoid some traffic lights. This side street, Linden Avenue ends by entering a six lane, divided road with no parking on either side and a broad cement dividing barrier in the center. I took a right on this street, Cambridge Street, since that was the only direction to turn and was the way I wanted to go.
As I proceeded along past the Allston entrance to the Massachusetts Turnpike I was stopped by the Brighton Police. The officer was the model of professionalism; polite, calm spoken, a pleasant tone to his voice and perhaps a slight smile. He asked for my license and I handed him my license and registration, since that is what I expected him to request. He told me that the laser speed gun had registered 52 mph in a thirty mile per hour zone. I was positive that I was not going 52, perhaps 40 or so, but definitely not 52. But that was not my immediate concern. I was on a 6 lane divided stretch of road, no houses or businesses in sight, 8 lanes wide at the place where I was stopped. How could this be a 30 mph zone?
I asked where it was posted at 30 mph. He responded that it was at the top of the hill or thereabouts. I asked to look at the laser gun to see the reading, but it was too late. Yet another car had been pulled over for doing 45 mph. After receiving the citation the two officers kindly stopped traffic so that I could cross over and reverse direction to find that speed sign that I had missed.
I returned to the top of the hill where I had entered the road and proceeded through five intersections beyond that point. Still no speed limit signs in sight. The road did change to a two lane (one in each direction) road in an area that I would never travel. Quite different from the six lane section that I entered. I returned to the officers, who had stopped yet more cars, to tell them that there were no speed signs anywhere nearby. They responded by saying that they were assigned to this location and where just doing their job. And besides, all unposted roads in Boston were thirty miles per hour. This just didn’t make any sense to me.
This was turning into a real challenge since I knew that the true cost of the violation was six years of higher insurance rates and the $195 fine to boot. Oh, did I mention that I have never had a speed violation in over thirty years of driving, not even a parking ticket that I can recall. So you see this adventure was new to me, and I wasn’t going to let the “mistake” simply resolve itself.
I gathered maps, overhead satellite shots of the area, and relevant Massachusetts statute from the Mass General Laws on the presumption of a 50 mile per hour speed limit on a divided highway that is not “thickly settled”. I took dozens of color pictures with a digital camera to show my sightlines and the area I was traveling. I took pictures of the immediate area to show no speed limit signs were present. I prepared several color booklets, twenty pages long, with all of this information to show the magistrate at the hearing that no one would have guessed or had any warning that this was a 30mph zone. And you know what happened. The magistrate listened, said that all roads are 30 mph unless posted otherwise and that the road didn’t really need to be posted anywhere near the infraction point. Out of the kindness of his heart he would drop the fine by $100 but that was all that he could do. My reaction was that this was just plain WRONG. We set up an appointment to be heard by a judge in two weeks.
At that point I sent an e-mail to the NMA in the local area. My son is also a member. John Carr pointed me toward a Massachusetts law and a specific speed regulation for that street hoping that I could find a copy in time for the court appearance.
That was what I was missing. It was time to “take it up a notch” and prepare a case for the judge to reason with.
After eleven calls to various departments in Boston and to Mass Highways I found that the DPW building about eight miles away might have a copy of this Special Speed Regulation, so I made the trek with my fingers crossed. And there, in an old file, in a tattered file folder under “Brighton” was an original copy of the 1966 speed regulation that clearly said that the section of road I was stopped on was 40 mph and that the speed limit signs “must be posted” as the motorist enters each new section of Cambridge Street where the speed limit changes.
I had my proof of the error that took place. But wait there’s more. On the citation it read that my car was a 1998 grey sedan. The registration that I handed the officer was sharp and clear saying that it was a 1999 Blue sedan. It is blue after all.
At the judicial hearing the officer appeared and we faced each other for statements and questioning. The judge was very clear on how we were to proceed and the officer was a gentleman at both the stop and in court. I presented the evidence through a set of forty prepared questions.
“Officer, is there any possibility that you may have read the laser gun incorrectly?”
“Yes but that is very unlikely,” he answered.
“Officer, is there a possibility that you read my license incorrectly?” I asked.
“Yes”, he said ” if it was old or torn perhaps.” I handed him my license which was new and clear. He said that there was no possibility of reading this license wrong.
“Officer, is there a possibility that you would read my registration incorrectly?”
“Yes. Again if it was old and worn or faded.” I handed him the registration that was only six months old saying, “How about this registration?” “No. This one is clear.”
I handed him a copy of the citation and asked him to read to the court the year and color of the car from the citation and the registration. He did. I asked him again if it was possible that he read the speed gun wrong. He said, again, “Yes but it was very unlikely.”
I then asked how many intersections away the nearest speed limit sign was. He did not know so I hand him and the judge a map showing that it was over ten intersections away, behind a tree branch no less. I asked then pointed out that there were 28 traffic control signs on same side of the road from just three intersections before I enter from the side street. None was a speed limit sign. I wouldn’t have seen them anyway.
Then I pulled out the much sought after speed regulation (thank you NMA) with a set of questions on his understanding of speed regulations and their purpose and authority. The speed regulations are the determining factor on actual speed zones. I handed the judge and the officer a copy. There were about twenty more questions that I asked on the presumption of speed limits on the divided highway and other concerns, but the speed regulation was not debatable.
The judge was very attentive to the stacks of photos, maps, the questioning and the flawed citation, but it was the speed regulation that won the day.
The judge said that based on the “confusion about the speed limits in that area” I was “not responsible” (i.e. not guilty) of speeding. I wasn’t speeding anyway.
I spoke to the officer outside the court room and thanked him for his polite handling of the matter at all times. He promised to look into the posting of the speed signs. So did the NMA. I said to him, “Have a good day and be careful out there.” He walked away and said with a smile “You too. And don’t forget. I’ll be watching.” I smiled too.
I went outside the court and the battery in my car was dead. Just as I was about to call triple A, a Brighton police car pulled up just behind me and helped me jump start the car. Isn’t that the way the police should act to “Protect and Serve.” I sincerely thanked him.
Today, a month later, after this painstaking adventure and about 30 hours of research and travel, a 40 mph sign can be found on Cambridge Street at almost exactly the spot where I was stopped in a 30mph zone that wasn’t really there. Imagine how those motorists feel that see the sign today and paid their fines back in March.
Name and address withheld by request.