REASONABLE AND PRUDENT
7:25 AM: I was traveling north on I495 in Middleboro, MA at pretty much the same speed as the rest of the commute traffic, which at that point was fairly light and moving along pretty fast. I saw a blue sedan coming up an entrance ramp that I was approaching, so I moved to the left to let him on. Turned out I needn’t have bothered, he came onto the highway *very* fast, immediately moved into the left lane (no signals) and proceeded to tailgate a driver as aggressively as I’ve *ever* seen, moving back and forth behind the car in front, sometimes partially in the right lane, sometimes partially in the left breakdown area.
At this point I was behind the aggressive driver, the last one in a line of five or six cars in the passing lane. Not wanting an accident to end up in my face, I move to the right lane and begin to pass the line of cars on the right. I came up on a slower car in the right lane. I signalled and moved over into the left lane directly behind the first car in the pack (one of those left-lane bandits, hence the line of cars behind him/her.) Next thing I knew I heard a siren and start looking around… Yup, it was that blue sedan – an unmarked.
In addition to being ordered out of my truck and lectured for several minutes, I got written up for:
89-4: Failure to use care changing lanes
89-4: Following too closely
90/17: speeding, 75-80 in a 65
Considering I had just witnessed the officer of the Middleboro State Police committing those exact violations and more so, I was pretty angry.
So, analyzing the ticket, taking advantage of the NMA ticket fighting kit and reading the state laws involved, I discovered a number of interesting things: Chapter 89 has nothing to do with following too closely – it’s all about keeping to the right. I was also advised that 90/17 only applies to unposted roads (which turns out may not be correct, more on that later). Also, the officer did not ask me to sign the ticket, nor did he certify how the ticket was served (requirements of Mass 90C).
Armed with this information, I went to the hearing before the Clerk Magistrate. He bought my argument about the following too closely being the wrong legal citation (referencing his law book), and went along with my claim re my lane change being safe, but said that 90/17 was applicable, even though the road had posted limits. And so I appealed.
Per the NMA pack, I filed a public records request with the state police office via registered, certified mail. A month later not only I did not have a response, but I did not receive the postcard receipt that comes back after certified mail is signed for. And the post office couldn’t find any record that it was delivered. Hmmmm. I renewed my request via overnight (courtesy of the local post office), which I know was received because I got a phone call from the police desk officer wanting to clarify the information I requested. Nevertheless, I never got any information. At one point I also phoned the clerk of the court and requested a continuance. The person claimed they didn’t do that, and I didn’t push it.
I arrived at court fairly well prepared, with a coat and tie and a significant flock of butterflies. My case was called after a few non-traffic matters. The Judge explained that this was to be an informal hearing; I took this to mean that the various procedural tactics I found in my ticket fighting books would be fairly unwelcomed. So, a different tact:
After the officer read the ticket off and made a number of claims about where he was, how fast he was going and where I was, I was allowed to question him. I had just two questions:
Did you drive at a safe and reasonable speed?
Did you make safe lane changes?
To which of course he had to reply “yes”.
I then explained to the Judge exactly what happened and I compared my driving to the officer’s – if the officer felt that driving that closely, changing lanes without signalling and driving that fast was safe and reasonable, then my driving, which was more careful than his, must have been by comparison safe and reasonable also. I then pointed out the errors on the ticket, and “rested”.
The Judge told me I’d be notified by mail (didn’t seem reasonable for a mere traffic case, but maybe it was to avoid post-trial outbursts). The final outcome: not responsible on all charges. And I got to call the Sargent a hypocrite in court!