Avoiding Traffic Tickets: How to Stay Out of Trouble
The best way to avoid a ticket is to obey the rules of the road -- but sometimes even innocent drivers are ticketed. Here are a few tips to keep you in the clear.

To butcher a common phrase, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of traffic tickets." In other words, the best way to minimize your chance of receiving a ticket is to scrupulously obey all traffic laws. Unfortunately, police officers do stop and cite innocent drivers all the time, and it's easy for a conservative and safe driver to be cited for a technical violation. The most common tickets are for speeding on highways. Here are a few tips for staying out of harm's way.

Make Sure You Can Spot the Police
First, make sure your car is equipped with decent mirrors that give you an unobstructed rear view. To this end, periodically clean your mirrors and rear window, do not put stickers on your rear window unless you have to, and keep objects off the back ledge that may block your view.

If your rearview mirror vibrates at high speeds try to correct the problem. A mirror that vibrates a little will blur the subtle features that often give away the profile of a patrol car or motorcycle. Try tightening or slightly loosening any screws on the mirror mounting; if that doesn't help, remove the screws to add fiber, hard rubber, or even home-made cardboard or paper washers or shims to the mounting. Sometimes, you can reduce mirror vibration by having your front wheels balanced.

With a little practice, you can learn to recognize a Highway Patrol car's front profile in your side or rearview mirrors. Most Highway Patrol cars are manned by one driver and no passenger. One tell-tale sign of a Highway Patrol car behind you is the shotgun mounted vertically on a rack in the front compartment of the car. From your rearview mirror, the shotgun on its rack seems to divide the police car windshield in two.

The Highway Patrol is also moving toward increased use of smaller semi-compact cars, which are much harder to distinguish as patrol vehicles. While many larger Highway Patrol cars have conspicuous red-and-blue roof-rack lights, the smaller cars (and even some of the larger ones) use internally mounted red lights that become noticeable only when they're turned on and it's too late. Even so, many of these smaller cars still have the shotgun conspicuously mounted in the front-windshield rack.

Another feature of these cars is that they have very large and powerful engines that allow them to accelerate very quickly. Adopting a regular habit of glancing at your rearview mirror every five or ten seconds will help you to distinguish any quickly accelerating cars whose distant image on your mirror seems to grow too fast.

If you see a Highway Patrol officer pull off onto an exit ramp, resist the temptation to speed up right away. Highway Patrol officers regularly do this, only to re-enter the highway from a nearby on-ramp a few seconds later. With your false sense of security at having seen the officer exit the highway, the officer will be far enough behind so that you won't notice, but still close enough to follow your car. Whenever you see the officer ahead of you get off the highway, take a heightened interest in your rearview mirror for the next few miles.

Also, Highway Patrol officers will often park very near on-ramps, to allow them to quickly get onto the highway to chase or pace a car they think is going too fast. It isn't a bad idea to glance about the area as you approach an on-ramp. After all, your heightened awareness will not only help you avoid a traffic officer, but will also help you be a better and safer driver!

Another trick Highway Patrol officers use is to 'pace' you from a parallel frontage road. Watch out for this, too.

Keep in mind that another maneuver Highway patrol officers can perform with amazing skill is a high-speed U-turn. You aren't safe from a Highway Patrol officer just because he's traveling in the opposite direction. If an officer thinks your speed is too high, he may well execute a movie-grade high-speed U-turn to chase you. Even highways have frequent spots where this can be done, and an officer who regularly patrols a particular section of road knows where such spots are. With the high-powered engines on Highway Patrol cars, he'll catch up with you in no time.

Motorcycles and Airplanes
In your search for Highway Patrol cars that might pull you over, don't forget that the Highway Patrol uses motorcycles as well. A Highway Patrol motorcycle can usually be recognized by its large size, radio antenna, emergency kit, red light in front, and uniformed, blue and gold-helmeted driver. There are times when the Highway Patrol does not use motorcycles -- at night or when it rains.

Patrol cars and motorcycles aren't your only worry. The Highway Patrol makes extensive use of aircraft to catch speeders on highways. Not all highways are appropriate for aircraft patrols, however. Highways which are not straight over long distances, which are near the flight paths of major airports, or which are simply too far from a local airport or airstrip, are less than ideal for the use of aircraft patrols. Straight highways in rural areas are preferred. In fact, highways patrolled by Highway Patrol aircraft usually have signs that warn "patrolled by aircraft," and have white mile-markers (several inches wide, by three or four feet long) painted on the side of the highway every mile.

We don't suggest that you stick your head out the window to look for Highway Patrol aircraft, or point your side-view mirror upward. Still, if you can do so safely, there's nothing wrong with being alert for any small Cessna-type airplane flying parallel to the highway, either ahead of you in your direction or coming toward you from the other direction, especially on highways with mile markers.

Keep A Low Profile On the Roads
The best way to avoid speeding tickets on highways is to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Try to:

In A Speeder's Guide to Avoiding Tickets (Avon Books, 1991), retired New York Highway Patrolman Sgt. James M. Eagan, gives some insight into how police officer decide to pull someone over. Among the factors officers might consider are the following: