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"The motorist is a source of revenue," says Richard Diamond. And it's become his life's obsession to change that.
By day, Diamond is the managing editor at The Washington Times. But by night, he is a relentless advocate for drivers. It started when he was 16 and got a speeding ticket from a California cop hiding in a speed trap. What Diamond considered an unfair tax and nasty constraint on his newfound mobile freedom has grated on him for 26 years. So Diamond launched into years of research on police ticketing strategies, some of it while employed on Capitol Hill, and all disclosed daily on his self-funded website TheNewspaper.com since 2004.
"Ticketing efforts have not gone down one bit," he says. Instead, there is a bewildering new variety of methods such as automated ticket machines with cameras and license-plate readers, doling out tickets for blocking bus lanes during gridlock or idling too long. "Any violation you can dream up, they're working on a device to ticket you. You can get laws passed for anything."
But speeding still makes up about 54 percent of tickets, Diamond says. Factoring the data from 40 states that report speeding revenue, "I estimate that it's $2 billion annually" in the U.S.
Here's some Diamond wisdom to help:
1. "The very first thing is to have situational awareness. If traffic slows, there's a reason," Diamond says.
2. Be ready for anything. There are speed traps from moving and stationary radar, lidar, known-location speed cameras, as well as hidden cameras, VASCAR stopwatch calculators, and just plain visual observation. In Vermont, for example, a police officer can simply make a guess of a vehicle's speed and it will stand in court, though that has been outlawed in most places.
3. "Keep a low profile—don't call attention to yourself. A minivan in the slow lane is less likely to get a ticket than a red Ferrari."
4. Keep quiet. Diamond says to present your license and registration and insurance card, and that's it. "You don't have to answer [anything] else—you have to say you're asserting your right to stay silent, or 'Please speak to my lawyer.' Do it in a polite way, nice and respectful. Antagonists get the most tickets. There are no warnings for a**holes."
5. Fight every ticket. In court, attacks on the legality of a speed-limit sign have been known to work. Attacks on the chain of evidence have worked too. In the Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts case of 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that the sixth amendment right to face one's accuser applies to lab tests. In California, courts have interpreted this to mean that photo tickets are not valid unless the technician who analyzed the photo testifies in court.
6. Now we're getting into serious ticket-fighting territory. "Check for the technical calibration of radar," Diamond says. "Usually radar evidence is admissible, presuming calibration. But in some states, any laser ticket is thrown out automatically because there is no calibration possible."
To do this, check the manufacturer specifications for the device via a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act ) request to the police department that issued the ticket. Ask for a description of how the police department abided by the calibration specs, which usually involves checking a radar gun's frequency with a tuning fork provided by the radar gun manufacturer and sending the unit to the manufacturer to be recalibrated. "It's worth investing the time to get your ticket overturned. I've done it myself in Virginia. First thing to do is pull up the vehicle code."
7. Check the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which you can find here, Diamond says. If the speed-limit signs aren't up to code, you can beat the ticket on a technicality. "Even the font of the sign is specified," he says. And "many places hide [speed] cameras behind signs and bushes. There's even one behind the welcome to d.c. sign."
8. "The judge is not there to find you not guilty. The judge is part of the revenue-collection machine. Give him a reason to find you not guilty," Diamond says.
The best way to do this is to record the conversation you have with the ticketing officer. If there is a contradiction between the recording and the officer's written report, Diamond says, "his credibility is shot." Just be sure to check your state laws before you do this. For example, Maryland does not allow you to record with a cellphone, Diamond says. There have been arrests in Massachusetts and Illinois as well for recording conversations with police, although the trend is for courts to dismiss these instances.
Get all the data you can. "Ask the officer where he was when he first stopped you, and how long he paced you." Then, Diamond says, photograph the speed-limit sign where you were stopped, the location where you first saw the officer, and the location where the officer says he first saw you. "Pacing is one of the top methods used for tickets, but in Pennsylvania the officer needs to have followed you for 0.3 mile to use pacing," he says. "Often they don't pace that far. They get sloppy a lot because they can."
9. Find a friend in the local police department. "This is the advanced course—knowing the patterns of where police are and when," Diamond says. "For example, the day after New Year's, that morning they're all sleeping. Look for shift patterns."
10. Finally, pressure your legislators. "We need to stop federal incentives for speeding tickets. States are paid for speed enforcement—the government measures this by speeding-ticket quotas," Diamond says. Voter pressure has banned speed and red-light automatic-ticket cameras by petition in 30 cities recently. "And they are liberal cities, conservative cities, rich like Newport Beach, poor cities, big like Cincinnati, small cities—it doesn't matter."
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