It was a rather warm day but clear and bright when Dabney got into his 1966 El Camino for a drive out into the Shenandoah Valley. He picked up the Doctor at his home and the two settled into the seats for a pleasant jaunt into the countryside, with stops at some antique shops.
Dabney wasn't in any hurry and set his cruise control to the speed limit — 65 mph, on the roads out from Washington DC to Leesburg, VA. The old El Camino purred along smoothly and the trip around the town of Leesburg went uneventfully as the speed limit dropped to 55 mph. Dabney dropped the speed setting to around 60 mph and continued driving westward.
As the El Camino crossed over the first range of the Blue Ridge Mountains and coasted down the western slope neither Dabney nor the Doctor noticed the speed creeping up. They crossed the Shenandoah River at the bottom of the mountain and continued to cruise along in the right lane as traffic slowly passed them in the left lane.
It was at that time that Dabney glanced in the rear mirror and saw a police cruiser back about a half mile, lights ablaze. "Looks like a policeman is coming up fast in our lane, Doc, so he's going to have to get pretty close to find a break in the traffic to get around."
The Doctor paid no attention as the El Camino moved along, until Dabney noticed that the cruiser wasn't passing. It was pacing the El Camino and Dabney, incredulously, started looking for a place to pull over. "Why is he stopping us, Doc?" asked Dabney.
"I have no idea, old Boy, but he's definitely going to let us know," said the Doctor as the policeman was walking toward the side window. Dabney opened the window and quickly mentioned to the policeman that he would have pulled over sooner but didn't believe that he was the one being pursued.
The policeman, rather impolitely, responded that Dabney apparently didn't understand the concept of flashing lights and that he had clocked the El Camino at 73 mph. He wouldn't listen to anything Dabney said and simply informed him that he was issuing a summons.
Once the ticket was received Dabney signed for it and continued on his way, still talking about the situation. They both noticed a number of state police cars on both sides of the highway over the next few miles and it was clear that a crackdown was underway. Neither he or the Doctor felt that the car had been speeding, but the radar ticket said otherwise.
"I wonder if I should go to court to fight this, Doc, " said Dabney. "I can't prove I wasn't speeding, but it sure seems weird that we got stopped."
"Well, my boy," said the Doctor, "I can only give you the probabilities of success in fighting the ticket, not really advice on whether or not you should."
"Okay," said Dabney, "what's the best way to look at this?"
The Doctor went on to explain the realities of today's traffic tickets. "Statistically, those who go to court to fight traffic tickets generally stand a 40% chance of succeeding. The reason the odds are so good are generally ones of procedure and evidence, however, such as failure of the officer to show; failure to demonstrate that the radar equipment was calibrated; failure to state the venue, etc. The fact of the matter is that virtually all speeding tickets are awarded because the vehicle was speeding, although some small amount of error does take place."
He continued, "Now suppose we both go to the courthouse and testify that we didn't feel we were speeding. The officer only needs to present his radar gun evidence and that will surely supercede our testimony. The judge won't counteract the officer's testimony. Also, the judge is within his rights to impose stiffer fines and points, depending upon his impression of us and whether or not he felt we were paying attention at the time we got stopped."
The Doctor followed up on this thought by saying, "Under ordinary circumstances I would say we should go take a shot at fighting the ticket on the chances that the fine and points could be reduced. However, we have evidence that the local town area where we were stopped was in the midst of a traffic crackdown and many vehicles were being stopped. That tells me that this situation was one of revenue production and nothing else, so the court isn't likely to be interested in being lenient."
"You have me there," said Dabney. "But I've gotten two other tickets in the last four years and never had any tickets during the previous 35-40 years of driving. I'm not driving any differently now, so am I getting absent-minded or is something going on?"
"Something's definitely going on," said the Doctor. "Millions of people around the country are getting more traffic tickets since 2001, specifically over 45 million last year. That's one in every three drivers."
"So what's the story?" asked Dabney.
"It's primarily due to the homeland security funding subsequent to 9/11 of 2001. After that, billions of dollars were — and are — being distributed to state and local authorities for whatever resources they deemed necessary to beef up security. What has happened is that state and local police have bought state-of-the-art equipment with these fresh resources. A lot of this equipment is just sitting around underutilized, so it hasn't taken long for enterprising traffic enforcement officials to see the enormous revenue potential in increased traffic monitoring. Add the additional staffing to police departments that the homeland security program has aided and you have millions of more tickets being issued and billions of more dollars in local revenues."
"Isn't this helping traffic safety?" asked Dabney.
"Not much, if at all," said the Doctor. "All the studies show that the traffic accident and highway death rate has remained constant for years while vehicles have become safer and safer. Improvements in highway and vehicle design will continue to chip away at the statistics, but there are no good studies that show increased highway ticketing has had any effect on safety, except in certain so-called 'danger' areas around the country where conditions contribute to abnormal numbers of crashes."
"These are new times," concluded the Doctor, "so we're all going to have to watch how fast we're going and play the game according to the new rules."