By Jordan W. Charness
Howard has been one of my closest friends ever since law school. He’s a bright, sunshiney and friendly guy who is also a top-notch lawyer in New York. We went to law school together and my wife and I even introduced him to the girl he married; needless to say, I know him very well.
I also know him to be a careful and cautious driver who drives as well as any other middle-aged man with a family. Perhaps this was why I was so surprised when he told me what happened to him on the New York State Thruway last month.
Howard was driving with his wife and daughter. He was travelling down the highway in the passing lane no faster than the posted speed limit and noticed that there was a car directly behind him that seemed to be tailgating his car. The driver seemed somewhat aggressive and this raised the competitive instinct in Howard.
Rather than letting the car behind him pass, Howard tapped his brakes a few times to indicate to the car behind him that he should back off. When the car refused to back off Howard slowed down to indicate his displeasure and, truth be told, to annoy the driver of the car behind him.
Eventually the car behind him switched into the right hand lane, so Howard decided to switch into the right hand lane as well. When the other car switched back to the left Howard did so as well and blocked the tailgater, refusing to let him pass.
Everything that Howard did was safe, slow and not particularly illegal. His lane changes and speed were always within the legal norms but baiting the car behind him was not the safest or smartest thing to do. To his great surprise the next time he looked in his rear-view mirror he saw the flashing lights of a police cruiser and heard a police siren.
As he started to pull over Howard turned to his wife and asked her what she thought he might have done to attract a police cruiser’s attention. He waited in his car and was even more surprised to find the New York State trooper bearing down on him with a furious expression on his face.
“Did you know that I have been trying to pass you for the past 10 minutes!?,” screamed the trooper at Howard. “I was chasing a stolen car and did not want to turn on my lights and siren until I had followed him to his hideout. And here you were doing everything you could to make sure that I could not pass you! You wait right there. I don’t know what exactly I’m going to charge you with but I’m definitely going to throw the book at you!”
Howard’s wife turned to him and asked him what he had been doing. He told her that he had been playing cat and mouse with a car that had been tailgating him but that he had never realized that it was a police car.
They both looked back at the car to see that it was indeed a fully marked police car complete with a full light kit on top and was eminently recognizable as a police car. Equally important, the police officer was fully dressed as a policeman in uniform and was unmistakable. Howard’s only explanation was that he had been concentrating on just the front grill of the car behind him and never raised his eyes high enough to notice that he was being followed by a police car!
To Howard’s chagrin he saw that the police officer had radioed for backup and that there were now two police cars behind him and two police officers busy flipping through what appeared to be charge books.
The trooper, having regained his composure, told Howard that although he had found grounds to seize his car he did not want to leave Howard and his wife and daughter on the side of the highway. What he did do was slap Howard with a very large speeding ticket and telling him that under New York State law he would now have to go back to driver’s ed for a refresher course.
Howard may or may not have been speeding but he could certainly use a refresher course on how to check his rear-view mirror and treat other drivers on the road.