By Jordan W. Charness

Just when I think I’ve “heard them all,” I hear something new: it’s truly amazing, the varied types of excuses that people have actually presented in court in an effort to beat a traffic ticket. While it is true that, sometimes, tickets are issued that are not entirely valid, there’s usually at least a kernel of reason behind each ticket.

When a person takes the time off of work to actually go to court and contest a ticket, it usually means one of two things: either they truly feel that they did not deserve the ticket, or more likely, they can’t afford either the demerit points or the fine.

Perhaps the most common mistake that people make when trying to defend themselves is to tell the judge that they plead “guilty with an explanation.” In actual fact, there is no such thing. If you plead guilty, the judge has no option but to convict you. Most traffic cases are strict liability cases. This means that all the cop has to prove is that you did indeed do what you are being accused of. You don’t have to have a reason for doing so. You just have to be doing it.

So telling the court that, yes indeed, you were guilty of speeding but were only going that fast because you wanted to pass a slower moving truck will not get you acquitted. If you had to speed to get past the truck you should not have been passing him in the first place.

Similarly, trying to explain to a court that the reason that you were speeding was because you were going downhill will perhaps provoke a snicker from the prosecuting attorney or the judge who will both be happy to point out that the main reason brakes were installed in your vehicle was so that you could slow down when going downhill.

Here’s an excuse that I’ve been hearing more and more often: “Yes it’s true that I did not stop at the stop sign but the police officer was totally rude!” While it may indeed have been true that the cop was not polite, that does not in any way change the fact that you neglected to stop at the stop sign and you will undoubtedly be found guilty. If you have a real problem with the police officer’s behaviour, then you may file a complaint with the police ethics commission or similar supervisory body, but you still have to pay the ticket.

Similarly telling a judge that you have not had a ticket in 25 years does not mean that you stopped at the red light. It simply means that you have not been caught in the past 25 years. This ticket you’ll have to pay for.

I even heard of one person tell a judge in all seriousness that “Suddenly the tree jumped out in front of my car and that’s why I hit it!” I’m not exactly sure how that was supposed to explain anything, but it certainly did not lead a judge to believe that she was paying full attention to her driving.

I couldn’t stop because it was “dark/raining/snowing/sleeting,” or any other weather-related excuse will more likely lead to a lecture from the bench on better driving habits in inclement weather than it will to an acquittal.

I must admit that my all-time favourite recent excuse was the man who told a judge that he did not stop at a stop sign because he was in the habit of taking “microsleeps” in order to help him drive long distances. He said he learned of this trick to extend his mental alertness… no doubt while he was awake. While he was microsleeping he was driving through stop signs!

There are legitimate defences to traffic tickets and we’ll take a look at several of those in the weeks to come.

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