Written by Gregory Monte.
“So, when [Goldilocks] came into the kitchen, she saw the three bowls of porridge. She tasted the largest bowl, which belonged to the Big Bear, and found it too cold; then she tasted the middle-sized bowl, which belonged to the Middle-sized Bear, and found it too hot; then she tasted the smallest bowl, which belonged to the Little Bear, and it was just right, and she ate it all.”
When most people think about speeding tickets, they have in mind a very typical situation:
A police officer is hiding in some obscure area off to the side of the road, specifically waiting to trap unwary motorists traveling over the posted limit.
However, in many states, police officers have the authority to issue speeding tickets for a wide range of “violations.”
What’s That Goldilocks? There May Not Be a “Just Right” Speed?
Which brings me to the title of this blog post…
After a bit of research, I realized that, unlike in the fairly tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears, speeding tickets are not just a Papa, Mama and Baby Bear type situation. It turns out that motorists can actually get a ticket for driving too slow (Papa Bear’s cold porridge), too fast (Mama Bear’s hot porridge) and even somewhere in between (Baby Bear’s just-right porridge).
I will illustrate what I mean by referring to the Motor Vehicle Statutes in Pennsylvania, but keep in mind that this speed limit situation is common in many other states as well.
Speeding Ticket # 1 – Driving Too Fast.
Title 75, Section 3362 is all about maximum speed limits. In Pennsylvania, the upper limit is 70 mph on freeways, 35 mph in urban districts and 25 mph in residential areas.
Because this is pretty clear-cut (signs are usually posted), drivers know when they are potentially going to violate the law in these cases. There is even a built-in margin of error because Title 75, Section 3368(c)(4) indicates that:
“No person may be convicted upon evidence obtained through the use of [speed-monitoring] devices … unless the speed recorded is six or more miles per hour in excess of the legal speed limit … in an area where the legal speed limit is less than 55 miles per hour if the speed recorded is less than ten miles per hour in excess of the legal speed limit.”
Speeding Ticket #2 – Driving Too Slow.
Title 75, Section 3364 is all about minimum speed limits. This one is a bit more unclear, because the required minimum speed may not even be posted on the highway. Worse, you could also violate Section 3364 if the police officer determines that you are driving slow enough “to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.”
While a ticket for this type of “speed” violation may be somewhat rare, consider the following recent case before you conclude that I am wasting my time even mentioning this category.
“[Officer] Felsman observed a 2001 Chevrolet drive by at 48 miles per hour in a section of the highway with a 65 mile per hour speed limit … Felsman testified that at the 48 miles per hour speed, he believed Watley impeded the flow of traffic at that time, although Felsman did not observe a traffic slowdown at the time of the stop. Watley testified that he always drives cautiously in the right-hand lane as a result of an accident that occurred in 1988.”
Fortunately, Mr. Watley decided to challenge his speed citation, and the Superior Court eventually found him not guilty. Unfortunately, most people don’t make the effort to do this. Instead of standing up to the state, they act like cowering little sheep. They pay their fine like obedient citizens and just move along.
Speeding Ticket #3 – Driving Less Than the Speed Limit … But Still Too Fast???
Title 75, Section 3361 (driving at an unsafe speed), is the most arbitrary of the speeding statutes, because it all depends on the perspective of the police officer issuing the ticket. When you read the exact wording of this statute, you will understand why I say this:
“No person shall drive a vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing, nor at a speed greater than will permit the driver to bring his vehicle to a stop within the assured clear distance ahead.”
A “speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions?”
What the f*ck does that even mean?
Which is exactly my point in bringing this up…
In Pennsylvania, there are strict rules which must be followed in order for the Commonwealth to get a conviction in a speeding case. The police officer’s testimonial opinion about a vehicle’s rate of speed, no matter how much experience the cop has, is not accepted as evidence in a court of law.
But under Section 3361, those strict rules are discarded. If the officer testifies that that the “conditions” and “potential hazards” exist, he doesn’t have to prove that the defendant was actually traveling over the posted limit.
THE BOTTOM LINE?
In Pennsylvania (and many other states) you can be cited under this unsafe speeding section even if you are not actually speeding!
A Final Case to Illustrate My Point.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth. v. Monosky, 520 A. 2d 1192 – Pa: Supreme Court 1987 makes clear that Section 3361 does not require the police to use an actual measuring device to determine speed. All that is required is their professional opinion about how fast a defendant was traveling, along with testimony that there were other “conditions” and “potential hazards.”
Here is what the Court had to say about this:
“With regard to appellant’s conviction for failure to drive at a safe speed, the trial record discloses that appellant was initially observed by the two testifying patrol officers driving in excess of the posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour through a residential area on a foggy, wet day … Both officers also expressed their opinion that appellant was traveling approximately 50 miles per hour when they initially observed him.”
And there you have it.
The officers “expressed their opinion” – that is all that was necessary.
Convicting under the general speed law would require radar or some other measuring device, but under 3361 anything is possible – even a cop’s mere opinion about how fast you were going.
Goldilocks Gets No Porridge After All – But Local Governments Get Their “Revenue”
Circling back to the blog post title …
In Pennsylvania (and many other states), when it comes to driving, you may not actually be able to find a speed which is “just right.” This is especially the case when you enter a local jurisdiction which is strapped for cash and is looking to fleece you of your hard-earned money. Car and Driver Online wrote about this a couple of years ago, but you can find plenty of references to the traffic ticket “revenue” scam with a quick Google Search. Enforcement of speed laws is not about public safety – its all about “revenue.”
I started the website Stop-Sign-Ticket.Com and this blog in order to spread the word about how to beat unfair stop sign tickets. My free 23-page eBook, How My Son Beat an Unfair Stop Sign Ticket in Pennsylvania, is available to anyone interested in reading about this.
But now I am working on my next eBook about how to beat a speeding ticket. If you are interested in this topic, continue to follow my blog for both entertainment as well as serious strategies to fight unfair tickets.