Ticket vs. warning: When does one win out?

A driver's attitude and history can influence the decision to issue a ticket as much as traffic conditions and the infraction itself


Of all the questions I’ve been asked over the last 17 years, I get this one the most: How can I get a get out of a ticket?

To any of my motor brethren who are reading this, we all know we don’t give warnings — at least not often. You patrol officers out there may not have seen your cite book in forever. But somewhere in the middle lies the officer who may or may not be sure when it’s the right time to cut someone a break. What follows are the four standards by which I judge whether or not to cite.

  1. Attitude: If the driver has a bad one, the warning option never enters the equation. There’s a reason we refer to the “attitude test.” If a driver is stopped and remains courteous and respectful, the odds of a warning soar upward.
  2. Driving History: If we’ve met before, there is very little chance I will grant a reprieve. If I’m on the fence about whether or not to cite, my first go-to is dispatch. Run the person’s driver’s license and ask for a driving history. If they have none and their attitude is good, they may just have earned themselves a pass.
  3. Honesty: Similar to attitude, honesty plays a huge role. If someone seems as pleasant as a spring day, but says they’ve never had a cell phone citation and their driving history reveals three prior violations — well then, welcome to the fourth.
  4. Responsibility: Someone could have a great attitude, zero driving history and honestly think they didn’t commit the violation for which they were stopped. While that person may not necessarily be purposefully deceitful, they may very well refuse to take responsibility.

The rumors are rubbish
Often, in regards to speeding, people want to know what the “magic number” is. I’ve heard the rumors myself. I hear things like:

  • If you stay at/under 10 mph over the speed limit, you’re good.
  • If you “go with the flow of traffic” it’s perfectly OK.

Both are rubbish. The fact of the matter is the speed limit is set for a reason. The police can stop someone for exceeding that posted limit. Whether or not the officer cites the driver for the violation is completely within that officer’s discretion.

Certain crimes require an officer to take action — domestic violence, for instance. Traffic issues, however, are primarily infractions, and the officer is granted the ability to make a decision. Personally, my “number” changes based on the current conditions (traffic, weather, pedestrians, cyclists, etc.) and could be different four hours from now based on the changing circumstances.

Follow the rules
We all wish the motoring public would know and understand that the bottom line for them is simple: Follow the rules of the road. When the police have occasion to stop a motorist, that driver should be polite and honest and take responsibility.

Maybe some citizen googling “how do I get out of a traffic ticket” will stumble upon this article and take note. (If you do, please tell all of your friends and relatives what is contained herein.)

For my fellow enforcers of the law, remember that attitude is a two-way street. I know we tend to give what we get, and it’s taken me years to let more things slide (I still occasionally let my snark out), but it would behoove us all to remember that the person we stop may not see another cop for weeks, months or years. You, on the other hand, move from one contact to the next with little to no time to process that last one.

A real-life warning
Here’s an example of a stop just the other day that resulted in the driver receiving a warning.

I was running LIDAR in front of my local high school and got a car doing 40 in a school zone. I put the LIDAR in the holster and got ready to turn my emergency lights on. The driver pulled over right behind me, negating the necessity for me to move at all. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Yeah. You totally got me.”

I just started to laugh. I walked over to contact him, and the first words out of his mouth were, “I was going too fast, Officer. I’m sorry. Figured I’d just pull over here. You got me fair and square.”

Not only did he make me laugh, he took full responsibility for his actions and was honest. That gentleman got a warning. Other motorists would do well to follow his lead.

What are your thoughts on the topic? Add a comment below. 

About the author

Jason Hoschouer is a law enforcement officer with an agency in the San Francisco Bay area in California. In addition to patrolling the streets as a motor officer, Hoschouer helps fellow LEOs with financial coaching through his company, GPS Financial Coaching. Hoschouer’s column on PoliceOne, then, will cover everything from motors to monies, from britches to budgets. Jason has been blogging under the pseudonym “Motorcop” at motorcopblog.com since 2008 and was also a columnist for American COP Magazine for several years.

You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter

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