As car enthusiasts, we like to drive… well, enthusiastically. This enthusiasm can occasionally attract negative attention from law enforcement agencies, who disapprove speeds in excess of posted limits. I enjoy a spirited drive as much as any enthusiast, and yet – knock on wood – it’s been a long time since I’ve been stopped, let alone cited. I’m probably doing something right, so I figured I’d compile some tips for flying under the radar, staying out of trouble, yet still having a good time behind the wheel.
1. Obey The Law
In Chris Rock’s informative public service announcement “How Not To Get Your Ass Kicked By The Police,” this is his first suggestion. And really, despite being a comedy sketch, this is a good piece of advice. If you’re not speeding or driving aggressively and your car is in good shape, they have no reason to stop you. So be sure keep all of your lights working and your registration and inspection (if you have those) up to date, too. Any of these being out of line is a reason for the police to stop you, even if your driving is perfectly okay.
2. Use Your Brain
Now let’s talk about how things work in the real world. Nobody obeys every traffic law to the letter 100% of the time. How did you sneak into the cookie jar and not get caught? By doing it when mom and dad weren’t looking. Generally speaking – and there are exceptions for red light cameras, speed cameras, etc. – you can’t be cited unless you’re caught in the act. There’s a certain stretch of road I can work into my commute that I enjoy because it’s twisty, hilly, goes through the woods – and there is absolutely nowhere for a cop to pull off and set up a speedtrap. So I can have a little fun through this section, then rein myself in before entering the residential areas on either side. I won’t speed through those, not only because there are many places where police can and do hide, but also because it’s just plain dangerous. So be smart about where you play, and don’t do it where you’ll put anyone else in danger.
3. Know The Territory
This isn’t always possible if you’re taking a road trip to somewhere you’ve never been, but get to know your regular stomping grounds. I know all of the places police tend to hide along my daily commute, and I always take a bit of extra care passing through them. Also be aware of places where a 50mph zone suddenly drops to 25. That’s how they get you – and sometimes massive speed limit drops like this are designed more to generate revenue from speeding ticket fines than for safety – but if you know it’s coming and Obey The Law as you pass through, you’ll slide on by. The time of day can be a factor here too, such as when school zones knock down the speed limit.
4. Maintain Situational Awareness
There are many, many reasons why you should be doing this. It’s doubly true if you’re driving in a spirited manner, for safety as well as for not getting caught. Constantly scan the road ahead, and check the mirrors occasionally too in case the boys in blue come flying up from behind. If you don’t Know The Territory, identify potential blind spots where a speedtrap might be lurking and slow down accordingly. Be aware of who’s around you, where they are, and where it’s most likely they’re going. And watch out for the unexpected. Other drivers are wild, unpredictable creatures, so keep an eye on them.
5. Fly Casual
Han Solo was being snarky when he gave this advice to Chewbacca, but it’s actually quite solid advice. Don’t attract attention to yourself, but don’t look like you’re trying to not attract attention. If you speed, don’t speed too much. On a 65mph highway you can sometimes get away with 75, but not 85. You can punch it around an empty on-ramp for fun, but don’t merge onto the highway already going faster than everyone else. And don’t weave through traffic. That’s what earned me my first ticket *mumblemumble* years ago when I was young and stupid.
6. Use Waze
I already wrote about Waze, but it’s worth mentioning again because of how well it fits in here. If you don’t Know The Territory, Waze can help. You can often see farther down the road on the screen than you can through your windshield. The alerts are extremely helpful to Maintain Situational Awareness beyond your line of sight. I’m talking about road hazards just as much as police sightings.
7. Use Rabbits
You’re cruising down the highway at a brisk but reasonable pace. Suddenly, a sports car (or wanna-be sports car) goes flying past you like you’re standing still. If you wish, you can increase your pace by following this car, yet not staying too close to it so that you’re not associated with it. This driver is obviously not following my advice, especially the part about Flying Casual. If you’re avoiding attention and they aren’t, they’re more likely to be the one who gets bagged instead of you.
8. Don’t Push The Limits
Even if you do have a clear back road or on-ramp to play with, don’t push your car to its limits. The street is not the place to be driving 10/10ths or anywhere near it. The sound of squealing tires goes pretty far, and any cop who hears it will come looking for the source. But worse than that, the consequences of a mistake will almost certainly lead to a crash if you have nothing left in reserve. Your car will get hurt, you might get hurt, and other people might, too. The police will definitely show up, figure out how it happened, and nail you for it.
9. Take It To The Track
If you want to explore the limits of your car, there are better, safer places to do it than on the street. Autocross is an excellent way to do it. Though speeds are fairly low, there’s nothing to hit except cones, so go ahead and drive 10/10ths and see what happens. Worst case, you’ll spin out, kill some cones, and have a good laugh. For higher speeds, go to an HPDE event, or a drag strip if those pesky curves get in the way. Best of all, you won’t have to worry about getting caught for speeding, because there is no speed limit here – you’re Obeying The Law. It’s also much safer with limited access to the track, and traffic is either tightly controlled or there’s none at all.
10. Skip The Radar Detector
You may notice I haven’t even mentioned radar detectors until now. I only mention them now because someone will comment that I skipped this part. I’ve used them in the past, but I haven’t for years. Many people swear by them, and insist that any enthusiast needs one. It may be an unpopular opinion, but I personally don’t agree with that. In my experience, they go off more often for non-police radar sources than actual police radar or laser. Many illuminated road signs these days blast out radar just to get you to slow down, with no speedtrap at all. If a speedtrap is running laser or instant-on radar, you won’t detect them until it’s already too late anyway. Yes, some detectors are better than others, but even a Valentine One will suffer from these shortcomings.
Finally, if you do get stopped, possession of a detector indicates an intention of speeding. Even if they’re legal where you are, it’s far more likely that you’ll get a ticket than a warning if you have one on your dashboard, or even the telltale suction cup marks of where it usually sits. If you’re in Virginia or Washington DC, where they’re illegal, you’ll get a ticket for that, too. In Quebec they can even confiscate it. To me, it’s just not worth the expense and hassle.