Gary Richards is a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News. His column is called ROADSHOW. People write or phone, or email him to complain about problems of all kinds on city streets and the highways, and he does his best to answer those questions and complaints. Apparently he has contacts with various city and state agencies, and on occasion is able to have specific problems solved.
About a week ago Gary had a separate article about traffic stop excuses. The last one down is from my own experience. Some of these excuses may have you shaking your head, or just laughing out loud. Enjoy!
The two French tourists were flying down Highway 101 through Sunnyvale in their rented Ford Taurus, hitting 100 mph. That got the attention of California Highway Patrol Officer Dave Barnett — as did their unusual excuse. The two men in their 20s said they had studied U.S. traffic laws before heading to the United States and were told that speed limit signs here are black and white — like the signs that read "101" along the freeway. Wasn't that, they asked, the speed limit?
"I let them go," Barnett said, "and told them to make sure the sign also said 'Speed Limit.' "
Drivers offer the darnedest excuses when pulled over by cops, from wild to lame to brutally honest. Many tales have been heard countless times and seldom work. Others are so unusual they can get you out of a ticket.
"The excuses are never-ending," said Bruce Raye, a San Jose traffic cop for 10 years who now works for the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office. "I'm not surprised by any excuse."
Not any excuse? Well "... "I stopped one guy for speeding on Hillsdale Avenue who said that he was guilty and that he was speeding because he was mad," Raye said. "He had just left from his house, where he had just caught his wife in bed with another guy. I didn't give him a ticket."
Marital excuses sometimes work. Barnett stopped a speeder on Highway 17 who said he was getting married the next day but was having second thoughts. "He said he was trying to get out of town before anyone noticed," Barnett said. "I let him go."
Then there was the young, beaming guy driving too fast on Monterey Highway. Boy, was he beaming. He told San Jose officer Steven Jeffrey that he was speeding because "he had just completed his first sexual experience with his girlfriend and was all jazzed about it. I did write him a ticket. His driving was pretty bad."
So was the driving of a woman on Los Gatos-Almaden Road, clocked at 65 mph in the pouring rain by Los Gatos officer James Wiens. Wiens said the woman told him she was in a hurry to get home "because I just had my breast implants done and they hurt." Ouch. So did the ticket Wiens handed her. "She was very unhappy about it," he said.
Then there was the driver officer Grant Clark pulled over in Newark for going too fast. "He told me that he had to go to the bathroom," Clark said, a common excuse among speeders. "I asked where he was coming from, and once he told me I was able to count the number of bathrooms open to the public along the way. "When I returned with his citation he pointed to his crotch and showed me the large wet spot on the front of his pants. 'Happy now?' the driver asked."
No mercy! He still got a ticket.
Medical excuses are another common refrain. Barnett once pulled over a Highway 17 speeder who said he was having a heart attack. "So I called an ambulance, toted him off to the emergency room, only to have the doctor tell me he could find nothing wrong with him," Barnett said. "In fact, he was in great shape. I had him sign his citation while he was lying on the bed in the emergency room."
Then there is the kid excuse. I'm late getting them to school. I need to pick them up from day care. There is a Little League game and my kid is pitching. The screaming baby in the car seat is hungry and I need to get home to feed him.
"The kids excuse is used all the time," Jeffrey said. "If all else fails, 'blame the kids' seems to be a lot of drivers' motto."
Cops may be more sympathetic in these tough economic times. Several report drivers breaking into tears when pulled over, saying they've just lost their job, or even their home.
"Many beg for a warning because they can't afford the high cost associated with tickets now," said San Jose officer Camille Giuliodibari. "I can empathize with their dilemma and I will give some warnings, but those drivers really are not paying attention to their driving. I tell them I hope the ticket I give them will be their last."
These many stories don't end when the patrol car pulls away. CHP officer Hugo Mendoza writes every excuse he hears in his ticket book "in case they take me to court, so the judge can get a kick out of it as well."
Traffic cops have a ton of favorite stories to tell, and here are a few.
I was stopped at a major intersection in Newark. I was first in line and the light for cross traffic had turned yellow. I hear someone gun the engine to try to make the light. I look left and notice the light had turned red. At that time the driver locks up his tires and slides into the intersection against the red light. The poor guy is just stopped there looking at me. Everyone else there is also looking at me. So I get on the public-address speaker and say: "Everyone who thinks he deserves a ticket, honk your horn." After many horns sounded, I pulled him over and gave him a ticket. He was really ticked. He asked if no one had honked, would I have given him a ticket? I told him I would have not. He didn't believe me.
Officer Grant Clark, Newark Police Department
I pulled over a woman who ran a stop sign in Saratoga. She says: "Hi, Officer. I live here in Saratoga." I said fine and walked back to write the citation. I gave it to her and all she says is "I live here in Saratoga." I told her she did not stop and she says: "I live here in Saratoga." That's all she said, over and over, with her voice higher each time. As I'm walking away, very loudly she says: "I live here in Saratoga!" Officer Steve Grisenti
Gary: So you gave her a ticket anyway, even though she lives there in Saratoga?
I'm driving through a residential neighborhood and approaching a four-way stop, when I was surprised by a stop-sign runner who crossed in front of me. The driver fully admitted to the violation. After presenting him with the citation, he asked how much the fine would be. I told him about $150. He said, "Great! I opposed placement of that stop sign 10 years ago and I have run it every day for a cost of less than a penny a day. It's well worth the money."
Capt. Terry Calderone, Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office
There are books that tell people how to fight their tickets. One of the strategies is to ask the officer to have the court set for the county seat. The theory is that the officer won't know what to do or know the address. I once was standing by the window when the driver told the passenger, "Watch this. This cop won't know what to do." So as I handed him the ticket he said, "By the way, I want this heard at the county seat." I said no problem, crossed out the Fremont court and checked the box for the Oakland court. A few months later we go to court and the Oakland judge wanted to know why a Fremont case was in his court. I told him why. The judge didn't seem too pleased that he had an extra case, and the man was found guilty with a full fine. Fremont judges almost always discount the fine if a person appears in court.
Officer John Flynn, Fremont Police Department
Gary:So much for those advice books.
In June I stopped a young lady for talking on the phone while driving, when she asked: "How could you see me on the phone? My windows are tinted." I then asked for her driver's license and she replied that she lost her license and that the car belonged to a friend. It took a second to find that the young lady didn't lose her license but had let it expire. I asked her why and she said, "They wouldn't let me keep my old license photo, so I decided not to renew it." I informed her that I was not going to cite her for being on the phone but for driving on an expired license. Before I could finish, she started thanking me frantically. After a moment I interrupted her and informed her that I was impounding the car. She was upset and I thought she was going to bite a hole in her lip as she held back the words she wanted to tell me. As she was about to sign the citation, she finally let me have it, screaming, "I'm too pretty to get a ticket!"
Officer Mark Pimentel, San Jose Police Department
Gary: Did she happen to live in Saratoga?
Don't even bother: Excuses that seldom work
# The light was yellow.
# I'm a doctor and I'm late for surgery.
# I'm late for an important business meeting.
# I just used my cell phone for a second.
# I have to go to the bathroom.
# Everyone else was speeding.
# Isn't there a 10-mile cushion on the freeway?
# I had to go into the carpool lane because I was cut off by another driver.
# I'm late to pick up the kids.
# My mom is dying.
Don: Some years ago I was stopped for speeding, and went to traffic school. The instructor told us this one:
He said he had worked as a motorcycle cop, and he used to station himself at an on ramp to 680 N where the ramp was downhill onto the freeway. Faster way to get up to speed. One day some guy went whizzing up 680 doing maybe 85 mph. The cop caught him, and the fellow offered the following excuse:
"My wife is gonna have a baby, and I want to help get it started." The instructor said he let the guy go.
And you want humor after all that? Well, ...
Three friends from the local congregation were asked, 'When you're in your casket, and friends and congregation members are mourning over you, what would you like them to say?'
Artie said: ' I would like them to say I was a wonderful husband, a finespiritual leader, and a great family man.'
Eugene commented: 'I would like them to say I was a wonderful teacher and servant of God who made a huge difference in people's lives.'
Al said: 'I'd like them to say, 'Look, he's moving!'