Traffic Ticket Urban Legends
Busting Myths That Mislead New Drivers
If you're a relatively new driver, it's natural to look to the more experienced drivers in your life for answers about how to avoid getting a traffic ticket, how to get out of a traffic ticket and how to keep points off your driving record. But as with many things in life, don't believe everything you hear. Your well-meaning parents, older siblings and "experienced" friends may simply be perpetuating urban legends rather than passing on pearls of wisdom. And if you believe these myths, it may end up costing you money, a good driving record or even your freedom.
Fortunately, we at Edmunds — with the help of police officers, insurance companies, the Insurance Information Institute, trial attorneys and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators — have taken 10 top traffic ticket urban legends and debunked them for you here.
- The "Amnesty for 18-Year-Olds" Myth: The claim here is that on your 18th birthday, all unpaid tickets received prior to that date will be torn up and forgiven. Turning 18 means many new rights, responsibilities and privileges, such as voting, registering for the draft and being considered an adult in a court of law. But it doesn't mean a clean slate. Nope, according to Lieutenant Randy Gagne of the Camden, Maine, police department, your speeding and parking tickets will not be torn up the instant you turn that magical age.
- The Radar Gun Myth: Another commonly held belief is that when writing a ticket, the police officer is obligated to show you the reading on the radar gun if asked to do so. Totally false. There is no law in any state that requires the officer to show the radar or the laser gun reading to anyone. Furthermore, any request to see it will almost certainly be declined and will only serve to irritate the officer. Needless to say, this is something you definitely don't want to do.
- The "Driving While Barefoot" Law: The claim is that you can be ticketed for driving barefoot. However, there is no state that regulates proper footwear for operating a motor vehicle, with the exception of Alabama, where it is prohibited to drive a motorcycle while barefoot. Several states, though, explicitly recommend, but do not mandate the use of shoes while driving.
- The "Keep a Ticket Off Your Record" Myth: This popular traffic ticket urban legend works like this: When you get a speeding ticket, pay the fine by sending a check through the mail. But instead of paying the exact amount indicated on the ticket, add a few dollars to the payment. According to legend, your check will be cashed and they'll send you a refund for what you overpaid. Then, if you tear up the refund check instead of cashing it, the points will never show up on your license because the case remains open until all financial transactions are complete.
The perfect crime, no? It would be if it actually worked, but it's a total hoax. As soon as you're found guilty of speeding, the points will automatically appear on your license, whether or not you make the payment.
- The "Out-of-State Advantage" Myth: Unfortunately, while it might be true that your parents won't find out about your driving misdeeds in your college state, the fact is that your home state, and your insurance company, definitely will. According to American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrator spokesman Jason King, all states (with the exception of Michigan and Wisconsin) are members of either the Non-Resident Violator Compact or the Driver License Compact, or both. These compacts are a conglomeration of states that share driver license information with one another. King notes that "though Michigan and Wisconsin are not official members, they still share information with all states."
- The "Safety Zone" Myth: A popular misconception is that if a drunk driver manages to pull into her driveway and get in the house before being caught, the pursuing officer will then need to get a warrant to follow her inside. If she fails the blood alcohol test later, she can claim that she was sober while driving and only started drinking upon her arrival at her house.
While laws regulating searches vary from state to state, running from a police officer is never a good idea. Some states, like California, explicitly allow police to enter your house without a warrant to pursue a DUI suspect, and no state recognizes your driveway as a "safe zone" in a police chase.
- The "Red Car Bias" Myth #1: A commonly held misperception is that red cars tend to receive more speeding tickets than do cars of other colors because of their flashiness. There's also the supposed optical illusion created by their color that makes the cars appear to be going faster than they really are. These are both fascinating theories, but the fact is, according to Carolyn Gorman, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute and Insurance Trade Association, "there is no data to support the assertion that red cars receive more traffic tickets than cars of any other color." Still, the urban legend has been so widely accepted in American society that it has spawned the driving myth discussed below.
- The "Red Car Bias" Myth #2: One can't help wonder how many car buyers have shied away from red cars because they believed owning one would cause higher insurance rates than those commanded by cars of other colors. However, even though some studies have suggested red cars are involved in a disproportionate number of accidents, according to Gorman, "there are no major insurance companies that consider car color when determining your rates." Basically, says Gorman, what it comes down to is "people with good driving records and who also drive safe vehicles typically have the lowest car insurance premiums."
- The "Fool the Breathalyzer" Myth: Breath mints and mouthwash might fool a person, but the device used by police measures the amount of alcohol in your blood, not on your breath. Some people have claimed that the copper from a penny, when inserted into your mouth, can interfere with the breathalyzer, but this theory has been repeatedly disproven, most famously by the television series Mythbusters. But even so, Lieutenant Gagne tells us, "We always check for foreign objects in the suspect's mouth before administering the test, just to be sure."
- The "Refuse the Breathalyzer" Myth: As for refusing to submit to a blood alcohol test, this is another surprisingly popular strategy used by not-so-clever DUI suspects who incorrectly assume they can't be found guilty of DUI without a blood alcohol reading. In fact, in some states, such as Maine, the refusal to take the test is not only an automatic admission of guilt, but can carry with it up to a six-year license suspension, and possible jail time. Of course, needless to say that the best way to avoid a DUI is to simply not drink and drive.
Though you might be a young driver, you may now know more than your folks, friends and older brothers and sisters, at least when it comes to these urban legends. These debunked myths will undoubtedly aid you in becoming not only a better driver but a better citizen and, if anything, help you convince your parents that a shiny new red car really is your only option.