Legally Speaking: You Got the Ticket, But Do You Have The Excuse?

John G. Browning Mar. 24, 2010, 9:53am

I recently read a study by online U.S. insurance company,, that rated attorneys atop the list of the "Ten Most Dangerous Drivers By Profession."

Yes, apparently 44 percent of attorneys claimed a prior accident when shopping for a car insurance quote from, a figure that ranked higher than financial advisers, bartenders, dog groomers and other professions making the top 10. Sam Belden, vice president at the insurance company, attributes lawyers landing in the No. 1 slot of dangerous drivers because of the nature of their work.

"Professions that demand multi-tasking – being on the phone, moving fast on a tight schedule – are prone to more distractions and, from these, more accidents," he said.

I'd like to say that I welled up with righteous indignation when I read about this study, but the fact that I was reading about it while waiting for my Department of Public Safety-certified defensive driving course to begin kept me from doing so – that, and the fact that I had the dubious distinction of having been ticketed for more miles over the speed limit than anyone else in that class.

Although I had offered no excuse to the officer who'd pulled me over, I wondered, what possible excuse would have worked? What kind of outrageous stories have other drivers told and what sort of bizarre circumstances have resulted in tickets?

Police are used to hearing about medical emergencies, such as the driver or passenger being violently ill or about to give birth, when they pull someone over. Another common excuse is the emergency rush to a bathroom.

Others try the "good works" excuse. Officer Conan Schaefer of Lincoln, Neb., stopped a person going 20 miles an hour over the speed limit on Christmas Eve; the driver's excuse was that he "was delivering food to needy people."

For other drivers, the reason lies in the equipment. Officer Joshua White, also of Lincoln, tells how he stopped an individual going 16 miles per hour over the limit, only to have the man tell him "he had just purchased some new steel toe boots for work, and he was speeding because he didn't realize his boots were weighing down his gas pedal."

Sgt. Dave Hoffman of Naperville, Ill., once had a young woman explain that she "had just gotten her brakes repaired, and she didn't want to wear them down."

Of course, excuses have a way of getting stranger and stranger. Police have heard drivers blame their speed on such factors as being under hypnosis and being distracted by "flashing lights that [the driver] believed to be UFOs in the distance." Others have blamed the radar gun being mistakenly set off by everything from low-flying aircraft to "vibrations from the surfboard I had on the roof rack."

Officer John Ferguson of North College Hill, Ohio, once stopped a "very attractive young lady" for speeding and asked her why she wasn't wearing her seatbelt. She explained that she was a stripper, and that the seatbelt "pinches my nipple rings and hurts." Although she offered to demonstrate for the officer, Ferguson cited her and left it up to a judge to inspect whatever evidence she had to offer.

Scott Gibson probably should have thought of a better excuse after he was ticketed for going 66 in a 55 mph zone in Hawkins County, Tenn., in June 2009. He gave the court a handwritten note claiming to be a deputy director of the CIA, and therefore he was not subject to speed limit laws in Tennessee, the rest of the United States, or the world. When law enforcement authorities contacted the CIA and learned - surprise, surprise - that Gibson was not employed there in any capacity, Gibson found himself arrested and facing charges of criminal impersonation of a federal officer. Maybe he could say he was really working deep undercover.

Walter Klein of Hamm, Germany, probably gets the award for best winning excuse. Pulled over for using a cell phone while driving in violation of German law, Klein claimed he had been using the phone, which was warm after being recharged, to warm his ear (he had an earache). The court dismissed his case when he produced an itemized phone bill showing that he had not, in fact, been on a call at the time he was stopped.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, Angel Rolon broke out the old "snakes in my car" excuse after causing an accident in Hartford. Rolon claimed he lost control of his SUV when his pet snakes got loose near the gas and brake pedals. His attempt to slither out of responsibility for the crash, however, was doomed when animal control officers and police were unable to find any snakes and confirm Rolon's story.

It's been said that many drivers speed or cause accidents because their focus isn't exactly razor-sharp. That might be an apt way to describe the factors behind the two-car crash in Cujoe Key, Fla., on March 2. According to Florida Highway Patrol troopers, 37-year-old Megan Mariah Barnes slammed into the back of a pickup (which had slowed to make a turn) while going 45 mph. The reason for her inattention? She was shaving her, um, bikini area at the time, while her ex-husband took the wheel from the passenger seat.

According to Trooper Gary Dunick, Barnes said she was on her way to meet her current boyfriend in Key West and "wanted to be ready for the visit."

Although the woman and her male passenger tried to switch seats and claim that Barnes wasn't driving, burns on the ex-husband's chest from the passenger side airbag deploying (the airbag in the steering wheel didn't deploy) contradicted their story.

It was hardly surprising that Barnes would be trying to avoid responsibility; the day before she'd been convicted of a DUI, had her driver's license revoked for five years, was ordered to impound her car, and was also sentenced to nine months' probation.

Following the wreck, she was charged with a variety of offenses, including reckless driving, and faces up to a year in jail for violating her probation. The occupants of the vehicle Barnes hit had a close shave of their own, escaping with only minor injuries.

Whether it's hypnosis, UFOs, or the distractions of runaway snakes and personal grooming, remember that all the good excuses have already been taken.

The best way to avoid a ticket is to obey the speed limit in the first place.

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