Take my license, all that jive
I can't drive 55!
- Sammy Hagar
So you like to drive fast?
Doing so in Pennsylvania will cost you plenty if you don't know some simple tricks of the road.
Know What Jurisdiction You're In
It is critically important to know which of Pennsylvania's 2567 political subdivisions you're driving in if you're contemplating exceeding the legal speed limit.
Because of the state's 1548 townships, 962 boroughs, 56 cities and one town1 - about 1200 of them have local police departments. The remainder of the Commonwealth is patrolled by the Pennsylvania State Police.
The reason this is important is because the state legislature only allows the State Police to use radar to calculate the speed of passing vehicles. All the local police departments are required to use some type of timing device to calculate the speed of a passing vehicle.
To convict a person of speeding using radar, a State Police Trooper must give a 6mph leeway - meaning you can drive 61mph in a 55mph zone and not get a speeding citation. To convict a person of speeding using a timing device, a municipal police officer must give a 10mph leeway - meaning you can drive 65mph in a 55mph zone.
Realistically, both State Troopers and municipal officers give an additional 5mph cushion on top of the cushion required by law.
What If You Get Caught
First, don't panic.
Second, why didn't you take our advice from the first part of this entry?
OK, so you were in a hurry and forgot to pay attention to where you were driving and got nabbed for going 51.7mph in a 35mph zone. What happens next?
You're going to get a traffic citation - unless you're extremely lucky and the arresting officer only wants to give you a warning.
There are a few things you should never do after being pulled over for speeding:
- Use your hands suspiciously - Nothing makes a police officer more paranoid than a driver who reaches under his seat or into his glovebox. Are you going for a weapon? Stashing drugs? Getting your registration card? Don't make the officer guess. Keep your hands where he can see them.
- Be rude - Will it kill you to say 'sir' and be meek and sycophantic? Probably not and it might just get you off with only a warning.
- Argue - Generally, a police officer will not pull you over without cause. Don't argue with him as to whether you were speeding or not. They don't like that and any chance of getting off with a warning will be dashed when a driver displays a bad attitude.
Fines and Costs
The fines for speeding are relatively straight-forward:
- For exceeding a posted 65mph speed limit, the fine is $42.50, plus $2 per mile per hour in excess of five miles per hour over the limit. This means that going 75mph in a 65 mph zone will cost you $52.50.
- For exceeding any other posted speed limit, the fine is $35, plus $2 per mile per hour in excess of five miles per hour over the limit. This means that going 50mph in a 40 mph zone will cost you $45.50.
However the system for tacking 'costs' on top of your speeding fine is something else entirely. The legislature has added four surcharges which anyone who is cited for a violation of the state's vehicle code must pay. These additional costs can, and often do, add up to more than the initial fine. They include:
- A $28.50 fee to cover the 'administrative costs' of processing your speeding ticket;
- A $10 fee to help support volunteer ambulance companies across the state;
- A $1.50 fee to help support upgrading computer systems in the state's courts; and
- A $30-50 fee to help fund the Catastrophic Loss Benefits Fund2.
Speeding also results in demerit 'points' accumulated on your driver's license. The points system is described below:
- 6-10mph over limit - 2 points
- 11-15mph over limit - 3 points
- 16-25mph over limit - 4 points
- 26-30mph over limit - 5 points
- 31-plus over limit - 5 points, plus a hearing
Any time a driver accumulates 6 points, he also is required to submit to a hearing which can result in a driver's license to be suspended for 15 days or force the driver to attend a driver improvement school.
Points are erased from a driver's record at the rate of three per 12 months of driving without a citation.
Other Tips to Avoid Being Caught
One of the simplest and best ways to avoid being stopped for speeding is to not exceed the posted speed limit.
Again, knowing the police jurisdiction in which you're driving is very important. Not only for the reasons stated above, but also because some local police departments are much more aggressive about speed enforcement than others.
For example, the police department in Hershey, Pennsylvania has a three-officer unit which concentrates on speed enforcement. They will use nontraditional methods like sitting inside municipal dump trucks or unmarked cars - they even used a BMW which was confiscated during a drug raid. A good rule of thumb is to watch what other drivers are doing. Most locals in and around Hershey know some of the locations police monitor speed and will slow down for apparently no reason when approaching these locales.
Another good rule of thumb is to avoid speeding when a police cruiser is behind you. Officers can use their speedometers as a timing device and pull you over if you're pulling away from them as they drive the speed limit.
Lines painted on the road's surface are another dead give-away. For local police departments, they use painted lines as a start and finish line for timing purposes so slow down when you see lines on the roadway which serve no obvious purpose.
On highways, slow down approaching bridges and billboards. The state legislature has considered passing a law to prevent State Police Troopers from hiding behind bridges and billboards3. But so far, they have been unsuccessful in taking away Troopers' favourite hiding spots for speed enforcement.
Beating the System
If you really want to avoid paying the fine and costs and are willing to take a gamble, there is one final option open to you - taking a chance in the judicial system.
If you plead 'not guilty' and submit your citation to the local district magistrate, you might get lucky and beat the fine. But only if the officer's busy schedule prevents him from attending your court date.
The arresting officer's failure to appear in court will void your citation. But if he shows up, you've not only got to pay the fine and costs, but you're also liable for the court's time and will pay even more.
Generally, it's not worth the risk.A412958