April 6, 2007 2:24 PM   Subscribe

What's the likelihood I will get a speeding ticket?

Leaving Georgetown late last Friday night in a rental car, I came upon a police car parked on the side of the road. I wasn't sure if I was speeding at the time, regardless I didn't have much time to react if I was. I decided it was too late to hit the brakes any way if I was (not to mention I've heard hitting the brakes in an open thoroughfare is tantamount to admission of guilt). As I passed the car and was maybe about 50-100 feet ahead of it, a bright light flashed from the top of the police car. He didn't pull out to follow me.

In the next few seconds, my passenger advised me that I had been in a 35 zone. I looked down and was decelerating in the high 30s, so I estimate in the time that had passed and since I had taken my foot off the gas, I was going about 43 (just a guess) when the light flashed.

Although I've not heard of them or seen them, I speculated to my passenger that the flash was probably a car mounted radar-triggered camera recording the license plate. Was I correct? If so, are these commonly used in D.C. area? Any where else?

Considering that I was out of state (I'm a west coasty) and in a rental, what's the likelihood they will send me a ticket? Or is this a scare tactic only?
posted by tdischino to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total)
If I were to speculate, giving your estimated speed, he was flashing you to warn you to slow down a bit.
posted by jerseygirl at 2:35 PM on April 6, 2007

Definitely a scare tactic. I drive on a two-lane highway everyday and I see the police doing this all the time to traffic going the opposite direction. I've also had it done to me, as you described. Scared me straight and really helped me watch my speed quite carefully for the rest of the night.
posted by 913 at 2:52 PM on April 6, 2007

It could also be that they were snapping your plate and running it through a database of stolen vehicles. (Obviously your car wasn't stolen, so it wouldn't match and they wouldn't pull you over.) I've only heard of it being done on parked vehicles, but I bet they'd love to start pulling over stolen cars while there's someone in them.
posted by anaelith at 3:01 PM on April 6, 2007

Not sure about DC, but in Texas there are several speed traps where you absolutely will get a ticket for 5 miles over the speed limit.

Also from talking to my husband the 'hitting the breaks' thing really depends on where you are. In Texas it was absolutely considered an admission to guilt, here in the NYC area he says its more of a 'respect to the police' to slow down when you see them. That may partly be due to the fact that some areas such as Texas have 'speed cops', whose entire job is to give people traffic tickets.
posted by trishthedish at 3:18 PM on April 6, 2007

Incidentally, if you shift into a lower gear in addition to taking your foot off the gas, this will help you slow down without you slamming in the break. This can be done in automatic vehicles in addition to manual transmission, though you don't want to do it at highway speeds in an automatic.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:29 PM on April 6, 2007

Seconding the "he was warning you to slow down" notion. He was probably on the side of the road, filling out paperwork or something (donut?) and just didn't want to bother with you terribly much.
posted by frogan at 3:43 PM on April 6, 2007

Response by poster: I'm liking the "warning" responses, and hoping this is the case.

One aspect of my question that no one has really commented on is the fact that I was in a rental. Obviously, it could be tracked down who the car was rented to when the offense occurred, but is there a line of convenience/hassle that the Police or DMV will not bother crossing in regard to tracking down the offender of an "unattended" (for lack of a better term) offense? Do they ever just write off parking tickets or photo tickets for rental vehicles?
posted by tdischino at 3:54 PM on April 6, 2007

Under most [if not all] circumstances, in your rental contract, you have agreed to take all responsibility for any tickets (be they speeding, red light, or parking) you should receive. Since the car is registered to the rental company, the city would send them a ticket and it would then be the rental company's responsibility to contact and try to get payment from you.
posted by 913 at 3:59 PM on April 6, 2007

Best answer: I live right outside of DC. They have "mobile" speed cameras all over. They're basically cop cars that have cameras mounted on them, but they have to be attended.

Do you know what road you were on? I know they love NW DC but they're some roads that they tend to stay on. They tag you if you're going 46(11 over the speed limit), and they're very accurate about it.

If you do end up getting a ticket, it won't be any points so at least it won't be that bad.
posted by aznhalf at 4:01 PM on April 6, 2007

Response by poster: It was on Canal NW heading west, just before there is a split to MacArthur/Foxhall.

Why wouldn't it be any points? Aren't all moving violations (at least) 1 point?
posted by tdischino at 4:27 PM on April 6, 2007

Best answer: I believe they don't assign points for tickets issued by speed cameras and red-light cameras because it's impossible to determine who was driving the car. They issue the citation to the car's owner rather than the driver. Caveat: That's my understanding, which may be flawed.
posted by Alterscape at 4:45 PM on April 6, 2007

Here are the DC photo enforcement locations... Along MacArthur, they do have mobile cameras sometimes, but not along Canal.
posted by piro at 4:48 PM on April 6, 2007

Alterscape has it, at least thats the way it is in DC.

I think they're places that they do give you points (Chicago?) and I know that its a big issue of debate in the UK.
posted by aznhalf at 4:51 PM on April 6, 2007

Response by poster: I am certain it was not the headlights, and not the spot lights or colored lights on the light bar on top of the car. It did come from the light bar, but it was distinctly a "strobe" like flash. This was at night, so it was noticeable and unmistakable. The more I think about it, I am less inclined to think it was the cop "warning" me since it appeared to flash so quickly, like a photo flash.
posted by tdischino at 4:55 PM on April 6, 2007

Here in Portland, OR I sped by a photo-ticket device (twice in the same day!) and received tickets. They had a photo of my front license plate and a close-up front shot of me in the driver's seat. Luckily I wasn't picking my nose. And my mistress happened to be bent down out of view. Since I was driving my wife's car, which was originally purchased by her mother, my mother-in-law received the tickets in the mail. Since she does not drive and lives in Texas, this was a surprise to her. She sent the tickets to me. They stated that if the recipient of the tickets was not the driver, then one could send in a photocopy of the recipient's drivers license and if they could see that the photos didn't match the crime scene, the tickets would be waived. My mother-in-law has no drivers license, so we came up with some other id and sent a photocopy in with the tickets. They both were waived.

Since you were shot from behind, who knows how they'll verify it was you, if it was indeed a photo-ticket device.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 5:33 PM on April 6, 2007

Thinking on this more, here's why I think it wasn't a camera flash.

Cameras must be mounted in fixed locations in order to get accurate photographs. Mounting a camera rigged to a radar gun on a car would be less useful, as it would be reliant on the police officer parking in *just* the right spot that would both capture the radar data and get a usable photograph. It would be easier to just arm the police officer with the radar gun and have him pull people over when warranted.

The reason you use cameras in the first place is to automate the collection process so you don't need a police officer to sit there and babysit the camera.

And when you do decide to place a camera, you can spend the time setting it up just so, and then walk away and let it do its job.
posted by frogan at 5:41 PM on April 6, 2007

Actually, in Tigard, OR you'll see some things mounted on top of police cars that look kind of like the giant intelligent spotlights that you see at big rock concerts -- the kind that have the patterened multi-colored lights in them that rotate all over the place casting a lightshow on the crowd.

These are cameras. They're manned. The police officer sits in there and if he sees you're speeding, he takes pictures of you.

This may have been what you encountered.
posted by SpecialK at 10:36 PM on April 6, 2007

@SpecialK: I'm not 100% certain on this, but I think the ones on Oregon State Police cars are video cameras.

I was pulled over by a cop in Oregon (Hwy 199 west of Grants Pass). It was late; I was sleepy; I guess I was swerving a bit. (as well as going ~10 over the limit) He said "when I saw you, I thought 'Bingo! Drunk driver!' " and that he had turned on his camera to record.

He let me go, warning me that the CHP wouldn't be so kind.
posted by puddleglum at 12:00 AM on April 7, 2007

(@tdischino: With that said, I'd echo the thought that what you experienced was just a warning/scare tactic. Time will tell, I suppose...)
posted by puddleglum at 12:02 AM on April 7, 2007

If it was an automated camera, they will issue a ticket to the owner of the vehicle. Which may or may not be the driver.

I live in DC, and I have gotten two tickets from the photo enforcement cameras - it took about 2-3 weeks after the actual speeding to get the tickets. I had no idea I had been speeding until I got them. One of them was on Michigan Ave, going into Northeast - the other was coming out of I-395 north where it becomes a surface road instead of a highway.

You dont get points on your reocrd, as they cant identify the actual driver from the camera. They just give a fine.

Despite shelling out a lot of money to DC for this, I actually like the idea of the cmaeras. They've cut down on pedestrian fatalities a lot.
posted by jare2003 at 11:42 AM on April 7, 2007

The comments above that there are no points involved are correct. Somewhere online you can find a map with the locations of all of DC's speeding cameras and red light cameras. I just did a quick search and didn't find it, but someone else might have better luck.

I did find this unofficial list of permanent locations, and normal enforcement zones. Were you in one of those places?

(I also found this official map of red light cameras.)
posted by inigo2 at 3:17 PM on April 7, 2007

The gubmint will send the ticket to the rental car company, who will then bill you for it. There is no way for the rental car company to cause points to be deducted from your licence.
posted by flabdablet at 9:36 PM on April 7, 2007

I missed the part about the rental -- if it is a ticket, one worry you should have (and this is what happened to a friend of mine here) is if the ticket doesn't get through the rental company to you in time to pay it without an extra fine. Worst case scenario, be prepared to fight that...
posted by inigo2 at 4:49 AM on April 8, 2007

Best answer: Follow Up: About 6 months after I posted this question, I received a letter from Avis, that they had received a citation for this. They paid it and billed my credit card on file.
posted by tdischino at 12:46 PM on January 24, 2008

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