The Day I Got Caught Speeding
Guest Column by Lauree Stroud Purcell
Editor’s note: Lauree Stroud Purcell is a freelance writer and mother of two teenagers in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
This past fall, I was driving through town with my college freshman daughter beside me. She was with me for the afternoon, a rare visit, and we were enjoying a fun conversation as I passed by her middle school.
Since being pulled over, I have been much more aware of my speed. Why had I not noticed the flashing yellow lights designed to remind drivers to slow down in a school zone?
Unfortunately, I was so interested in what she had to say that I wasn’t paying attention to how fast I was going in a school zone where children were walking home. I got distracted and soon a police officer was following me with his siren blaring and his lights flashing.
Embarrassed, I pulled into a nearby park and gave him my license and registration while my daughter got a good lesson in what happens when you break the law and pose a possible danger to others. The officer peered at me through his reflective sunglasses after handing me my ticket, and encouraged me to come to court. He noted that I had a great driving record and had been cooperative during the stop.
On the appointed day, I arrived early for our general district traffic court, went through security, and waited in the hall with many others holding similar yellow summons papers. Everyone attending court with me had been stopped by the same officer. Although we were dressed in our best business attire, I was clearly not the only one feeling anxious and edgy. It’s no fun having to admit your guilt to a judge and everyone in the courtroom when it would have been so easy to slow down and drive more carefully.
Once the court session began, I listened to each case as we were called up in alphabetical order. Some people had lawyers to represent them, while others tried to explain their actions to the judge. I had written a short speech of apology, but when my turn came, I just admitted my guilt after the charge was read aloud. My good driving record and my cooperation during the stop convinced the judge to reduce my charge. This lessened the penalty on my insurance and lessened the fine I would have to pay. Still, with court fees added to my fine, I owed $115. In addition, my insurance company charged me an extra $126 to cover me for just six months. No small consequence to me, but it could have been worse.
Since being pulled over, I have been much more aware of my speed. Why had I not noticed the flashing yellow lights designed to remind drivers to slow down in a school zone? What was my hurry anyway? Driving can be fun when we don’t have to rush to get somewhere. Why not leave a little earlier to avoid being late? The risk of getting pulled over or even causing someone to get hurt isn’t worth saving a bit of time. Speed limits are set based on the reaction time we need to avoid causing an accident. The faster we go, the less time we have to react to avoid a collision. If I had hit a child in that school zone, I would be devastated!
In the weeks since my court appearance, I’ve made some changes to help me stay at or below the speed limit while driving. I’m leaving earlier for appointments so that I can be punctual regardless of unforeseen traffic problems on the way. I listen to audiobooks, good news programs, and relaxing music while driving so that it never feels like a waste of time regardless of the length of a trip. To keep my speed from inching up when I’m not paying attention, I often follow someone, from a safe distance, who is going the speed limit, or I use cruise control to maintain a legal, safe speed. I also placed my driver’s seat one notch farther back from the steering wheel. Somehow having to reach farther to use the gas pedal helps me drive at a lower speed. By starting my trip earlier, I arrive at my destination at the same time as someone who started later but went faster, and I arrive happier and less stressed because I didn’t have to worry and take risks to be on time.
Last week, I was riding with a good friend when a big buck jumped in front of his car. He wasn’t going very fast, but he still couldn’t avoid hitting the deer. It then jumped away and appeared to be fine, but my friend’s new car suffered a lot of costly damage. If we had been traveling much faster, we might have been seriously hurt. Even a fraction of a second can mean the difference between life and death if a child or bicyclist runs into our path, so I’m driving especially slow around runners, cyclists, schools, and neighborhoods with kids on the streets.
What other ways have you found to maintain a safe speed while driving? What motivated you to change your driving habits?
Comments? Post below or send to MelodieD@MennoMedia.org; by mail, send to Another Way, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802.