Speeding Ticket Tools, Tactics and Tricks
You’re driving down the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago with your windows open on a nice summer day while your favorite tunes play on the radio. You’re just trying to keep up with the flow of traffic, even as other cars and motorcycles jockey for place, frantically switching lanes, with many of them driving much faster than you.
Then you see those familiar red and blue lights in your rearview mirror and your heart sinks into your stomach. This can’t be for me, you think. So many others were doing things so much worse! So, you begin to move to right, hoping that the Chicago Police or Illinois State Police car will just pass you by. But they don’t. They just stay with you as you come to a stop and then park behind your car.
First Impressions are Important
If you’re on a first date or a job interview, you already know how important first impressions are. But the same holds true for your first contact with the police after being pulled over. You can’t of course run back home and change into nicer clothing, but you can however control a number of other things that may have a significant effect on the events that follow (meaning what tickets you receive), such as:
- Leave on your seat belt – Most people want to be accommodating to the police and many have heard that it’s considered a good idea to have your driver’s license and insurance card ready for when the officer approaches your car. Although that may be somewhat true, getting out your ID often creates two other avoidable problems. The first is that when you start reaching into your pocket, from the vantage point of the police officer it may appear that you are hiding something illegal like drugs or a gun. As you might imagine, this may make the officer unnecessarily nervous. The second potential problem is that people often need to unfasten their seat belt in order to access their wallet. Then when the police officer steps up to your window, it appears that you didn’t have your safety belt on, which may lead to an extra unnecessary ticket.
- Put down your window – There’s no reason to make the officer knock on your window to get you to put it down. They’re going to ask you to put it down anyway and it just seems plain odd if you leave it up. Also, put it at least halfway down. When people only open it a crack, the police usually assume that the driver probably smells like cannabis or alcohol and that’s why they won’t fully open their window. That inevitably leads to a more aggressive encounter than necessary.
- Stay in your car – Although you may view it as a friendly gesture, when you step out of the car before the police approach your window, the police are often concerned by such actions. They may believe that you’re doing this because your car smells of cannabis or alcohol, to avoid detection of illegal weapons within your car, or because you intend to become aggressive with the police or flee the scene. Basically, there’s no good that usually ever comes from leaving your vehicle.
- Don’t be argumentative – It’s unlikely that ever in the history of the world has the driver of a car or a horse or an ox ever talked themselves out a traffic ticket by arguing with the officer. You can be pretty sure however, that untold drivers have talked the officer into giving them additional, extra tickets by arguing the merits of the police officer’s observations. This of course, doesn’t mean that you need to admit to any traffic violations (although sometimes, honesty and contrition have been known to get people out of tickets). It’s just sometimes better to keep your opinion to yourself and let your lawyer handle the arguing in court.
- Be polite and professional – Even if the officer seems upset or unprofessional, it’s always best to maintain your composure, keep your hands where they can see them, and comply with their orders. A failure to comply can result in additional tickets or in extreme circumstances, being tased or even shot.
How Do the Police Measure Speed?
If you were pulled over for speeding, whether in Chicago or elsewhere, the officer probably used radar, laser, or another scientific method to calculate your speed. Each tool used to clock your speed works differently. So, let’s take a look at some of the various tools that police use before giving drivers a ticket for speeding as well as some of the ways by which you might beat a speeding ticket. Police generally measure speed using radar, laser, VASCAR, pacing, or even aircraft.
Radar is a very common tool used by police to enforce speed limits. Radar stands for “Radio Detection and Ranging.” Police radar sends out radio waves on specific frequencies. The three frequency bands commonly used are X-band, K-band, and Ka-band. You are unlikely to encounter radar guns using X-band frequencies except maybe in rural areas. K-band and Ka-band are much more popular. Ka-band is the newest band in use, and the ability to measure it usually indicates that an officer is using newer radar equipment. When a radar gun clocks your car, radio waves are sent from the gun, and some of the waves are reflected back to the gun. The radar gun then analyzes changes in the signal’s frequency to calculate the speed of your car. The speed calculated by the radar gun is displayed to the officer.
Laser is another common tool used by police to catch people speeding. Laser is typically referred to as LIDAR, which stands for “Light Detection and Ranging.” LIDAR emits light in the form of a short burst of infrared energy and fires a series of short pulses of laser beams at the car in order to analyze the change in return time, thus calculating the speed of the car. This beam of light reflects off your car and returns back to the gun as it analyzes how long it took for the laser to reflect off the car and return to the gun. Based upon this, the lidar gun is then able to calculate the speed of the car after accounting for the time it took for the laser beam to return.
VASCAR stands for “Visual Average Speed Computer and Recorder.” VASCAR differs from the other two tools because it’s used to detect average speed over a specified distance as opposed to calculating the maximum speed or the speed at the time of being clocked. VASCAR can be thought of like a stopwatch. VASCAR typically is used with two markers that are present on the road. VASCAR measures the average speed of the car driving through the markers. The distance between the two markers is divided by the time the car takes to travel between each marker. A VASCAR device typically has two sets of switches. One measures the car’s speed and the other measures the squad car’s speed. The first switch is turned on when the car passes the first marker. When the squad car passes the same first marker, the distance recorder is turned on. When the car crosses the second marker, the timer is switched off. The distance recorder stays on until the squad car passes the second marker. The total time elapsed is automatically recorded by the VASCAR device. VASCAR uses these measurements and generates the average speed of the car.
Pacing is a technique used by police to calculate speed that doesn’t use a scientific device to clock the speed of the moving car. When a police officer paces you, he drives behind you and accelerates until his speed matches yours. The officer’s calculation requires the gap between you and the police car to stay the same distance and not to widen. An officer will typically follow the car for at least two-tenths of a mile to get a more accurate speed assessment. Once you’re going the same speed, the officer will look at his speedometer and use that as the speed measurement. For pacing to be performed properly, the officer is supposed to be behind the suspected speeding car and not parallel to the car. This way, the police officer can assess the gap between the two cars. Speedometers in Illinois State Police cars are supposed to be calibrated at least every six months, when the rear tires are changed, and when there are changes to the car’s differential gears, speedometer head, or transmission speedometer pinion gear. This is what makes it different from a civilian car’s speedometer, which isn’t regularly calibrated.
Aircraft detection is a much less common way of catching speeders. When an aircraft is used to determine whether a car is speeding, a small airplane or aircraft will fly over the target car. The aircraft typically has a pilot and a spotter. When the target car crosses a highway marker, the spotter uses a device that calculates your speed based on how long it takes you to get to another highway marker. An officer could also pace you using an aircraft. If it’s determined that you’re speeding, the officer usually will call an officer on the ground to make the stop.
What’s Legal When It Comes to Avoiding Speed Detection?
Radar detectors are legal to use in Illinois, although radar detectors are illegal to use if you are driving a commercial vehicle. Radar detectors detect the presence of other radar devices based on the radio wave the device emits. To combat radar detectors, cops utilize LIDAR or a technique called “Instant-On” or “RF Hold.” “Instant-on” or “RF Hold” radar devices allow police to place a radar gun on hold until it’s triggered by the operator. While the radar gun is on hold, the radar doesn’t emit radio waves. This means that a radar detector isn’t able to detect a radar gun that’s on hold because it isn’t sending out radio waves.
Radar and Laser Jamming Devices
Radar and laser jamming devices interfere with the ability of a radar gun or LIDAR device’s ability to detect the speed of a car. Radar and laser jamming devices are illegal in Chicago and across Illinois. If you are caught using a radar or laser jammer, it’s a petty traffic ticket that carries a minimum fine of $50 (doesn’t include court costs) and $100 on a subsequent violation. When you are issued a ticket for having a radar or jamming device, the device is seized. You can’t get the device back until it’s no longer needed for evidence. After it’s no longer needed, you can petition the court to return the device. However, you will need to prove that it’s more likely than not that the device will be used for a “legitimate and lawful purpose” according to the law found at 625 ILCS 5/12-613.
License Plate Covers
License plate covers are sold across the county as an accessory to keep license plates clean and looking nice. But depending on the material and construction, some license plate covers can also be used in an effort to avoid red light cameras, speed cameras LIDAR and I-Pass cameras. That’s because a license plate cover sometimes makes it difficult or impossible for the camera to read the letters and numbers on your license plate. Chicago Police and others often use the license plate as a convenient location on the car when pointing their LIDAR. In addition to covers, there are also products like gels and sprays that are applied to the license plate to make it more reflective, which is supposed to make the letters and numbers undetectable to a camera. So, although license plate covers used to be legaI in Chicago and in Illinois for a very long time, the law changed and now if you’re caught using a license plate cover, Illinois law requires that the officer confiscate your plate cover and issue a traffic citation. A traffic citation for a plate cover carries a $750 fine. If you’re caught using a coating, spray, or other substance applied to the plate cover, Illinois law requires that the officer seize your plate and issue a ticket that carries a fine of $1000. In addition to the fine and seizure of the plate, the Secretary of State will likely revoke your registration.
Are There Good Defenses to Speeding?
When you get pulled over for a speeding ticket, your first thought is probably “I didn’t think I was going that fast” or “how can I beat this ticket?” The following three defenses to speeding can sometimes be used to beat a speeding ticket:
The Officer Used an Unreliable Method
If the officer paced you to determine your speed instead of using radar or LIDAR, you could argue that the method he used was unreliable or imprecise. This defense is better if the officer was parallel to you as opposed to behind you because the officer is supposed to gauge whether the gap is widening or closing when pacing you. Weather conditions and time of day could also make this a better defense, as weather can affect the reliability of measurement devices and methods. It’s a lot easier to pace someone when there is perfect visibility.
In situations where the car was being paced, a squad car’s speedometer is the vital scientific tool by which your speed is calculated. Although the police car’s speedometer is supposed to be regularly calibrated, if it determined at trial that it was not calibrated recently as required, then this would make the police speedometer no better or more precise than the driver’s car. When this is true, the defendant or attorney can argue that the police speedometer can not be relied upon for this important determination.
The Officer’s Radar or LIDAR Wasn’t Calibrated
An officer’s radar gun or laser gun is supposed to be calibrated regularly so that it can provide an accurate reading. You will need calibration records for the officer’s device or testimony from the officer that the device wasn’t properly calibrated. If the records show the officer’s device wasn’t properly calibrated, or the officer testifies that it wasn’t calibrated, you could argue that you weren’t speeding or that the prosecution can’t prove you were speeding because the device didn’t show your actual speed.
The Officer Clocked You Within 500 Feet of the Speed Limit Sign
If the officer used an electronic speed detection device and was within 500 feet of the speed limit sign in the same direction of travel, the speed he clocked you at is inadmissible according to Illinois law. This doesn’t apply if it was in a school zone or if the previous speed limit sign was the same speed. Most officers are trained to post up past 500 feet of the speed limit, but if this situation occurs, you may be able to get the speed reading thrown out.
What Are Some Bad Defenses to Speeding?
When an officer is writing you a speeding ticket, you may be thinking “how can I get out of this?” or “what’s a good excuse I can tell the officer?” Here are some of the typical excuses that are usually ineffective defenses for speeding:
A Note From Your Mechanic
One classic bad speeding defense is getting a mechanic to write a note saying your speedometer wasn’t working or wasn’t calibrated properly. Whether you had an intent to speed is not something that Illinois law considers when determining whether you are guilty of speeding. Just because you didn’t intend to speed when your speedometer wasn’t working, doesn’t mean you weren’t speeding. If you were speeding and it can be proven by either the officer’s testimony or by an electronic reading, then you will likely be found guilty at trial. You also run the potential risk that you could be given an additional ticket for operating an unsafe vehicle when you bring up things like broken speedometers, bald tires, faulty brakes or other mechanical failures.
Going With the Flow
Illinois law doesn’t take into consideration the speed of other cars on the road. It is irrelevant whether all the other cars were speeding, or someone cut you off because you were driving too slowly. Under Illinois law, it’s your responsibility to obey the speed limit. After all, an officer can’t stop every person that was speeding. If you’re the unlucky driver that was picked that day, it just means that you were unlucky, not that you have a valid defense.
The Defense of Necessity
Necessity is a possible defense to speeding, but the circumstances under which a judge would say it was justified are exceedingly rare. Running late for work or to pick someone up won’t cut it. When a judge is determining whether speeding was necessary, the judge will consider if there was something else that could have reasonably been done to solve the situation. For example, if you claim that you were speeding because there was a driver that was driving recklessly, the judge will likely say that you should have slowed down or pulled over to the side of the road and waited for the dangerous driver to pass you or call the police. Even when you’re talking about something as serious as rushing a pregnant woman to the hospital, it may or may not be accepted if the Judge believes that there was time to call an ambulance.
I Checked my Own Speedometer or Radar Detector
Sometimes, a driver will testify that they checked their speedometer at the time of the offense and their speedometer showed a different speed than what the officer was alleging, so this should demonstrate reasonable doubt regarding the police officer’s allegations.
Other times, a driver will give testimony that their radar detector did not detect the presence of the police radar and that therefore the police officer’s testimony that speed was measured by radar was false.
Neither of these defenses will typically be successful for one main reason. In order to get the Judge to accept this information as correct, it must be shown by the defendant that the devices (speedometer and radar detector) were scientifically accurate. This is generally demonstrated by proving that the devices were recently calibrated by a qualified technician. Although police can do this, it’s very unlikely that you can. That’s because it’s unlikely your speedometer or radar detector has ever again been calibrated since it left the factory.
Speeding Laws in Illinois
There are a few ways that you might be charged with speeding in Chicago and across the state of Illinois. These include:
Failure to Reduce Speed to Avoid an Accident
Failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident is a ticket that’s issued almost every time there’s a car accident. It just means that the driver that was given the ticket drove at a speed that wasn’t reasonable or proper given the traffic conditions. Under Illinois law, just because you were driving below the speed limit doesn’t remove the duty to reduce your speed when approaching or crossing an intersection, driving through a storm or snow, or dealing with other traffic, weather, or road conditions. If you got into an accident and the other driver or drivers involved were driving in a manner that was reckless or illegal, you may have a valid defense to this charge. Failure to reduce speed is a petty traffic offense in Illinois and carries a fine that may result in a suspension or revocation of your license depending on how many moving violations you’ve had and the point values that those violations carried.
You can be given a ticket for speeding even 1 mile per hour over the speed limit, even though that’s unlikely. Speeding 1 to 25 miles per hour in Illinois carries the same penalty, although a prosecutor will likely look at speeding 25 miles per hour as more serious than speeding 10 miles per hour. Speeding in Illinois is a petty traffic ticket, which carries a fine and but will only suspend or revoke your license if you have other recent convictions or fail to appear in court under some circumstances.
Aggravated speeding occurs when you’re speeding 26 miles per hour or more above the speed limit. 26-34 miles per hour over is a Class B misdemeanor. 35 and over is a Class A misdemeanor. These are serious speeding charges that have the potential for jail time and generally result in larger fines. If the aggravated speeding occurred in an urban district, school zone, or work zone, the ticket becomes more serious because Illinois law prohibits supervision on aggravated speeders in an urban district, school zone, or work zone. If that’s the case, your attorney will need to negotiate with the prosecutor in order to reduce the speed of the ticket to a petty speeding ticket, so that it becomes supervision eligible.
Speeding in a School Zone or Construction Zone
Both school zones and construction zones have lowered speed limits due to the extra danger presented by having children or construction equipment/cones/workers present. Both of these types of speeding are considered more serious than regular speeders for obvious reasons, and depending on how high the speed is, they may also be upgraded to aggravated misdemeanors. One of the biggest differences between these two types of speeding, and one that many people finding surprising, is that in order to be found guilty of speeding in a school zone, there must be children visible within a certain distance. If there are no children, then the ticket should not be issued. But in relation to speeding in a construction zone, no workers or even equipment needs to be present in order to receive a valid ticket. Even if it’s 3 O’clock in the morning on Christmas Eve and not a person is in sight, it’s still a ticket as long as the area is designated as a construction zone.
Speak to our Experienced Traffic Legal Team
Whether you’ve been charged with speeding or some other serious traffic offense such as DUI, Suspended License or Leaving the Scene of an Accident, the experienced Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC have successfully handled thousands of such cases before. Call us 24 hours a day to arrange a free consultation at (312) 644-0444.