Here's the Thing About Speed Traps…

A Hudson Valley resident recalls his life in the fast lane

“Are you going to follow this guy forever?”

That is my wife’s eternal question unto me.

“This guy” is inevitably piloting the car in front of us, at the speed limit, mind you. The query comes from the person with the lead foot and most of the speeding tickets in our family, though I am rapidly catching up by ineptly trying to follow her freely offered suggestions about driving.

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An inveterate slowpoke on the road, as well as on foot, my driving record has generally been as clean as the proverbial hound’s tooth — well, aside from the time I tried to apply some giddyap on a freeway in Ohio (notorious speed trap for out-of-state drivers) at my spouse’s urging. More than a decade passed until I paid the price for failing to spot a 30 mph sign and entered Red Hook village at a brisk 45.

My most recent brush with embarrassment was on the New York State Thruway while running late for the start of a movie in Albany. The speed limit was 65; the line of cars ahead of us in the right lane was moving at nearly 80, and I was adhering to my wife’s principle that you drive in relation to the traffic around you. Then I got it into my addled skull that I could make up some time by passing.

A motorcycle well ahead of us was doing about 90 and I figured he’d get bagged before I did. Not long after I pulled out and stepped on the gas I spotted the cop perched on a hilltop on the left.

Thus I was summoned to appear in the little town of Bethlehem’s traffic court, an hour north of where I live and on a busy work day no less. Monumental hassle aside, I felt so criminal and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d been through the traffic ticket process in Red Hook — dutifully obeying the cop’s suggestion to follow his lead in front of the scowling judge — where I ended up forking over $65 with no points on my license. But do I now risk a $300 Driver Responsibility Assessment on top of any fines, which I was sure would approach the national debt?

“Feeling lucky, punk?”

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In my darkest moments I envisioned a jail cell, bread and water, a pie with a file in it arriving in the mail from home, the prison flicks The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. So I heeded a friend’s suggestion and hired a lawyer for $400 to appear on my behalf and (hopefully) spare me an appointment with Old Sparky. There were multiple adjournments while my barrister from Queens tried to find time to make the trek, and the whole tawdry affair dragged out for five months. I was finally informed that I had plea-bargained to a two-point sign violation (reduced from a six-point speeding infraction] with a $220 fine. Apparently my nearly clean record helped contain the damage, but in the end my piggy bank was more than $600 lighter, and I was feeling much shame.

Suitably chastened, I now adamantly chug along at the speed limit or slightly below it no matter what anyone says. Thee who get behind me will simply have to follow patiently or pass at thine own risk.

I’m through with life in the fast lane.

More: by John Rolfe
More: Opinion Columns

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