Something happened to me this evening that has not happened to me in a long time. I got pulled over by the police.
I was at the intersection of Park Avenue and Woodbury Road in Hicksville waiting for the light to turn green so that I could make a right turn onto Woodbury Road. You see, there is a sign posted at the intersection informing drivers that a right turn on red at that intersection is not permitted. There is a commercial building on the left corner of the intersection that features a web hosting business. I remember looking at the sign for the business while waiting for the light to change.
Then I made a right turn. I don't recall looking at the traffic light to see if it had changed, but I made the turn because I must have believed it was okay to do so. All of us who drive have moments where our minds are on automatic pilot. I must have noticed that cars on Woodbury Road had suddenly stopped at the stop line and assumed it was okay to go.
Shortly after I had made my turn and was proceeding east in the right lane on Woodbury Road, I noticed a police car about 50 or 60 yards behind me with its lights flashing. I immediately assumed the car was responding to a call, so I sped up and turned to the left lane. But looking in my rear view mirror, I noticed that the police car then followed me into the left lane. I realized that he was not responding to a call, he was trying to pull me over.
I pulled over to the shoulder on the right side of the road, rolled down the driver side window, and waited for him to approach me, wondering what the hell I did wrong. Back in the late 80's and early 90's I got pulled over for speeding several times and I knew each time why I was being pulled over. But as the police officer came up alongside me, I was baffled as to why he had pulled me over. He told me that I had made a right turn on red, in express violation of the sign that was posted. I was dumbfounded. Did I? He also told me that I was speeding. Trying to recover my memory of my previous actions, I told him that I had sped up and changed lanes because I was trying to get out of his way.
He took my license, registration and insurance card and went back to his car. Another police car pulled up alongside and asked the officer who pulled me over if everything was alright. "Yeah," I thought, "I zoned out and made a right turn on red. Call for backup asshole!" I could not believe that the officer was actually going to write me out a ticket. As I sat in my car waiting for him, I was mulling over in my mind what could have happened. Because I initially did not know why I was pulling over, I did not think I had consciously done anything wrong. I remember waiting at the intersection for the light to change. I distinctly remembered that. The only thing I could come up with was that I had taken note of the cars on Woodbury Road stopping, and it triggered in my mind that it was okay to go. What must have happened was that the light for the cars on Woodbury Road had turned red, but my light had not yet turned green when I executed my turn.
I tried to explain this to the officer, but he was unswayed. Besides, I guess once they start to write out a ticket, it is not like they can say "never mind" because then the ticket has to be accounted for. Still, I tried to turn the situation in a positive direction. I informed the officer that I wish the police would start cracking down on people at intersections who blatantly make left turns on red at intersections and pointed him to the intersection at Woodbury and South Oyster Bay Road. He said he would check it out. And then, to add insult to injury, he told me he did not have a traffic fine schedule so he could not write on the ticket how much the fine was. So now I will have to go to the website for the Traffic Violations Bureau.
While I understand that technically he was correct, I must have made a right turn while my light was red, it just struck me as fundamentally unfair that I was being ticketed for something I did absentmindedly, and as the light was likely cycling to green to boot. Even now though I still feel shaken by the incident. I see drivers all the time, as I described above, blatantly making left turns at major intersections when the light for them had already turned red and there seems to be no interest in the police in addressing this problem. Nevertheless, I will have to look up the fine myself and mail the check in to the traffic court. What can I say? Tough break kiddo. Life goes on.
UPDATE: Well, it happened again this morning (4/18/07), I got pulled over again. But this time, I really deserved it. After dropping my daughter off at her daycare, I was driving in the left lane on Cherry Lane which runs parallel to the Bethpage High School. There were some cars in the right lane that had been stopped for a red light that had just turned green. I accelerated to get ahead of them as I had to make a right turn at the intersection up ahead. After I shifted lanes and looked at my odometer, I said to myself "Slow down there fella, there could be school kids around here."
I started to decelerate, but it was too late. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a Nassau County police car behind me with lights flashing. Unlike two weeks ago, I knew exactly why I had caught his attention. So I pulled over into an abandoned gas station and prepared myself for the worst. He had me dead to rights and I deserved to be ticketed. But to my absolute astonishment, this officer merely admonished me in a friendly, matter-of-fact manner, told me I seemed like a nice guy. He noted my kids' booster seats in the back of my car and reminded me that one day my kids will be in school, gave me my license, insurance and registration cards back and told me he was going to give me a break.
It is amazing how arbitrary law enforcement can be. This officer had every right to ticket me for driving over the speed limit in a school zone and he let me go, and two weeks ago I zone out and executed a right turn on red a second of two before the light turned green and that officer felt compelled to ticket me instead of letting me go with a warning. Go figure.