As of today, I'm a free man in the eyes of the State of Illinois. I got a speeding ticket back in September - the first one I'd gotten in over 15 years. But today, it got thrown out. Oh, I still had to pay a fine, but nothing's on my record. Here's the story:
First of all, I'm a guy who drives 35,000 to 40,000 miles annually. The last speeding ticket I got was for going 36 in a 25 in Davenport in 1992. So only one speeding ticket in over 15 years is pretty impressive, if you ask me.
One little caveat to my over 15 years of not getting a ticket - I have been stopped on a number of occasions over that time period. A couple times I got stopped for going 74 in a 65 - once in Iowa and once in Illinois. The time in Illinois, Cindy and I were going to Chicago for the weekend and it was a Saturday morning. I had just gotten the Impala and we passed an Illinois State Patrolman as he was sitting in the median. He came out to get me and pulled me over. He told me I was going 74 and gave me a warning. Then he asked me, "How do you like these cars? They're talking about getting Impalas for us to drive for squad cars..."
A couple times, I was stopped by a Davenport policeman that I knew from working all the events for the city of Davenport. One time it was for going 72 in a 55 on the interstate, the other time it was for going 42 in a 25 on a residential street. He let me off both times. I was lucky.
And I'd been stopped a couple three other times, but it was for nothing more than going a couple miles over the "alloted" limit most law enforcement officers use as a yard stick. I was told one time most policemen say, "Under nine (miles an hour over the speed limit), you're fine. Over nine, you're mine."
An Illinois Highway Patrolman who my brother knew in Western Illinois told me one time that they usually won't bother you for going 72 m.p.h. on Illinois interstates. So that's where I usually set the cruise control when I'm driving on interstate highways that have a 65 m.p.h. limit. And I'll do 75 on ones that have 70 m.p.h. limits.
This recent little episode all started when I was leaving St. Louis to go to Champaign, IL one afternoon in late September last fall. I had just crossed over the Mississippi River and was on the stretch of road where Interstates 55, 64 and 70 all blend together. I was driving along with the traffic, going about 60 m.p.h. or so. I was trying to find an Illinois map to determine if it was better to take I-70 to I-57 up to Champaign, or if I should take I-55 up to Springfield and take I-72 over to Champaign from there. Honestly, I wasn't paying much attention to my surroundings.
After I-64 split off from Interstates 55 and 70, I was passing the Gateway International Raceway just outside of St. Louis. I was just tooling down the road at 65 or so - which was the speed limit at that point. Suddenly, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a cop coming up behind me with his lights on. I pulled over to the right lane and he pulled in right behind me. I said, "Oh, he must want me. Wonder what I did."
It was a city cop from Fairmont City, IL (see map) who had pulled me over. I was still wondering what I did wrong when he came around to the passenger side window. He was pleasant enough when he asked for my registration and my proof of insurance. I reached into the glove compartment to retrieve both pieces of paper and I asked, "What did I do?
He said, "I clocked you at 67 miles an hour in a 50 mile an hour zone back there."
I said, "Where is there a 50 mile an hour zone? Back by the (Mississippi) bridge?"
He said, "No, it's 50 miles an hour back there at the I-64 split."
Well, I certainly didn't know that. Or if I did know it, I surely didn't really notice it before. In either way, he clocked me at 67 in a 50.
I gave him my registration and proof of insurance card. He handed me back my proof of insurance and said, "This one's expired." So I pulled another one out of the glove box. That one had expired, too. I pulled a third one out - IT was expired. I was just sweatin' bullets as I was feverishly pawing through the glove compartment looking for the current proof of insurance. I must have pulled six of them out of there - all expired. (I really need to clean out my glove compartment.)
Finally, he said, "Well, look, I'm sure you have insurance since you have all those old ones." And he went back to his car.
I didn't know if he was going to write me a ticket or give me a warning. I was hoping for the warning, but these "local yokels" have a tendency to pad the town's coffers with out of town money.
He came back up to the passenger window and handed me the citation. He wrote it up as 65 in a 50, saying it would save me some money. The cop said, "Now, we just want you to take it easy through here. Just make sure you pay more attention to the speed limits when you come through here."
All right - he had me, dead to right. I took the ticket, thanked him for knocking a couple miles off the ticket and took off for Champaign. I tossed the ticket over in the seat and drove away.
I got to looking at the ticket and I couldn't find the fine. I thought, "Well, hell, maybe it IS a warning. I can't find where the fine amount is on this thing."
Then I looked a little closer and saw it. $85 bucks. EIGHTY FIVE DOLLARS!?! Holy shit! I'll say they're filling their coffers in that little town. But he said he did save me an additional $40 bucks by writing me up for 65 instead of 67. 1 to 15 m.p.h. over the limit is $85 dollars. 16 to 25 over the limit is $125. Ouch!
I got to looking closer at the ticket and it said that I could contest the ticket on November 20 at the St. Clair County courthouse in East St. Louis. East St. Louis? Are you kidding me? The last place that most sane white people go to is East St. Louis. No, they had me. I was going to cough up the $85 bucks and present it with a smile to the Fairmont City treasurer.
Now, the whole time I wasn't pissed at the cop or at myself. It was pretty matter of fact. But I liked the guy even more for not writing me up for going 17 over and tacking on an additional $40 bucks.
About three weeks later, I sat down and was paying bills and I came across the ticket. I gritted my teeth, wrote the check and started to put it in the envelope that was provided.
Then I took a closer look at a flap on the envelope. On the flap it said that if I signed my name on this line and sent in the fine, they would set aside the guilty plea for 90 days. Huh? I didn't quite know what they were getting at, but I thought, "What the hell?" I signed it and put the check in the envelope.
About 10 days later, I got a letter from the City Clerk of Fairmont City, IL. In the letter, I was informed that they did receive my check and they have set aside my guilty plea for 90 days. However, if I got another driving citation in the state of Illinois before January 18, 2008, the city clerk would notify the Illinois Secretary of State of the moving violation, who would then inform Iowa officials, who would then inform my insurance company, who would then inform me that they have to raise my rates. Well, it didn't say all that, but that's the logical progression after the city contacted the Illinois Secretary of State's office.
So, I read it again and it dawned on me - all I had to do was to keep my nose clean when I drove in Illinois for the next three months. The only problem was that I had to be in Illinois about five more times before the 90 day period was up.
I wasn't worried, though. I just made sure that I watched my speed and rolled with the traffic. I'd gone 15 years without a speeding ticket. I could go three months.
And I did. Today, the guilty verdict has been permanently set aside and nothing goes on my record. It makes me want to go out and spin donuts in the mall parking lot.
Oh, by the way - I had to go to St. Louis to pick up some speakers toward the middle part of November. As I was driving westbound through the same area that I got pulled over, I saw a police car pulling over a speeder in the eastbound lanes of the interstate. I looked over as I got across from the police cruiser and, sure enough, it was a Fairmont City policeman. Those bastards. They're just picking people off because it does go from 60 miles per hour to 50 in a small stretch of road where I-64 slices off from the I-55 and I-70. They're just sitting there catching unsuspecting guys from out of state. Like me.
There's a national speed trap web site - The Speed Trap Exchange - that lists a number of speed traps around the nation. I've got some entries in there, especially with small towns that I've driven through in the past. I didn't get tickets, but I saw where the cops were hiding and how much of a trap it is. I looked up to see if the Fairmont City trap was listed. It wasn't. But after I sent in an entry to the site a couple days ago, it will be in a few days.