In a hurry? Taillight out? Seat belt off? Watch yourself. You may be more likely to get picked up than the dead deer rotting on Illinois' highways. Perhaps for the same reason - public budgets are crunched.
In a hurry? Taillight out? Seat belt off?
You may be more likely to get picked up than the dead deer rotting on Illinois' highways. Perhaps for the same reason - public budgets are crunched.
A couple of weeks ago, I thought both of these things were my imagination. It seemed there were an awful lot of dead animals on the side of the road. Nobody seemed to be cleaning up. Then it seemed like there were an awful lot of cops on the road. And they did seem to be cleaning up, writing tickets in every direction.
As it turns out, seeming is believing. The imaginary dead deer were real. The Illinois Department of Transportation has confirmed some workers have been kept in the maintenance yards since May 1. Lousy winter weather meant the state spent $85 million for snow and ice removal instead of the $40 million it had budgeted. High gas prices haven't helped, so they're cutting back to save money.
Officially, IDOT spokesmen say they are careful not to compromise public safety. Officially, large roadkill is being picked up. Apparently, large deer are not large enough. There's one on Illinois Route 8 west of Oak Hill that's pretty much down to a rib cage and a head after three weeks of (thankfully, cold) weather. The technical term is "gross." One can hardly wait for July.
As it turns out, the imaginary ultra-picky police officers may be real, as well. Locally, Click It-or-Ticket and DUI crackdowns already have been announced. Statewide, Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Brian Ley says the number of tickets from January through April has risen from 167,466 last year to 169,578 this year. (Ley says District 8 numbers have dropped over that same time, from 6,537 to 5,121.) Countrywide, the National Motorists Association says requests for help with traffic tickets recently hit the highest level in a decade.
"The phone has been ringing like crazy," says NMA communications director Aaron Quinn. "It's always: 'I got an unfair speeding ticket. What can I do to fight this?' "
Well, you could drive the speed limit, for starters. But as Quinn points out, most people don't. They feel ticket-proof going five or seven miles over the limit. They shouldn't.
"With the budgets of local governments across the country stretched extremely thin, many cities have turned to traffic enforcement as a way to add a quick influx of cash," the NMA says. "Traffic stops that previously would have resulted in a warning are now leading to tickets that are costing drivers hundreds of dollars."
My condensed version of the group's advice boils down to three areas: First, don't drive like an idiot. No tailgating, no swerving, no road rage. Be alert. And if you're bound and determined to speed in unfamiliar territory, check www.speedtrap.org.
Second, be smart. When you are pulled over, be polite. Sign the ticket, but admit to nothing. Take notes to help you in court - time, weather, road conditions, signs, officer's name, etc.
Third, plead not guilty. That's your only leverage to negotiate. Then do some research on how to defend yourself in court. Stick it out, and remember the officer must be there, too. For more information, check www.motorists.org.
"If enough people do this, it will become unprofitable for them to have these big surges," Quinn says. "Then they'll go back to enforcing for safety."
In the meantime, watch your back. And your front. And the sides.
Terry Bibo can be reached at email@example.com or (309) 686-3189.