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Privilege and Me

A while ago, I got a speeding ticket.  I was driving at a time of day that rarely finds me on the road, and my route took me past a school, a place where the speed limit drops sharply for about an hour on school days.  I didn't notice the time or the abrupt drop in limit, so I didn't slow down, and that's what the police officer (lying in wait on a side street) was waiting for.  He pulled me over and issued a ticket.  I feel I should note that there was about five minutes left on the speed limit reducion time, and all school-related traffic had long since cleared away, and the officer was waiting for people exactly like me to grab, but the law is the law, and I had nothing to cite in my favor.

At any rate, since I have a clean driving record and (presumably) since I didn't snarl at the police officer, he wrote me a smaller ticket and additionally pointed out that if I took it in to traffic court within a month, I could have the speeding citation reduced to "obstruction of traffic," which puts no points on my license and wouldn't raise my insurance rates.

At home, I looked up the ticket on-line.  I could pay it there or I could go down to the courthouse in Novi, a twelve-minute drive away in good traffic.  I didn't see any references to a reduction of infraction, however, and the officer said I would have to appear personally for that.  Did I have to talk to a judge or something?  I didn't know.

I found a phone number on the ticket and called it to ask.  The very nice lady who picked up said I could indeed pay on-line or by mail, but if I wanted the reduction of infraction, I needed to appear in person.  No, I didn't need to see a judge or make an appointment--just come down to the ticket window at the courthouse and pay the fine between 8:30 and 4:00, when the courthouse was open.

Oh.  Okay.  So this afternoon I hopped in the truck, drove down to the courthouse, and went to the window marked TICKETS, where the whole deal was handled in seconds.

On the way back, I realized that I had enjoyed major privilege. My relative wealth allowed me to reduce a moving violation to a minor infraction.

How?  I have a job that allows me the time off to go down to the courthouse during business hours to handle this.  If I were in a lower socio-economic status and had a job that didn't allow me to duck out of work--factory work, labor, food industry, retail--while so I could deal with this, I would be stuck with points on my license and a higher fine.

My privilege allows me to save money.  Ironically, the difference is about $20, which I won't miss.  I saved money I can afford to lose.  I'll bet a number of people out there, people for whom $20 is a lot of money indeed, have been smacked by this because they couldn't get down to the courthouse.

Yes, the solution is not to speed--or get caught doing so--but when a privileged person and a non-privileged person do the same thing, the privileged person pays a small penalty, even though he can afford a larger one, and the non-privileged person pays a higher one, a penalty he can't afford.


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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 1st, 2016 05:50 pm (UTC)

Circumstances differ, but the privileges you mention do not always result in such benefits.  I got a parking ticket for "obstructing a bus stop".  It is hard to explain the layout, but there was a bus stop, and at the end of the curb markings for the bus stop, there was a fire hydrant.  The hydrant was at the corner of an intersection where the road was crossed by a small side road.  I was parked on the opposite side of the side road from the hydrant and the bus stop, but was ticketed anyway

My boss gave me time to go dispute the fine.  It took a couple of hours to get before a "hearing officer".  He looked at the photos I provided, and Google map aerial images of the spot.  Then he told me that he completely agreed with me that I should have able to park in that spot, BUT the law as written required my car to have been another 5 feet further from the bus stop.  He said the he could change the ticket from "obstructing a bus stop" to either "obstructing a hydrant" or "obstructing an intersection", since those were closer to my car than the bus stop, but those carried higher fines.  So, I had to pay the fine for "obstructing a bus stop" PLUS a $50 "hearing surcharge".  In that case, I wish I hadn't had the ability to go fight the ticket.

Jan. 1st, 2016 08:40 pm (UTC)
But you had the ability to go fight the ticket in court. You said your boss gave you time to go do so. That's privilege. You lost the case, but you still had the privilege of going to deal with it!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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