Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Don’t Argue With a Traffic Officer

I recently started doing my volunteer shifts with the Tel-Aviv traffic police. I spend 5hrs each week accompanying a traffic police officer on his duty. We help some drivers and pedestrians, attend to traffic accidents, and issue traffic tickets. The latter gives me an opportunity to experience the interaction between drivers and traffic officers – this time from the other side of the fence. I have one suggestion for drivers out there – please don’t argue with a traffic officer…
Traffic officer pulls over a driver

I don’t mean that you should accept verbatim everything a traffic officer says. You should provide your version of the events. As a matter of fact, the police guidelines call for the officer to be cordial, listen to what the driver has to say and patiently explain the rationale for a traffic ticket.  The goal is to educate drivers, not just “extort money”.

Oh, you are so naive you say. We all heard stories of a heartless, rude and aggressive traffic officer who stopped drivers for no real reason, other than slapping them with an expensive ticket. But wait, I say. You need to understand how things look from the traffic officer point of view.

It is interesting to compare the interactions between traffic officers and drivers in the US and Israel. For those of you who didn't have the opportunity to be pulled over by an American traffic officer - here’s what it looks like:

You drive on the highway or a city street in the US when a police car shows up behind you. It flashes its red-blue lights and briefly sounds its siren. You are supposed to safely pull over to the side of the road as soon as possible. If you fail to do so, you may find yourself the subject of a car chase, which may end up with considerable damage to you and your vehicle. 

Once your vehicle comes to a complete stop, you must turn off the engine, lower the driver-side window, and remain seated in your car - hands on the steering wheel and visible at all times. Failing to do so will result in the police officer pulling out his gun – and they are dead serious. It is highly recommended to keep your tone down, answer questions when asked, and NEVER attempt to exit the car – unless instructed to do so.

The same scenario in Israel looks entirely different. A police officer signals a driver to stop and then asks for a driver license and vehicle registration. You’ll be surprised how many people lack one or both of them… The police officer then tries to explain the alleged traffic violation, and that’s when all hell breaks loose! 

The driver, along with other passengers in the vehicle, jump out of the car, gather around the police officer and start blurting some facts, half-truths and a ton of excuses. There’re some pleading, some accusations, and even some veiled threats. All meant to “convince” the police officer to drop the ticket. By the time the ticket is finally issued, the driver is pissed, while the traffic officer is exhausted and frustrated. Hopefully you aren't the very next driver he pulls over…

What can be done differently? Be cordial to a traffic officer that pulls you over. They may have just come off a tough argument with another driver. A ‘combative attitude’ will only make them treat you harsher. Remember that traffic officers are neither blind nor morons… So please stick to the facts. The officer will greatly appreciate your cooperation and you may come off with just a warning. 

But most importantly – simply obey the traffic rules. Avoiding a ticket should be the least reason to do so…Staying safe and preventing damages and injuries is the primary goal.

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