On Saturday I was invited to attend an Izea focus group in Orlando. I have two choices in driving there – the interstate, which takes me out of my way, or the back roads, past farms and forests, and through small towns that are barely a blip on my radar. That is, until Saturday, when I was (wrongfully) accused of road rage by a small town cop, threatened with cuffs and the back of his squad car, and a trip to the station!
As I leave my house, there’s one long stretch of road is only a single lane in each direction, with curves making it practically impossible to pass any slow poke holding things up. For 20 minutes or so, I drove behind 4 or 5 other cars that were all being delayed by a red Geo metro going 10 miles under the speed limit. As we entered the small town of Mascotte, FL, the road opened up, and became 2 lanes in each direction separated by a low concrete median. The slow going Geo Metro went into the right hand lane, and wanting to avoid him, I stayed in the left. The speed limit was 45 and I was doing it, along with the cars around me. Finally happy to be moving at the speed limit, I cranked up my Sirius radio and sang along.
Suddenly, traffic came to a quick stop. A few car lengths ahead of me was a pickup truck, attempting to make a left turn into the lanes going the opposite direction. There wasn’t a turn lane – only a median, and this truck was position so that half of the body of the vehicle stuck out into the left lane (the one I was in) completely blocking the flow of traffic.
I did what most of us probably would have done – I beeped my horn. Actually, I beeped it more than once, as the driver of the truck seemed completely unaware of the hazard he was causing. Kind of a “hey, blocking the flow of traffic here buddy” thing. The truck finally turned and I started to move again with traffic, going maybe 150 yards before realizing there was a City of Mascotte police car behind me, lights flashing, siren off. I carefully merged over into the right lane, and then pulled into the empty parking lot of a real estate office.
Two cops exited the vehicle – a female, who never spoke to me or even came to my side of the vehicle, and her male counterpart. As soon as he opened his mouth, I knew we had trouble. He barked at me, “What is your PROBLEM?!?!” and I was almost so flabbergasted I didn’t know what to say. Problem? I didn’t have one! He’s got to be referring to the horn beeping, right? So I started to explain how I was trying to avoid the Geo Metro and stayed in the left and the truck was blocking everyone….
“YOU’VE GOT ROAD RAGE!!”
Huh? Wait a minute…I was calm, polite, and reserved. What’s this road rage he’s talking about? Good thing I was thinking this and not saying it, because he kept going…barking at me and berating me…
“That truck was making a LEGAL LEFT TURN and he is WITHIN HIS RIGHTS TO DO SO! What’s your PROBLEM that you needed to beep the horn like that at THAT TRUCK? You could have gone around him!”
Seriously? Did this cop not see the ass end of this truck blocking a whole lane of traffic? That seems to be reasonably unsafe. And me changing lanes suddenly to go around him? Yeah, like that wouldn’t have gotten me pulled over!
“ROAD RAGE IS A CRIMINAL OFFENSE! I could have you in the back of my car in cuffs right now, do you UNDERSTAND?”
Whoa, I understand that one of us has some rage, but it’s not me! Officer AngerIssues returns to his cruiser, presumably to look up some kind of offense he can ticket me on. His female counterpart writes up the ticket, and as I watch her through my rear view mirror, I can see her grinning! Lovely. There’s nothing like a smiling cop to make you think you’re helping to fulfill a ticket quota.
Male cop comes back up after 5 minutes to my window. Female cop goes to the passenger side of my vehicle…I guess to prevent my escape? Because you know, I’m a dangerous criminal. He again tells me how he COULD be arresting me, but he’s “only” going to ticket me for “improper use of horn”. He again mentions the road rage and then stops talking…I realize he’s waiting for me to reply in the affirmative, I guess to admit I was wrong? Not going to happen, so I simply say “O.K.” and sign my ticket.
Here’s the best part of the story though…
If you’ve ever received a ticket in the state of Florida, you know that you have the right to contest your ticket in court. How do you know this? Because the officer or sheriff or deputy who tickets you tells you, “You can contest this in court, if you wish to do so the court information is on the ticket…blah blah.”
Officer AngerIssues didn’t say anything remotely resembling the statement above. His words (and I’m paraphrasing here – the whole event was pretty traumatic for me) were:
If you consider fighting this ticket, I’ll be there with the three other cops who were out here this morning.
I took my ticket, put my window back up, and slowly drove away. I was seething inside. Pull me over for something bogus – fine. But how dare this cop try to intimidate me into not going to court to stand up for myself?
Obviously, I couldn’t stand up for myself or even speak up during the traffic stop, for fear that this cop would react badly, but little does he know…but attempting to intimidate me into not appearing in court…he made me want to go all the more. I plan to go and tell the judge exactly what he said – NO ONE should be intimidated like this!
I researched the Florida statutes this morning, and found out that the officer had NO basis at all for the road rage charge he claims he could have given me. The road rage statute is called “Aggressive careless driving” here in Florida:
316.1923 Aggressive careless driving.–”Aggressive careless driving” means committing two or more of the following acts simultaneously or in succession:
(1) Exceeding the posted speed as defined in s. 322.27(3)(d)5.b.
(2) Unsafely or improperly changing lanes as defined in s. 316.085.
(3) Following another vehicle too closely as defined in s. 316.0895(1).
(4) Failing to yield the right-of-way as defined in s. 316.079, s. 316.0815, or s. 316.123.
(5) Improperly passing as defined in s. 316.083, s. 316.084, or s. 316.085.
(6) Violating traffic control and signal devices as defined in ss. 316.074 and 316.075.
I didn’t do ANY of those things, and certainly not two at a time. Why did this cop think he could threaten to arrest me and charge me with criminal charges when I absolutely did not deserve those charges? It’s just a scare tactic! It’s so I would happily accept my $76.50 ticket and thank my lucky stars that the “nice cop” didn’t arrest me. Get this though – on my ticket, he checked the box for “aggressive driving”, even though I didn’t commit that crime. How can you be driving aggressively when you’re sitting still?
And let’s talk about that $76.50 ticket for “improper horn use”:
316.271 Horns and warning devices.–
(3) The driver of a motor vehicle shall, when reasonably necessary to ensure safe operation, give audible warning with his or her horn, but shall not otherwise use such horn when upon a highway.
(8) A violation of this section is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a nonmoving violation as provided in chapter 318.
Gee, I blew my horn to ensure SAFE operation. It was a warning to the guy blocking traffic…sounds like attempting to be safe to me! Yeah, I probably blew it one too many times, but there’s nothing in the statute saying how many horn blows is too many.
What was this cop’s problem? Did his wife just leave him? Child support increased? Having a bad day in general? Whatever the issue, it seems like he took it out on me…did I look easy to pick on? Sure, a skinny white lady in a big SUV is an easy target…she’ll cry when you give her the ticket and you can let out all of your anger on her.
Did I blow the horn one too many times? Possibly, but did that “offense” warrant the treatment received? Absolutely not. I’ve been having all sorts of anxiety issues about this since Saturday, and I even had a nightmare about the cop. I’m fearful about going to court and having 3 offices of the law back each other up with the version of this story that isn’t the truth. If I need to pay for my ticket and court fees in the end, so be it, but I want it to be known to the court how this cop threatened and intimidated me. No one should be treated like I was treated, especially not for blowing the horn!