Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Morgantown Heat!

I got pulled over yesterday on the way to school. Nothing major-- just a "friendly" 10-minute reminder that my front left headlight is out.

Fortunately, my roommate was with me at the time. While waiting for my license, registration and insurance to check out, I informed him of my theory that, ceteris paribus, drivers stand a much lesser chance of receiving a ticket when they have passengers in their car. The idea is that if it is one driver's word against one officer's word in a court of law, the State is likely to uphold the policeman's original claim. Should there be another passenger to vouch for the driver, the court now has two people claiming innocence. Knowing this, the officer doesn't waste his time writing a ticket and then having to go to court to potentially defend his actions. Again, ceteris paribus-- this isn't to say that no one ever gets tickets with other people in the car, nor that you can't get off with just a warning if you are by yourself. I just think you stand a better chance with some passengers in your car.

It's my personal experience that lead me to this idea-- I've got pulled over a handful of times over the years, and while the times that I've been pulled over are pretty evenly distributed between driving alone and driving with passengers, only once did I get a ticket while driving with a passenger (well-deserved, it should be noted), and only once did I not receive a ticket while driving by myself. A quick perusal of the Department of Economics here at WVU finds a roughly similar track record.

I'd love to see some data on this-- does anyone know what type of statistics police departments keep with regards to whom they pull over and the occupancy of the cars? Is any of this available?


Anonymous said...

I like that theory. Are you better off with a priest sitting next to you than your mom?

jedijawa said...

Yes, that sort of data is available. It is what is used to support or defend claims of racial profiling for DWB (driving while black).

I would think that your hypothesis would not be true when the car is run down or if the occupants were non-white. I've heard troopers say that when they approach a car they never know what they are going to encounter so anxiety is high. I've been told that anxiety is highest when the officer sees signs that cause him apprehension like movement in the car, not being able to see the hands of the occupants, and any signs that he may end up being greeted at the window with the barrel of a gun.

Are these things subjective to the officer? Absolutely! I'm just saying that the advice given to me by cops is not to be ruffling around in your car looking for your insurance card until the officer asks for it because he may wonder if you're looking for your Saturday night special. I try to keep my hands high on the steering wheel until the officer comes to my window and then I roll down the window and politely wait for the officer to speak.

I've never been pulled over with somebody else in the car but I've gotten warnings maybe half the times that I've been pulled over.