Consider this: Driver A gets pulled over by a cop for driving 86 mph in a 75 mph zone and receives a traffic ticket for criminal speed, in violation of A.R.S. 28-701.02(A)(3). If found guilty, not only will Driver A get 3 points on his or her license, but Driver A potentially faces up to 30 days in jail and nearly $1,000 in fines. Twenty minutes later, Driver B is pulled over by that same cop, for driving the same speed, but receives a civil speeding ticket for violating A.R.S. 28-701(A) which carries a fine of a couple hundred dollars, and for which Driver B can choose to take defensive driving diversion and the ticket will be dismissed. For both traffic stops, the road conditions were the same, the traffic volume was the same, the weather was the same, and it was even the same officer.
So why the different treatment? It’s hard to say, but when cops are given this kind of discretion, it is bound to be abused. Perhaps Driver A had a Republican bumper sticker, and the cop was a Democrat. Perhaps the cop is anti-immigration, and Driver A didn’t look “American” enough. If you think that is unlikely, just google Sheriff Joe Arpaio and racial profiling. Maybe Driver A was irritated about being pulled over for a victimless crime while driving in a perfectly safe manner, and informed the cop of his or her distaste for police harassment. Whatever the reason, you never know what a cop is going to do when he or she pulls you over. Cops are unpredictable, have broad discretion, and will not hesitate to use deadly force which creates a frightening combination. Your best bet to stay safe on the road is to do everything you can to avoid being pulled over. That means driving at or below the speed limit (but not too slow-cops will pull you over for that too), and making sure that your registration is current, that no lights on your car are out, that your window tint is not too dark, that you have no bumper stickers (you never know what will set off a cop) etc. Do not give a cop a reason to pull you over.
If you do get pulled over, recognize that your number one goal is to make it through the traffic stop alive. Your number two goal is to make it through the stop with as little damage as possible. You need to recognize that you will NEVER win an argument with a cop, and a traffic stop is not the time to try. Read our Ten Tips For Your Next Traffic Stop and take them to heart. You can’t control the color of your skin or a cop’s bad attitude, but you can control how you interact with a cop, and you can take steps to ensure the best possible outcome during your next traffic stop. Make it as easy as possible for the cop to justify in his or her mind why giving you a civil speeding ticket instead of a criminal speeding ticket makes sense.