I consider myself a good ‘citizen’ and I can prove it. In over 55 years, my criminal record consists of parking in the wrong place at the wrong time and speeding. It’s the speeding that causes me the greater moral dilemma, and that on many levels. Take Ontario’s 80 km/hr speed limit: what was the last time anyone has obeyed it? Since all of us expect to get to our destination alive, the chances are that most of us are going to drive safely no matter what speed we move at.
Dilemma #1: Parents, schools, businesses and even governments try to drill the ethic into us that time is money. I know that if I travel 60 kms at 80 km/hr, I will arrive in three quarters of an hour. If I travel the same distance at 120 km/hr, I’ll arrive in half an hour, which is a significant saving of time. It seems that speeding fines are set on the premise that everyone earns $300 an hour. A steel worker going from Toronto to Oshawa to earn $25 an hour is not going to risk that kind of fine, while middle-aged lawyers or doctors think nothing of it. They calculate their speed according to their income and know they can afford it. If they get stopped and fined, they figure it’s preferable to crashing and dying, which, statistically, they do far more than any other profession.
Dilemma #2: I am cruising along Highway 10 at 120 km/h in an 80 km/h zone. The only reason I know for the posted limit, apart from easing the conscience of lawmakers, road engineers and safety experts, is to raise money for the judicial system. I’m not saying that the OPP has a quota system or that they don’t; I don’t know and they won’t say.
Dilemma #3: I once read that the optimum travelling speed is 120 km/h on an 80 km/h road and that higher speeds become a control problem. Control is best at 100 km/h, 120 km/h being the upper limit. Above that, if the car does go out of control, it’s going too fast to be brought back. At 80 km/h and out of control, however, you can take a nap while bringing it back, which may be one of the reasons the 80 km/h is the standard speed set for Ontario highways. If, then, 120 km/h is still 'safe', how does this speed kill?
Dilemma #4: Unless they need extra pocket money, the police will tolerate 100 km/h. My lawyer assures me that officers are allowed a measure of tolerance, called discretion. But 100 km/hr is illegal, so tolerating it makes it extra-legal, or a-legal. This logic may solve the moral dilemma: if I call speeding at 100 km/h a-moral, then I am not being a social reprobate. Or am I?
Dilemma #5: Personally, I feel that travelling at 120 km/h on a clear, open highway, is sensible. But if I uphold the road-related laws enacted by the legislature, then breaking those laws, even if nobody cares, must be unethical.
Dilemma #6: Coming home late one night at 120 km/h in an 80 km/h zone, I was mulling over the possibility that I was progressing along Ontario’s highways as an “offender”: my action contradicted my claim of being a good citizen. Since I spend most of my days in a vehicle engaging in moving violations, the greatest part of my waking life is being lived as an “offender”. Clearly, that makes me part of the criminal element, a full time criminal, a professional even! Unless, of course, I rationalize my status, given that a-moral interpretation of inconsequential laws produce a-criminal behaviour.
Dilemma #7: In spite of doing 120 km/h on the open road, I have my standards, my own personal ethic. When I enter a town, I slow down to the posted speed limit. It’s a matter of balance. I tolerate 40 km/h above the limit outside of town because the chances of running down pedestrians and crashing into cars backing out of driveways are greatly diminished. But I respect people and look after their safety in populated areas.
One night, driving through a small town, I reached the point where the streetlights stopped. Just beyond the top of the next hill, I remembered, was an 80 km/h sign. So I accelerated up the hill, reached 80 km/h at the sign, then continued up to 120 km/h. Roaring down the highway towards the next town, I noticed flashing lights behind me. I pulled off the highway and stopped to allow a very polite OPP officer ask me: “Are you in a hurry?” “No,” I answered. He continued: “Did you know that you were clocked at 75 km/h in a 50 km/h zone?"
At first I didn’t believe what I had heard. I expected 120 km/h in an 80 km/h zone, but 75 in a 50 zone, just a few meters before the 80 km/h sign after I had crossed every empty town at 50 km/h offended me. He must have locked his radar at 75 km/h even though he had to chase me at 140 km/h to catch up. The locked radar reading is admissible evidence in a court of law and he did not lock onto my highway speed. While the officer was in his vehicle with my licence, I wondered if this was harassment or was the officer just fulfilling his quota? Oops, I mean I wondered if he was protecting the people of the small community who pay for his services from someone driving at 75 km/h at the end of town at one o’clock on a Monday morning? According to a statistic I once read in the Globe and Mail, this is the safest time of the week to be on the roads. In fact, I was behind the wheel at such an ungodly hour to optimize my own safety!
So why did he stop me if it was not to fill a quota? A hefty fine with a demerit point or two and a nasty letter from the insurance agent about the suddenly rising premium is the usual result of driving 25 km/h over the speed limit. But the officer handed me my licence and expected me to be relieved that he was charging me with going only 64 km/h in a 50 km/h zone. This meant, he explained a $42.50 fine and no demerit points, although there would be a $5.00 surcharge.
Dilemma #8: I decided not to question the $5.00 surcharge, but there was a problem. The officer’s 'allowable discretion' allows him to perjure himself on a legal document. This entire exercise was based on perjury, calculated to make me compliant, accept being labelled an offender and pay the reduced fine without complaint. And it worked.
Dilemma #9: As I said, I think of myself as a responsible citizen and am willing to take the consequences of my actions. Instead, this rather kind OPP officer forced me into an ethical dilemma so that he could make a few bucks for his force in the middle of the night. What could I have said? “Hey, Officer, I was going 75 so give me a ticket for that speed or I’ll take you to court”? Would he not have come back with, “Actually, Sir, you were doing 120 in an 80 km/h zone.” Then I would have had to tell him that he had no proof and that it would be his word against mine. This would make him feel bad, which is not an ethical thing to do in an already unethical situation.
I felt like I was confronting a liar who, when the lie came out, would have to cover his tracks with increasingly complicated set of lies. The lawmakers, enforcers, members of the judicial system, indeed, our entire society, are involved in cover-up here. Seated in the comfort of my car, I was being criminalized even as the officer wrote up his self-perjuring ticket, criminalizing himself in the process.
Dilemma #10: Our goodwill toward each other was nothing more than a hypocritical gesture. This incident shows that the authorities rely on my lack of moral fibre and are complicit in the criminalization of society. And what did I do? A few days later, I wrote a cheque and mailed it in the envelope the OPP officer provided for my convenience.
Dilemma #11: I cannot help wondering what would happen if I appeared in court with a few other reporters declaring that day to be my 'honest' day and expose the unethical, unlawful, corrupt traffic law enforcing system. I would likely have to follow up one act of honesty with another, until a whole string of honest acts and true words would reduce me to travel the roads at 80 km/h. I wouldn’t have to look out for patrol cars; I would be cast as a sociopath, an odd-man-out, a spotless citizen in a world of criminalized, amoral, hypocritical reprobates.
Dilemma #12: As an investigative journalist, I believe a good case could be made by a clever lawyer that a police officer handing a Traffic Code violation 'ticket' to an operator of a motor vehicle is actually violating the law himself! The offence would be misrepresentation. While dressed as a law enforcement officer, he is acting as a revenue agent of the court.
As for the 'ticket' itself, it is a financial instrument in our statutory courts. A clever lawyer could potentially prove that the moment an officer signs a 'ticket', he opens an account in the driver's name at the court of that particular jurisdiction. A driver could technically go to the clerk of that court and, without counter-signing his ticket, could demand the stated sum as 'his' money from 'his' account. Since there is usually a bond attached to such an account, that, too, would belong to the happy driver!
Where did I get this idea? A lifetime spent on
the road dodging police cruisers and sharing endless cups of coffee with
other 'criminal' drivers afforded me plenty of time to develop a devious
Daniel Kolos is a freelance writer and radio broadcaster with a passion
for travel - preferably in a car - and a love for ancient Egypt.
He writes with tongue-in-cheek, which helps him explore sensitive moral
and political issues.
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