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Appendix A. How to avoid paying another traffic tax

1. Top 10 DO's and DON'Ts of stealth driving

DO stay alert. Look as far ahead as you can, and check your mirrors. This is not only a good way to spot speed traps early, it is also a good practice in safe driving.

DON'T exceed the speed limit by too much, when you are the only car on the road. Especially at night when traffic is light, and cops are hard to spot. If you are caught speeding, there is no one else you can blame on.

DO find a speeding companion. When you are travelling on a highway, there will be some jerk who just loves to show that he is the fastest on the road. It is a good opportunity to use him as a scapegoat. Follow him at a safe distance, if a hidden speed trap is ahead, he will be busted first. However, watching your tails will become your responsibility.

DON'T stand out from the crowd. If you drive significantly faster than prevailing traffic and keep weaving from left to right, you are asking for a ticket.

DO look out when you approach an overpass. Look for a cop on the overpass with laser/radar. Then look for cop cars hidden behind the pillars or on the onramp. Motorcycle cops love to hide under an overpass. Ask yourself, if I were a cop, where will I hide?

DON'T assume that cop cars are marked and have light bars on the roof. In Ontario, many cop cars don't have lights on the roof, they are on the front grille. Some of them are unmarked, they are in plain colours.

DO pay special attention to the cars that come up on you from behind at night. Slow down, identify the suspect. Memorize the headlight patterns of the common cop cars in your area.

DON'T ignore cars that are parked on the shoulder. Reportedly heavily used in Quebec, Canada, there will be a cop running a radar gun on the shoulder of the road, then signal another cop ahead to pull over violators. Don't assume it is just an unfortunate motorist whose car suffered a break down. It might have a cop inside holding a radar gun.

DO watch out for sudden changes in speed limits, when you are travelling out-of-state/province. Slam on the brakes if you need to. When the area is not familiar to you, you don't know where the speed traps are. If you are caught speeding out-of-state/province, it is very hard to fight it unless you visit that place on a regular basis. Remember, cops love to pull over motorists with out-of-state/province plates, as they know you are very unlikely to contest it.

DON'T get a "cop magnet" car next time you buy a car. Mustangs, Camaros and Corvettes are a few examples. Colour is also important. A "ticket-me-yellow" BMW M3 or an "arrest-me-red" Honda Prelude is surely going to attract a lot of tickets. Basically, don't get any car that gets attention and is associated with a "go fast" image will be good enough. A dull 4-door sedan is even better.

2. Learn to recognize police vehicles

When you are out driving on a highway, you must practice the 10 rules above, and learn to recognize your threat early. A police vehicle is always a threat. You could be caught by hidden radar sooner or later, but there is no reason to be paced by a police car without you knowing until it is too late. Check your mirrors often. From my own experience as well as from reader's reports, here is a list of cop cars spotted in Ontario, in the order of occurrence:
  1. Ford Crown Victoria - deployed by most law enforcement agencies, including the OPP, the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police, and most other regional police forces. Ford has stopped selling the Crown Vic to civilians in Canada, so the next time you see one, most likely it is driven by a police officer.
  2. Chevrolet Lumina - this vehicle has become a popular choice recently, with most of them being unmarked.
  3. Chevrolet Impala (current model, FWD) - another recent popular choice. Mostly OPP vehicles without light bars on the roof.
  4. Chevrolet Caprice - GM is not producing the Caprice anymore, so the number will start to decline. The RCMP and OPP are the major users.
  5. Chevrolet Camaro Z28 - yes, there are Camaros used by police, but reportedly there are no more than probably 8 of them, and they are stationed near the Metropolitan Toronto area to do high speed chases on the 401, the Gardiner and Don Valley Expressways. These are hot spots for the illegal mid-night street race events, especially on the Don Valley Expressway because of the nice curves, so the police responded with Camaro Z28 chase vehicles. These are marked with light bars on the roof. If you have to worry about the Camaros you probably shouldn't be driving on public roads anyway.
  6. Volvo S70 T5 - this maybe a new toy of a rich local police force. A new Volvo T5 sedan starts at what price? CDN$44k? The speeding ticket you couldn't be bothered to fight last time definitely helped contributing them.
  7. Mercedes-Benz ML class SUV - just in case a Volvo isn't expensive enough, I have seen this SUV cop car deployed by the OPP. Last time I checked, a basic ML320 costs CDN$48k, while a "middle-of-the-road" ML430 starts at $60k, and I hope the OPP didn't spend $90k on the AMG modified ML55! Taxpayers' money well spent, NOT!
  8. Chevrolet Suburban full-size SUV - again an OPP vehicle.
As you may already know, cop cars often try to be stealth to various degrees. Some don't have light bars on the roof, and some of them are just plain. The list of common cop cars listed below are purposefully deceptive ("unmarked cop cars"), again in the order of occurrence:
  1. Chevrolet Lumina - again this is becoming a very popular vehicle choice. The unmarked cop cars come in burgundy, blue and dark gray, with a flashing red light mounted between the rearview mirror and the windshield.
  2. Ford Crown Victoria - mostly in plain white.
  3. Chevrolet Impala - comes in white, and a darker shade red. Black steel wheels without hub caps.
  4. Chevrolet Suburban full-size SUV - mostly in white, black or dark blue.
Since an unmarked cop car can be any vehicle, so it pays to identify a few obvious "features" that one is likely to have. Flashing lights mounted on the front grille or similar devices on the dash or behind the rearview mirror is a dead giveaway. Here is a list of suspicious items to look for: If you see a vehicle with some of these "features", slow down, and identify the suspect. With some experience, unmarked cop cars aren't hard to spot. If you know what normally appeals to a typical Chevy Lumina owner, you know something is not right when the one you encounter doesn't have white side wall tires, has heavily tinted windows and has a large antenna mounted on the trunk lid.

The last vehicle type I want to bring your attention to is the motorcycle cop. They are hard to identify as motorcycle cops, but a motorcycle is pretty distinctive among the majority of cars. The telltale sign is a white helmet. Otherwise, the strobe light is often hidden behind the rider. They are not used in winter for obvious reasons.

3. Get a good radar detector

First of all I'll have to say that I have no working experience in using radar detectors, except maybe in computer driving games :-). I think a good radar detector will give you warning when a radar speed trap is ahead, so that you can slow down. However this doesn't work if the cop sets his radar gun on top of a hill, or around a corner. In these cases, when the radar detector goes off wildly, it's also time to pull over. A radar detector is most useful when used on multi-lane, divided, limited access highways. It is less effective in city streets, since there are too much interference in the surroundings. The best place to mount a radar detector is under the sun visor, since that will give it the highest radar sensitivity. You can also just put it on the dash, but the sensitivity will be reduced a bit. It is useless if you stuff it in an empty radio slot. You must give the detector a clear "view" of the road ahead (and behind if your detector has such capabilities) so that it can give you warning in advance. If you choose to mount the detector under the sun visor, then you have to arrange the power cord a bit if you don't want it hanging down. Most people prefer clipping the cord to the headliner and routing it around the pillars then to the power socket. Some people just use battery operated detectors to avoid the power cord altogether, sacrificing some range and sensitivity.

The province of Ontario bans the use of "radar warning devices"*, namely, radar detectors. Some provinces in Canada, and most states in the U.S., allow the use of radar detectors. A good radar detector is always a good investment. If it can save you from just a few tickets for the life of the unit, it is well worth the money.

Is it worth to get a radar detector in Ontario? First you should know what are the penalties if you are caught having/using one. The fine can range from $100 to $1,000, and the unit is confiscated. Both the sale and usage of such devices are prohibited. You may possess one, provided that it is sealed in a package, such as in an envelope or a box.

When you operate radar detectors in Ontario illegally, you might as well hard-wire it to the car. If you plan to remove the radar detector and hide it under the seat when you are pulled over, the officer will likely see your movement and search your car. When the officer has signaled his intention of pulling you over, he is watching your every movement. A dropping of both shoulders is a dead giveaway that you are hiding something under the seat, and he doesn't know what you are trying to hide, a detector or a weapon. For his own safety he will search your car. Why hard-wire the detector, you say? By hard-wiring it, the officer has to cut through the wiring (the power cord) to confiscate the unit. Upon reconnecting the unit (by manually splicing the wires together) in the patrol car to test the unit, you are creating a good legal position for yourself. Now the detector's wiring has been tempered with, therefore reasonable doubt exists about the operation of the "detector" in question. This strategy has been proven in a previous case law**. An improved solution is to cut the wires yourself when you are pulled over. The idea behind cutting wires is to render the detector useless to the cop, so that he can't easily test the unit with his radar gun. Without reasonable suspicion he cannot confiscate the detector. Wires are cheap to replace. Similar ideas can be used with blowing of fuses, but that requires some knowledge about electronics and clever design. (Another reason NOT to use battery operated detectors!) You heard it here at FYST first.

The Ontario Provincial Police has been known to use radar detector-detectors (VG2). These are devices designed to sniff out the signals leaked out from radar detectors, and give the police warning that a radar detector is in use in close proximity. The cop will cruise along in a marked/unmarked patrol car, and have the radar detector-detector turned on. When cars with radar detectors pass by, it will give the strongest signal when it is closest to the patrol car. Then the cop will flip on the siren and you-know-what. You see, police forces are wasted in such a way. Instead of catching the real trouble makers, like the tailgaters and left lane rolling road blocks, the cops are out to catch radar detector users who are otherwise safe drivers. It all boils down to money. If left lane hogging were that easy to convict and fines are as stiff, I bet we will see more tickets given to those left lane hogs.

There are some devices which can sniff out signals emitted from police radar detector-detectors (a radar detector-detector-detector?). However I think these are a waste of money unless this capability is built-in to your radar detectors. Most good radar detectors are "stealth", meaning that they are radar detector-detector-proof. However they don't give warnings when radar detector-detectors are present. Always invest in a good radar detector, especially if you need to operate it illegally.

*A recent amendment to the Highway Traffic Act has changed "radar warning devices" to "speed measuring warning devices" to accommodate the banning of radar/laser detectors. (Now I wonder if speedometers are outlawed!)

**R. v. Henuset, (1983), [1983] 4 W.W.R. 267 (Man. Co. Ct.).

4. Protection from laser

With the ever increasing deployment of the latest and greatest "speed enforcement" technology in the name of laser, it pays to have some kind of protection against it. Although based on a completely different principle from radar, they have remarkably similar operating characteristics, namely by reflecting microwave (radar) or infra-red light (laser) off the target and returning to the origin (the radar/laser gun) for speed calculation.

Many current model radar detectors offer laser warning as well, but due to the much narrower beam angle of laser, it is often difficult for the detector to pick up. Detector mounting location is also critical, since for maximum radar sensitivity the detector has to be mounted high up near the rear view mirror, whereas for laser it has to be as low as practicality would allow. Officers are trained to aim their laser guns at the front license plate, so placing the detector up near the top of the windshield will be of minimal use for protection against laser. Due to this conflicting requirements of detector mounting location (unless you have two detectors - one for laser and one for radar), you must be forced to pick one and have supplementary protection for the other.

There are more things you can do to your car (the target) to reduce its reflectivity for laser. There is not much you can do about radar reflectivity, just look at how much money the U.S. Air Force has spent on developing the F-117A Stealth fighter, and you will have a rough idea how much technology and expense is involved to reduce radar reflectivity. But the light reflectivity you can definitely do something about without costing an arm and a leg.

The most reflective part of your car, at least when looking at the front, is the license plate. As mentioned above, police officers are trained to aim the laser gun at the plate to get a reading. This is because the license plate is painted with a nice coat of retroreflective paint, as opposed to a mirror like surface, reflects a good percentage of the light back to its source, rather than at an arrival/departure angle. All the road signs and markings have this kind of retroreflective characteristic, to allow you to see them at night. By treating the most reflective part of your car, you can reduce the laser gun's range significantly, where you will buy valuable time to spot the threat early and slow down.

You can determine the most reflective parts of your car by taking flash photographs of it at night. The brightest parts will be very visible in the photos, and the license plate just seems to glow in the dark (it's the flash). If you have the right camera, you can even use infra-red film to have a more accurate picture, since laser used by the police is infra-red, and the most reflective parts in visible light may not be the most reflective with regards to infra-red. Full manual cameras are best for this purpose, since it allows you to control many parameters of the exposure to get the best results you want. If in doubt, always bracket your exposure. To my knowledge, certain cameras which use infra-red light to count the film number will not work with infra-red film. A manual camera with a mechanical film winder is the perfect tool.

To reduce the reflectivity of the license plate, forget about getting a fancy plate cover which claims to absorb/diffuse laser. The cheap ones made from smoked plastic won't do a thing, you can confirm that by doing your flash photo test. The ones which claim to be the same as a polarizer will probably either be very expensive, only work in a certain angle, or both. If you know how much it costs you to buy a small piece of glass polarizer for your camera lens, you can have a rough idea how much money it'd cost to have an entire plate cover made of quality optics. Theoretically a polarizer should eliminate reflection, but only at a certain angle and the most effective from non-metallic surfaces. A license plate is far from a non-metallic object. Again, the flash photo test should be your final judge.

In my opinion the best plate cover is a colour copy of your plate, on paper. protect it using a plain, innocent-looking clear plastic cover. Use a colour photocopier to make a copy (or make as many as you wish) or simply scan it using a scanner, and print using your $50 colour inkjet printer. Presto! No more retroreflective paint. Use matte paper instead of glossy. When you have the paper plate on, and cover it using a plain plastic cover, most people cannot tell by the naked eye, as long as the paper copy is of a reasonable quality. This is a much better solution than having no front plate at all (which will net you a ticket if you have Ontario plates), or messing with glossy paint or spray-on stuff. If you don't believe me, try covering up your license plate with a white piece of paper and do the flash photo test. You'd be amazed how your license plate doesn't "glow" in the dark anymore. You heard it here at FYST first.

5. What do you do if a cop is behind your tail?

If you pass a speed trap, and from a distance away you can see that a cop car is trying to pull out, but you are not sure if he is catching you, you can try to evade. Note the difference between "evade" and "run". Evasion involves hide-and-seek. It works ONLY if the cop has not obtained positive identification of your vehicle, and has not had you "locked on". You can pull off at the next exit, or maintain legal speed and hide yourself in other traffic. Unless the cop car has indicated its clear intention of pulling you over, stopping for the police voluntarily is automatic admission of guilt, which the cop will have no problem writing you a ticket. Especially with the ever increasing use of unmarked cop cars and well hidden speed traps, you can argue that how can you know if the car trying to pull out is a cop car? For your safety, it is even a good idea to not stop for any vehicle that is not clearly a police car.

The stunts you see in the TV show "COPS" with a full squad of police cars flashing and chasing complete with an aerial view from police helicopter are called "chase-and-run", which is evasion taken too far.

So you can see the red and white flashing lights in your rear view mirror, and the cop car is just a few feet from your bumper. He has nailed you. The best to do is to slow down, and pull over to the right as soon as possible. Make your intention very clear, that you are not trying to run away. If you are in urban area, cops are usually happy if you pull into some side streets first to avoid the heavy traffic. The key is to make sure the cop knows that you are not trying to escape. If you are driving a super sports car, don't even think of running away. Cop cars are mostly modified, and they have radio. Even if you can outrun one cop, chances are a bunch of cops will be waiting for you down in the next block.

What do you do if you are pulled over? Should you explain to the cop that you are on some kind of emergency that you have to rush? Or should you beg the cop for mercy? There are a few guidelines you can follow:

I can't say it enough times that you must not admit the offence to the cop. If you do this you are incriminating yourself. You have every right to remain silent, and anything you say will be used against you in court. Gees, does that sound familiar? Incriminating yourself means admitting to the cop that you were speeding, or you were travelling at some speed over the posted limit. You should be very careful, since a lot of cops love to ask you questions like "Did you know what speed you were travelling?" or "Did you know you were speeding?" In every case you should answer "Officer, I wasn't sure what speed I was travelling." If you answer something like "I was doing 120km/h passing that truck" then the cop will laugh all the way to the bank. Don't let him. If he was sure what speed you were going, then he didn't have to ask. If he wasn't sure, he wouldn't have pulled you over.

You should also be aware that some cops love to inflate the speed he's going to cite you, and then getting you to admit to a lower but still illegal speed. Example: "Did you know that you were doing 140km/h back there, and I had to really speed up to catch you?" If you say "Officer, I was going probably no faster than 120km/h." then the cop has just nailed you. Since he's going to write you for 20km/h over anyway you might even thank him for giving you a break. Don't fall into that trap. Just answer "Officer, I believe you were mistaken and I am sure I wasn't going that fast" is good enough.

Fighting a speeding ticket starts with when you are pulled over, not when you are at trial.

If you are thinking arguing with the cop to convince him to not write you a ticket, you probably have started off with the wrong foot. What I mean by that is just the opposite. You should try your very best to make him forget you. If you make a big mess, swearing all over the place or keep begging him for mercy, he is likely to remember everything when you go to trial. This is obviously disadvantageous to you. If you want to argue, the roadside is not the place to conduct a hearing. In fact, you should keep your words to an absolute minimum. Unless absolutely necessary, anything more than "Okay", "Yes" or "No" is probably too much. Take the following for an example of an ideal exchange between you and the cop after you're pulled over:

Cop: "I got you back there at 130km/h on radar in a 100km/h zone."
You: "Okay."
Cop: "Is there a reason for the rush, sir?" (he may not ask you this, but anyway...)
You: "No."
Cop: "May I have your driver's license, please?"
You: "Yes."
[He goes back to his cruiser and runs a check on you on his computer. Hopefully you come out clean. And after writing the ticket, he gets back to you]
Cop: "You are charged speeding 130km/h in a 100km/h zone, in violation to the Highway Traffic Act section 128, set fine is x dollars with y % victim surcharge and court costs included. You have 15 days to respond."
You: "Okay."
Cop: "Now drive safely out there."
You: "Okay."

This is it! No drama, nothing exceptional, just a quick business-like exchange. The quicker and smoother you make this encounter, the less likely you will see him again at trial. This is how you start fighting your speeding ticket BEFORE you even receive it!

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