This column from the archives was first published on July 10, 2013.
I WAS 16 when I got my first speeding ticket. Your first ticket is one of those rites of passage you don’t forget.
In those days driving schools were for sissies, there were no automatic transmissions (just try clutching your way out of a full stop on a steep hill), and no power brakes or steering.
I didn’t have a working speedometer, either. What I had was a green 1951 Hillman beater with a rag for a gas cap and a lead foot on the pedal. There was a straight stretch heading into town and I just couldn’t resist opening up, if there’s such a thing as opening up with a Hillman.
Back then, you went to court for speeding tickets. If you were under age, your parents had to go with you, I assume to ensure the $15 fine was paid promptly.
“You can’t fly by the seat of your pants, son,” the JP told me in answer to my speedometer defence. I had no idea what flying by the seat of your pants meant, but I figured it wasn’t good.
I don’t remember any of the tickets between that one and the one I got a couple of weeks ago. This time I was running a bit behind, not paying enough attention to speed zones, when I saw the cruiser a second too late.
An expletive or two escaped my lips as I passed by, especially when he turned on the flashers and hit the siren for good measure. I thought the latter was overkill but pulled over as promptly as I could.
“I tried to slow down when I saw you,” I explained, resisting the temptation to try the speedometer defence.
“It’s 60 along here,” said the constable. Cops and JPs haven’t changed much over the years – still not a lot of humour.
I wonder if traffic cops take as long as they can strolling back to their car and sitting there just to make you sweat as you imagine them checking you out on their onboard computer for every ticket, unpaid library fine or failure to say good morning to a fellow worker.
“The instructions are on the back,” he said pleasantly as he finally handed me the ticket. “It’s $25 less if you pay it right away.”
The $25-off deal seemed pretty good, so I headed straight up to the courthouse to settle up.
“Can’t say I didn’t deserve it,” I sheepishly said to the nice woman at the Service B.C. wicket when my number came up. “Flying by the seat of my pants.”
“We all try to be good drivers,” she nodded, “but we don’t always succeed.”
Well, I thought to myself, you are right – we should try. Nothing like a ticket to make you a more focused driver. Every road sign, every lane change, every speed limit becomes a part of heightened awareness. But an amazing thing has happened – instead of adding stress, it’s been the opposite. If I allow an extra five or 10 minutes to get to town, my anxiety level drops dramatically. I don’t constantly have my eye on the dashboard clock. I feel a sort-of kinship of the road with other drivers (except for the real idiots), as though we’re sharing space instead of competing for it. It’s liberating.
And I don’t worry about traffic cops.
This going slow-and-easy thing really has its advantages. I may not have learned much that day in court when I was 16, but these many years later I can highly recommend a $113 ticket as a de-stressor. If they could bottle it they’d really be onto something.