Ticket trouble: Are cops targeting out-of-town drivers?


Nothing can ruin your vacation faster than a speeding ticket, particularly if you were going just a few miles an hour over the limit. It’s almost as if the cop was waiting for you behind a tree and pulled you over because your car had out-of-state plates.

Targeting tourists is nothing new. Police know you won’t be around to fight the citation, and will probably just pay the fine. So what’s new? It may be happening more often in certain parts of the country.

Betty Facey returned her rental car to the airport in Romulus, Mich., last week, when …

I was getting ready to exit and was going about 60 in the right lane — 70 speed limit — and noticed an unmarked police car with its flashers on the shoulder. He didn’t have anyone pulled over, so I just assumed he had not gotten back on the road. I did have the sense that other cars were moving from the right lane into the center lane, but didn’t give it much thought. The next thing I know, the cop pulled me over and asks for my license.

I gave it to him with the most dumbfounded look on my face. He then looks at my California license and asks if I am driving a rental car. Given that the car had Indiana plates this wasn’t too difficult to figure out – I said “yes.”

He informs me that I failed to yield for an emergency vehicle (him) in that since the center lane was clear – the law in Michigan is that I must move to the center lane. It was very evident to him that I had no idea about this law. He asked if I had a clean record – I said yes. I figured he would check it out and give me a warning.

Wrong. The officer handed her a $150 ticket, and when she asked him why, he muttered something about being “on detail.” Facey says she feels as if she was unfairly singled out because she was not from Michigan.

I also think he was using this “failure to yield” as an excuse to look for other things — i.e. seatbelt — but when there was nothing else, he ticketed me for this Mickey-Mouse item. He then had the gall to tell me I should drive more safely.

Facey is determined to fight the ticket. She contacted an attorney in Michigan, who confirmed that the state was paying “massive amounts” of overtime in March to increase ticket revenue.

Interestingly, there’s a rumor that Michigan is targeting motorists with unmarked vehicles in an initiative called Operation Yellow Jacket.

The state insists it’s nonsense.

The Michigan State Police (MSP) wants citizens to know that a widely distributed e-mail message about a “31-day speeding ticket frenzy” in Michigan titled “Operation Yellow Jacket” is completely false. There is no such effort underway at this time, or any time in the future, to generate revenue through the issuance of traffic citations. Citizens should regard the “Operation Yellow Jacket” warning as nothing more than an urban legend.

As a reminder, MSP traffic enforcement initiatives always involve a uniformed officer in a marked patrol vehicle.

Was Facey just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was her citation part of a broader initiative that the state denies? Maybe she’ll find out when she does what police had hoped she wouldn’t do, and fights the ticket in court.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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