Last Friday on my way to work I got my first traffic ticket in over two years. I was heading east on a four lane road with a turn lane in the center. The eastbound right lane was closed for construction, and I was stuck in the left lane along with about sixty other cars, moving about an inch every thirty seconds. Several cars made their way into the left turn lane and took a side street to escape the jam, and eventually I followed suit, only to be motioned to pull over by an angry-looking motorcycle cop.
I pulled over and tried to think of what I had done wrong. Technically, I had crossed into the turn lane a few yards before the break in the dotted yellow line. Normally, crossing the dotted yellow line into a turn lane is not illegal as long as you stop upon entering the lane, then execute your turn when traffic allows. I had passed several cars before turning, as had the van in front of me, which had also been pulled over. Several other cars that had accompanied us (including a few that entered the lane behind me) weren’t pulled over, however. Puzzling.
Finally, the cop approached my window and, without introducing himself or offering an explanation, asked for my license. Before producing it, I asked if he could explain why I had been pulled over. Sure enough, he had pulled me over for “misuse of a special left turn lane”. I decided to push my luck a bit and ask him why he hadn’t pulled over the cars behind me, and he said, “Well, they continued eastbound,” which could only have meant that they had either merged back into traffic or traveled the wrong direction in the oncoming lane. Odd, I thought. I asked him if he thought it was a little strict to ticket drivers on their way to work based on a technicality while they were trying to avoid a traffic jam, and he got upset. I decided to stop pushing my luck.
I produced the necessary documents and he went back to his motorcycle to run through the usual fifteen minute ticket-writing routine. I haven’t got the slightest idea why it always takes at least fifteen minutes to write a ticket. This time it actually took thirty minutes; fifteen minutes for the van in front of me and fifteen minutes for me. When he returned, I very politely asked him if he could point out to me where on the road I had entered the left turn lane and where I could have entered it legally. He seemed a little miffed by the question and said that we couldn’t see it from where we were (which I thought was strange, because this is where he had been when he had supposedly witnessed the whole thing), but pointed in the vague direction of where I had been and tried to answer my question. I thanked him and took the ticket. He then stressed, quite pointedly, that since this was only a traffic violation, I didn’t need to go to court if I and paid the fine by mail.
I made a mental note to plead “not guilty” and go to court, since it sounded like he really didn’t want to have to go. Still, assuming he does show up and I have to present my case to the judge, I don’t have much to go on. I did, technically, break a law, although if I had done the exact same thing just a few yards ahead of where I was, my actions would have been completely legal. I’m more than a little angry, since I’ve spent the last two years making every possible effort not to get speeding tickets, only to end up being ticketed for a minor offense that didn’t even endanger anyone. What’s worse is that, here in lovely Oregon, “misuse of a special left turn lane” is a Class B traffic violation, which is the same class as leaving a baby on your hood and driving in highway traffic. I’m not kidding. The law is right here, section 811.205.
So, what has this taught me? It’s taught me that next time I misuse the special left turn lane, I’m going to do it with a baby on my hood and get my full value out of the ticket.