Friday, May 07, 2010

On My Honor: Post Citation Violation

Recently I was cited for violating a traffic law. The circumstance was certainly rational but admittedly I was guilty of the citing. Approaching the corner of Wall Price Keller Rd and 377 in Keller, TX, I entered the shoulder 120ft too early and a Keller PD was there to tag me.

View U.S. 377 & Wall Price Keller Rd in a larger map
Well, one could argue that in my honor I wouldn't have been in a traffic citation situation to begin with and here was my rationalization. At the moment of the citation I was en route to my son's track meet which we were told was to be his final meet if he did not qualify for the zone meet. I was already 10 minutes late for the start of the meet and since he runs the 2400M which is at the first of the meet I was concerned with missing his final meet of the season. Also, to add pressure to the evening, his soccer match was to begin in less than 1 hour from that time and we had to rush off to the game for warm ups. Finally, a train was approaching from the North. The traffic approaching the intersection of 377 and Keller Wall Price had backed up and experience has shown that the traffic signal tends to be flaky when trains approach. With the backed up traffic I knew there was no way I was going to make the railroad crossing in time if I waited for traffic to clear and to legally enter the right turn lane. In a selfish moment I entered the shoulder and violated the law. Guilty!

There is more to this story, however. Vehicles that wait for the turn lane to open up are typically threatened by "shoulder drivers" already in the lane. It is more dangerous to wait for traffic to clear than it is to drive on the shoulder, whether legal or not. This intersection is not the only instance along this stretch of highway.

Yesterday I appeared at the municipal court in Keller, TX to "discuss" the aforementioned events but what follows was a surprise and a blessing. I had reviewed the circumstances of the citation hundreds of times, even pondering about it through a sleepless morning. All I could think of when I approached the court was to tell the judge the circumstances of the event and hope for some leniency, especially in terms of the $140 fine, which seems excessive. Upon entering the court and listening to the proceedings before me, I quickly realized that my justification for an offense against the law was not going to hold water and I could feel myself scrambling. I read the scrolling informational on the monitors that defined pleas of "guilty," "not guilty," and "no contest" and learned that my circumstance did not warrant a "not guilty" plea. What to do?

Then clarity distilled upon my mind in a moment of divine inspiration and heart felt contrition. A plan unfolded in my mind and my confidence and hope grew until I was called to approach the bench. The judge asked for my plea and upon hearing a "no contest" response he began to sign some documents. I then asked him, with a sidelong smile, if he would consider something "creative." With a raised eyebrow as if to suggest suspicion, he asked me to clarify my question. I suggested that I desired to creatively dismiss the fine in return for raising community awareness of the dangerous intersections along the roadway for which I was cited. He thoughtfully, and gratefully, paused, considered the motion and then deferred to the prosecutor to whom the rest of the story turns for resolution.

I was called into the lobby to discuss my "creative plan" with the prosecutor who was witty and well accustomed to individuals that know nothing of the law like myself. I must say that she was patient enough and took my suggestion with all humility and for that I'm grateful. She asked what my plan was and I began to unfold the inspiration that was revealed to me just moments before.In return for waiving my fine, I pled to use my resources with the scouting organizations to raise community awareness along 3 intersections that pose shoulder driving dangers. I suggested we hold signs to warn the drivers and reinforce the necessity to follow the law. I suggested we could produce studies of violations along those intersections and turn them into the city. In her sarcastic humor she retorted that I was willing to have the scouts do my dirty work to reduce my penalty: wink wink. I responded that service is at the core of the scouting experience and that I would be out there with my fellow scouts. She said that my involvement in traffic safety was really something to take up with Keller PD, but... she would offer me a waive of the fine and keep the 90 day probationary sentence upon my word as a Boy Scout. And true to my word, I marched immediately over to the Keller PD office.

To take a page from Paul Harvey: "and now for the rest of the story." I met with a sergeant from the Keller PD and related the plan I proposed to the prosecutor. He like the plan but confessed that I didn't need their permission to hold up signs as it was within my legal rights to do so. I asked if there was anything more I could offer to raise awareness of the dangers of shoulder driving. He couldn't think of any since the city was already conducting studies along the same intersections and citations were at a steady rate of 20/day for shoulder driving infringements. I made one last suggestion that signage be placed which stated that illegality of driving on the shoulder to which he responded that he had not thought of that and really like the suggestion. Since TexDOT owns the U.S. 377 roadway, Keller had no rights to post signs but on my behalf the sergeant would contact the state and request the signage be put in place. Upon further discussion of my plan he stated that he was uncomfortable with the scouts being placed in an already dangerous traffic area and requested that I not employ their services but that his plea to TexDOT would be sufficient.

Case closed. Sentence? 90 probation and with a clean driving sheet the offense would be removed. Fine? None. Additional service required? None. What I've learned? Be honest, honorable and propose service, with sincere intent, to make amends for one's mistakes.
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