Lessons learned by a teen in traffic court — FranklyStein

A couple of months ago I got a text from my 17-year-old daughter that said, “I just got pulled over for speeding.”

She was on a busy street not too far from home. She was only going as fast as the other cars around her, she said. Apparently they were all going quite fast, and she was the unlucky one in the bunch. I couldn't be too hard on her, however, because I'm a speeder. I got my first speeding ticket at age 16.

Last week she went to court to “fight” the ticket. She wasn't really going to fight it, just try to get out of the points on her license, and I'm so glad she did. She not only got out of the points (saving us from a large insurance increase), she learned a lot in the process.

Court, even traffic court, is a sobering experience. She was extremely nervous — unsure of how it would go and what to say to the judge. Right away he told the crowded courtroom exactly what to do — approach the bench and plead either guilty or not-guilty. “I'm guessing most of you just want to get out of the points,” he said, and if that was the case, he advised pleading guilty. If you had a decent record (and didn't lie about it) and if you had been polite to the police officer, he said you would leave happy. He was incredibly lenient, even letting off drivers who'd had more than one ticket in the past year.

The first hour included many cases involving cell phone use while driving. Officers had apparently pulled drivers over just for glancing down — suspecting they were looking at their phones. Most were.

The judge didn't take any excuses. When someone said she'd been stopped at a light when texting, he responded, “It's not allowed, mam.” He stressed that people are killed everyday because of cell phone use while driving.

At one point, Maggie leaned over and told me, “I am never going to have my cell phone out in the car ever again — not even for music.” I'm not sure if she was worried about killing someone or worried about getting caught. Either way, it was a win.

Only one woman pled not guilty to a cell phone infraction and got off. She was using her GPS, which is apparently allowed. I was surprised more people didn't try to say they'd been using a GPS.

When it was her turn, Maggie pled guilty. The police officer said she had been polite. The judge asked about her record. When she told him it was clean, he asked a bit sarcastically, “How long have you been driving?”

She paid for the ticket and the court fees herself. According to my neighbor, she might also be paying for a pricy class through the MVA because she still has a provisional license.

Since her day in court, I'm pretty sure Maggie is watching her speed a little more closely. I've been watching mine too. I'm not sure I want to head back to court myself anytime soon.

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FranklyStein is a blog by Chesapeake Family Magazine editor Betsy Stein, who lives in Catonsville with her husband, Chris, and four children, Maggie, 17, Lilly, 16, Adam, 16, and Jonah, 11.