No one likes getting a ticket. But there are times when the injustice involved should be an issue for everyone. Such is the case for a traffic ticket my daughter was given on Nov. 11 of this year. At issue is Section 46.2-921.1 which requires drivers passing a stopped emergency vehicle displaying flashing lights to give way by changing lanes when possible. This is a reasonable regulation, one of the major dangers traffic policemen face is being struck by a car while tending to their duties. But, like many laws, its purpose can be perverted by a lazy or corrupt officer. Such is the case in VA Beach. Officer S. M. Stein of the Virginia Beach Police is making a regular practice of obstructing traffic in order to cause careful drivers to violate this law to avoid a hazard. My daughter’s incident was as follows:
On Nov. 11, she was driving East on Northhampton BV, slowing to exit on Independence BV South. Immediately in front of the exit ramp, Officer Stein was parked on the shoulder with his rooftop lights flashing. There was no other car stopped.
Being aware of the law’s requirements, but also aware that changing lanes would have required her to exit from the middle lane, with the risk that, as she was slowing for the exit, other cars behind her might pull alongside her on the right and a collision could result, she continued to slow and pulled as far over as possible without changing lanes, leaving ample clearance so that if the officer opened his door and exited, she would still pass him safely.
The law states:
- (i) on a highway having at least four lanes, at least two of which are intended for traffic proceeding as the approaching vehicle, proceed with caution and, if reasonable, with due regard for safety and traffic conditions, yield the right-of-way by making a lane change into a lane not adjacent to that occupied by the stationary emergency vehicle or (ii) if changing lanes would be unreasonable or unsafe, proceed with due caution and maintain a safe speed for highway conditions.
So, she believed she was complying with the law. None-the-less, Officer Stein pulled her over and rudely issued her a ticket.
The ticket was not prepayable and she had to go to court. On Dec. 8th, she appeared in Traffic Court A before retired Judge Thomas Ammonds, who was filling in for Judge Patricia Hutchens and, when her time came, explained the circumstances and her belief that she had complied with the law. The judge told her she should have changed lanes and bypassed her exit. She was fined a total of $286.
Taken as a single instance, this could be seen as a difference of opinion on what constituted ‘due regard for safety and traffic conditions’ with the judge’s opinion prevailing. However, on that court date, there were no less than ten other citations decided for the same offense, all with Officer Stein, and in every case, Officer Stein had positioned his unit immediately in front of an exit or intersection, forcing drivers to either make a dangerous turn from an improper lane or drive miles off their route if they changed lanes. An individual blocking an intersection in this manner would certainly be ticketed for obstructing traffic.
Further, Officer Stein remarked to the judge that ‘he wrote a lot of these tickets,’ confirming that this is, for him, a regular practice.
In none of these cases did Officer Stein have another car pulled over. He was simply positioning his vehicle strategically to cause drivers to violate his interpretation of this law in order to generate tickets, clearly as a revenue measure, and not in the course of furthering public safety. To the contrary, he was deliberately creating a dangerous circumstance to induce drivers to incur an infraction.This is not proper police procedure, nor does it conform with the public safety purpose of the law.
Apparently, Virginia Beach trains its patrolmen at the Boss Hogg School of Law Enforcement, as this is a perfect caricature of the corrupt Southern hillbilly sheriff method of generating fines for revenue.
Officer Stein and his Third Precinct supervisors who permit this malfeasance to go on are a disgrace to their uniforms.
Such abuse of the powers of government should not be tolerated in a free society.