Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Scott's Law -- The Results

To all who read my Scott's Law post back on 7/1, thank you. To those just catching up now, this will make more sense to you if you go back to that post and read it first.

On June 29th, as I was headed westbound on I-88, I was pulled over by an Illinois State Trooper at Mile Marker 8, and given a ticket for "Failure to yield to a stationary emergency vehicle". This is a violation of Scott's Law, and is a Class C misdemeanor. This violation includes a mandatory court appearance. The penalties for violation of Scott's Law can include a fine of up to $10,000 and suspension of driving privileges for up to a year. The driving suspensions increase to a minimum of 90 days if you damage another person's property, between 180 days and 1 year if you injure another person, and a 2 year suspension for causing the death of another person.

As you can read in my previous post, as I was driving westbound, I was behind a semi-trailer truck. As the truck moved into the clear left lane, I noticed two State Police cars on the right shoulder up ahead with their lights flashing having pulled over another motorist. I was already driving the 65 mph speed limit, but as I approached the vehicles, I slowed down even more, and moved to the far left side of my lane...I did not, however, move into the left lane as I did not feel it would be necessary to make a lane change to pass the officers safely. The moment I passed the vehicles, the backup officer tore after me light blaring (as I was traveling fairly slowly for the highway, he caught up to me very quickly).

During his first visit to my car, he informed me that I violated the law by failing to move into the clear left lane. I truthfully told him that I was not aware that I had broken the law, but explained that I slowed down and gave them what I felt was ample room. He asked me if I saw the vehicles, and I told him that I did when the truck in front of me began moving to the left lane. He repeated what I said and I said yes. I should have just said yes to the first question and not expanded on it, because he interpreted by what I said that I was following the truck too closely preventing me from making a safe judgement about the lane change. This is not true. In any case, he wrote me a ticket for violation of Scott's Law (the first time I had ever heard that term), and a warning for following too close.

During the stop, he gave me no time for discussion or clarification. Also during the stop, his buddy, having finished with the previous stop, came up behind this officer, and sure enough, within a minute or two another car drove by in the right lane, and off went the backup cop to pull that person over for a Scott's Law violation. I am sure this could, and may have gone on all day.

My mandatory court appearance was scheduled for July 27th at 1:00 pm in the Rock Island County Courthouse...a solid 3-hour drive from my home in Chicago's West Loop. Between June 29th and July 27th, I did a fair share of research on this law using the handy-dandy Internet. The law states that when passing any stationary emergency vehicle with its lights flashing, you must move into the next lane leaving a full lane adjacent to the emergency vehicle(s) free, OR if it is not safe or possible to do so to simply reduce speed and proceed with due caution.

I also found blog entries by at least two other people who had received Scott's Law violations, one of whom hired a lawyer and plead not guilty. The man who plead not guilty appeared to have all the evidence on his side, but he was found guilty by the judge, and had to pay the fine, court fees, and his attorney. He then was informed by the Secretary of State's office that his license was suspended for a month, so he appealed and won that, but cost him more money. He ultimately paid close to $1,000 all told...something that I, being unemployed, could not afford to do.

So, I decided to plead guilty and ask for leniency and court supervision. I arrived at the courthouse on time, and was seated in an old courtroom, apparently void of any kind of air conditioning as there were huge fans all over the building doing nothing but blowing hot air around. My fellow defendants were a motley collection of folks who had done everything from fishing without a license to DUI to being picked up on a warrant for failing to pay previous court fines. One gentleman who spoke very little English plead guilty to driving without a license, and received a sentence similar to mine.

I dressed decently out of respect for the court...khakis, white shirt, brown sport coat. I ditched the sport coat as soon as I entered the courtroom mostly due to the heat, but somewhat due to the fact that mere sleeves and pants would make me the sharpest dressed man in the room. I was one of the last cases called. Once I approached the bench, the judge read my file, and asked for my plea, to which I replied "Guilty, your honor." He reiterated that I was entering a plea of Guilty to a Class C misdemeanor, and repeated the laundry list of bad things that could happen to me by pleading guilty and surrendering my rights to a trial, etc. I acknowledged that, so he asked the court clerk what the recommended penalty would be. They asked me if this was my first ticket for this offense, to which I replied "Yes, your honor."

Here is where it took a slightly annoying turn. He proceeded to ask me if there was anything I wanted to say about what I felt the severity of my sentence should be, something he did for every defendant, and I certainly appreciated. I told him that I was technically guilty of violating a law that, while good in spirit, is very poorly communicated to the public. I told him that despite slowing my vehicle and proceeding with caution, I was unaware that I was also required to move into the adjacent lane. I also mentioned that the road signs that had always read Move Over OR Slow Down, had at some point been changed from the OR to a hyphen, only slightly changing the meaning, but still being rather vague. I asked for a lenient fine with court supervision.

The judge then stated that the law says to slow down OR move into the adjacent lane, so would I like to change my plea. He did so in a way that implied that if I indeed slowed my vehicle and proceeded with caution, that I should plead not guilty, and prepare for trial. This was confusing at first, though in trial it would be mentioned that the lane next to me was open and the judge, of course, was not aware of the ridiculous warning that the officer gave me for following too close. That surely would have been used against me in a trial, painting me as some sort of reckless driver. I told him that I was aware of the risks, but was going to plead guilty and ask for the court's leniency.

The judge was lenient after all, and fined me $95 plus fees, and gave me Court Supervision. He asked if I could pay that today, and as I had $120 cash on me, I replied, "Yes, your honor." So he sent me on my way down the hall to pay my fine. Once I got to the clerks' room where they took payment, I was told what I owed...$267.00!!! What? How did $95 turn into $267? Fortunately, they took debit cards, and I was indeed able to pay the fine.

Please, let me tell you what I paid for in so called "fees" exactly as shown on my receipt:
  • Clerk - $15.00
  • Court - $20.00
  • Automation - $15.00
  • Violent Crime - $12.00
  • Judicial Security - $25.00
  • Document Storage - $15.00
  • Trauma Center - $5.00
  • Youth Diversion - $5.00
  • Lump Sum Surcharge - $30.00
  • Clerk Op Deduction - $0.25
  • Drug Court - $4.75
  • Clerk Op Add-Ons - $4.50
  • Prisoner Review Board - $0.50
  • Police Vehicle Fund - $20.00
Obviously, a miscreant such as I, out rampaging the highways of Illinois intent on endangering the lives of our emergency workers, clearly should be paying for Drug Court, Trauma Center, and Violent Crime...right? I have to say that while I committed this crime, and told the court that I was guilty, I feel very much a victim in this case. While I had the option to fight the ticket in court, the costs would have easily exceeded what I paid, and would certainly not have guaranteed either a sentence of not guilty nor leniency. Being out of work, I could not afford to take that chance, despite the fact that I still believe I should never have been pulled over in the first place.

So, let this serve as a warning to all who read this, and who hopefully encourage their friends and family to read it as well. It would seem to me that in the case of Scott's Law, the State of Illinois has decided to communicate the law by ticketing folks like me, then hoping they will tell everyone they know about their bad experience so others will then know and follow the law as well. So, now I am doing my civil duty by passing it on, please do the same so others do not have to go through the hassle and potentially much worse fate than I did.

As always, comments are welcome and encouraged.

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Folks, it's only one planet...let's take care of it

We live on a beautiful and vibrant planet, full of awe-inspiring and breathtaking vistas and ecosystems. Just step outside your front door and you will likely see something of nature either in its "native" environment (lucky you), or participating in the man-made environment surrounding it. Take a trip to one of our amazing National Parks, or just browse the web for stunning photos and videos of those amazing places that just aren't that easy to get to, and I would bet that you would find yourself wanting to protect those places so that your children and grandchildren could experience the same things you had.

Take this a step further. When you are thirsty, isn't it nice to just go to the faucet and fill a glass with water that is both refreshing to drink, and relatively safe for consumption? Head to the local market, and you can pick up a loaf of bread for a couple of shekels. These are things that, especially in America, we take for granted. Most of the people in the world do not have access to clean drinking water or readily available nutrition...and it is getting worse every day.

I am not a climatologist, nor am I even a scientist, but I know what science is, and generally speaking I am going to side with science if and when the compelling research is presented to me. From all the research that I have been presented with and explored on my own, I have decided to believe that climate change is very real, and that there is little good that will come of it if left unchecked. I have believed this for at least the last 20 years, and others have been shouting about it even longer than that, pleading with us to listen.

Don't make the mistake to take me for someone to over-estimate the impact of man either. One of the reasons that I abandoned denominational religion and church doctrine years ago was due to the fact that I see man as just another carbon-based life form, one which participates in the never ending progression of the Earth through time. I often recall a line delivered by Danny Glover in the 1991 movie "Grand Canyon" as his character, Simon, is describing his experience while visiting the actual Grand Canyon, "Just a split second we have been here, the whole lot of us. That's a piece of time so small to even get a name. Those rocks are laughing at me right now, me and my worries..."

The point is that our planet has been through a multitude of species-ending moments due to no fault of the life-forms that inhabited it. Current science has determined that at various moments in time massive volcanic eruptions and impacts from asteroids have completely changed the environment on Earth...hell, I have even heard evidence that the Moon formed from the remnants of a collision between the Earth and another smaller planet! So, can mankind change the Earth's climate in a matter of 100 years? Damn right we can!

We are not going to destroy the planet due to the effects of our current behaviors, but we are changing it dramatically, and quite possibly just enough to make it a planet on which people can no longer exist, or at least as we do today. In Chicago we have just experienced the wettest and coldest year in recorded weather. Yes, again, that is only about 100 years of history, but if you live in the Chicago area, the weather has impacted your life more or less. Ask anyone along the Mississippi River last summer if the extreme flooding had any impact on their lives and I'd wager you will get a resounding yes in reply.

So, what if science is over-estimating the impact that humans have had on climate change? Does that really matter much? Is it too much to ask that we migrate into smarter transportation, reduced consumption, healthier eating habits, and alternate sources of energy without the threat of doomsday? How can any of those be bad things for any nation? America is a country that lives in excess. I know I do, and I am one of the more "eco-conscious" people that I know.

So, why is it that recently I have heard more than a handful of "regular" people belly-aching about climate change, suggesting it is so much garbage? I would wager a guess that it is because our leaders in Washington are currently debating the merits of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a.k.a. ACES or the Waxman-Markey Bill which on June 26th was passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 219-212...mostly along ideological lines. ACES is an example of an Emissions Trading strategy for reducing "greenhouse gases" including CO2 through the use of greenhouse gas emissions credits (GHG) as economic incentives. You have likely heard this in the mainstream media called cap-and-trade.

Simply put, cap-and-trade is a model first suggested in the late 1960s as a way to use "free market environmentalism" to control pollution. Though there are variants of the basic model, the notion is that an agency (the federal government in this case) sets a cap on the total allowable emissions of pollutants, then creates GHG credits to be sold off via auction to all the "polluting" corporations in the country. Companies with the lowest cost to comply will have surplus credits which can then be sold ("traded") to those companies for whom it will cost less to purchase additional credits, than to remain within their own allotted credits. In theory, once credits are traded, they can then be "retired" thus reducing over time the net volume of pollutants allowed across all polluters.

As I mentioned, this is not a new concept. Variations of the kind of cap-and-trade are already in place across the world, and even across the United States in regional or local formats. There exist many critics of ACES, some quite vocal on both sides of the aisle (though, importantly, 7 fewer critics than supporters in the House). While some critics among the economically conservative fear the potential financial ramifications of such a program, critics on the more liberal side believe that this bill is too soft, still containing loopholes for big polluters. I noticed a ridiculous amendment added to the bill by Democrat Betty Sutton of Ohio which is called "Cash for Clunkers". This amendment would give consumers $3,500 or $4,500 towards the purchase of a new "fuel-efficient" vehicle with the trade-in of a "qualifying" less efficient vehicle. Oops, Betty...what the amendment considers to be a "fuel-efficient" new vehicle is only 22 mpg for a new car, and 18 mpg for SUVs and pickup trucks...simply stupid! My Prius gets between 45-50 mpg and I get where I need to be as safely and quickly as everyone else does.

I have heard critics point to the "failure" of the European Union Emission Trading Scheme which began its Phase I in January 2005 in conjunction with the Kyoto Protocol. Two issues in Phase I of the EU ETS included the oversupply of allowances and the use of grandfathering over auctioning as a distribution method. Grandfathering uses past volume of pollutants to set initial allowances, thus stupidly penalizing those companies who had already begun reducing their emissions prior to the scheme beginning. These issues have been apparently corrected in both the EU ETS Phase II as well as in ACES.

The other nagging issue for which I do not have an answer are India and China, with about 2.5 billion people between them accounting for a little more than 35% of the entire world's population. Many critics on the right of the aisle suggest that until these two rapidly growing polluting nations agree to take steps to curb their pollution, that we shouldn't either, lest we weaken our economies further against theirs. All I can do here is quote everyone's mother and ask if Billy jumps over a cliff, would you? We are always ready to acknowledge ourselves as the world's leader in everything until it means sacrifice, and this is one of those cases where we need to take the lead, then continue to work with these emerging economic powers to ensure we are all fishing from the same boat.

So, I do support ACES as the single best strategy I have heard about to help curb pollution in America and to begin participating in what is and will continue to be a worldwide effort to save our climate. This is not a political debate for me, but one about doing what is right for our world, and finding the most cost effective way to do it. This could mean short term increases in existing energy such as petroleum and coal-based electricity, but hasn't that already been happening for the last 7-8 years? It could mean that Big Oil as well as the airlines and automobile manufacturers will have to find ways to adapt, and possibly layoff and restructure their workforces, but isn't that already happening as well?

Americans are fortunate to live in a nation whose laws allow and encourage everyone to forge their own path and make their own way to success. We need entrepreneurs right now -- lots of them! So, what if Com-Ed starts raising rates in order to help pay for additional GHG credits? Maybe, just maybe the demand for alternate energy will cause people to abandon Com-Ed for some other company offering wind or solar. Better yet, maybe those same customers will change their personal habits in order to lower their bills. Perhaps they will take their AC up a couple of degrees, or even turn it off altogether. Maybe they will ride their bike to the grocery store instead of revving up their Ford Explorer for the 1/2 mile trip? Whether now or later, we are going to have to change the way we do things. People always have, and we always will, so why not you, and why not now?

I implore all of you to resist the urge to make this about political ideology. Read as much as you can about climate change! Watch Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth. He is not selling you anything, he is simply using science to show you some truths and asking you to play your part in helping our country evolve into something bigger, better, and more beautiful; to continue as a beacon after which the rest of the world can model themselves. Do the simple things...always, then take some steps to do a little more.

I am sure I will have more on this in the future, but for now, enjoy the world, and do your part to let others enjoy it too.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Immunizations Debate - TMI?

Hey, please check out my Just Another Dad blog on a controversial topic that many young parents today have to suffer through and deal with. A Jenny McCarthy interview is the spark!

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Scott's Law -- too much in the interpretation?

This has been an eventful week already to say the least. On Monday morning I headed out to a job interview with Sears Holdings for an interesting job, one which I knew I was just a bit under qualified for on paper. It did require a drive out to their Hoffman Estates HQ from my West loop condo (round trip just under 80 miles). Immediately after I returned home, I received a call saying they really liked me, but I was not qualified for that position. Oh well, nose to the grindstone, right?

So, quickly I changed from the snappy suit into my normal shorts and t-shirt to clean the house for yet another showing. I may have mentioned before that we are trying to sell our condo right now, and are getting a lot of nibbles, but no bites. We had to do this with some haste as we were also headed out to Burlington, IA to see Kerry's (my wife) family. Kerry's dad is having some health issues, so she wanted to come home to spend some time with him, and I never mind the opportunity to get onto the outstanding Spirit Hollow golf course in Burlington (see for a review in a couple of days).

Off we went on what before kids was a 3.5 hour drive straight there, and now, with two kids has turned into a 4+ hour slow march full of stops and starts. After taking an hour to get out of "Chicagoland", and stops in Naperville and DeKalb, we were on our way, kids quiet, and making up time. About 5 miles before we got to the junction of I-88 and I-74, just east of the Quad Cities, the "debateable" began.

We were driving in the right lane behind one of the ubiquitous big rigs that frequent this stretch of road...the quickest way to most of Iowa from Chicago. I was driving the speed limit, 65 mph. Note that I drive a Toyota Prius, not one to be suspected of speeding too often. I was at least 75-100 feet behind the truck in front of me. The moment in question was when the truck began to move into the left lane at which point I noticed that stopped on the right shoulder up ahead were two police cars, lights flashing, with a surely unhappy civilian driver ahead of them. This is not an uncommon sight on any stretch of highway, and most definitely not this one. So, the truck changed almost all the way into the left lane, while I chose to slow down to under 60 and move to the left side of the right lane giving what I believe to be plenty of clearance to the officer's vehicles.

Immediately after passing the stopped cars, the "backup" vehicle tears off behind me, gets right up close and lights up the cherries. I was in shock...what in the world could I have done to be pulled over? The state trooper took his time, but finally ambled up to my window and told me his name, and asked if I knew why he was pulling me over. I replied with a sincere "no", so he proceeded to explain. Upon approaching the stopped vehicles, I did not switch lanes into the left lane of the two-lane highway. Was I aware that was a law in Illinois? He then asked me. Again, I replied with a sincere "no". He then asked if I saw the stopped vehicles, which I said I did once the truck ahead of me had moved aside. He confirmed what I had just said, then asked for license and registration and returned to his car.

After what felt like an eternity to us, and what was likely close to ten minutes in reality, he returned to my car, gave me back my license and registration, and proceeded to explain the pages of tickets in front of me. First, he explained that I was in violation of Scott's Law which says that when an emergency vehicle is present, other drivers must move into the adjacent lane leaving a full lane berth between the emergency vehicles and your own. If, it says, that such a maneuver would be unsafe due to traffic in the adjacent lane, you are to slow down and pass the stopped vehicles with care. He determined that it was not unsafe for me to have moved over, therefore I was in violation of the law despite the fact that I slowed my speed to pass with care.

Oh, and then the kicker, one which I am certain they do to backup their ticket. He gave me a warning ticket for following too close to the vehicle ahead of me based on my "admission" that I saw the police after the truck ahead of me moved into the left lane. Of course, there was no discussion of when the truck moved over, or how far away we were from the officers when I did see them. At some point in time, it only takes simple geometry to show that the truck would be blocking my view of the officers, and that once it moved aside, I would safely see the officers. This officer was not interested in geometry discussions, and that was that.

Now, the penalty. $75 for the violation. Fine, I will submit that in theory, it is every driver's responsibility to know the rules of the road before taking the wheel. How are we to stay aware of the changes to the rules, however. From what I can tell, this law went into effect in 2000. Since 2000, I have renewed my license twice...once in person, and most recently online due to my good driving record. At no point do I remember reading about any new laws or rules of the road. Perhaps an e-mail might even have been in order, to all registered drivers in Illinois? Perhaps I am just missing something, and all of you were aware of this law because you diligently check all the rules of the road before you get in your car? So, I owe the state $75, bad...but wait, there's more.

A violation of Scott's Law comes with a MANDATORY court appearance, in this case in late July in Rock Island! C'mon! It is a good thing I don't have a job right now, or I would have to take a vacation day to make the midweek, 1 pm court appearance 2.5 hours from home. Why can't I mail this in? Why can't I go to court near my home? So suddenly, just like that, I am a scofflaw, not to be trusted to pay my fine, and learn in the future? Now, I am a hazard on the road?

All I did was what anyone else would have to do if they deemed a lane change to be unsafe at that moment. I slowed down to pass the officers with care. The ticket was given because the officer deemed that it was safe for me to have made the lane change...which means he was watching, right? So, what did the fellow do that was currently pulled over requiring my lane change? Was he in violation of Scott's Law as well? Guess what, during the ten minutes it took my officer to write my violation, the other finished up his ticket issuance and pulled up behind mine. Lo and Behold, someone drove by in the right lane, and off tore that officer, pulling over that new car not more than 1/2 mile ahead of me for a violation of Scott's Law! They could (did?) do this all day...collecting fines and filling up the courtroom in Rock Island.

Could this have anything to do with the fact that it was just one more day until July, the end of the second quarter? Could this have anything to do with the State needing revenue, something that our interim Governor Quinn hammers home at every opportunity...I'm just asking?

Look, I understand that our State Police put themselves at risk every day in order to protect and serve. I understand that officers have been badly injured and/or killed as a result of inattentive drivers nailing them on the shoulder. I am not one of those drivers, and most definitely was not one of those drivers on this day. The signs posted on the highways read that when emergency vehicles are present you must move over OR slow down to ensure proper care is taken. I did that, yet I no have to pay $75, drive 300 miles round trip to do so, and may now get to pay a higher car insurance premium. Is that deserved? Is that the spirit of this law?

UPDATE 7/3 - We took a picture of one of the two signs we passed between Galesburg and Chicago regarding this law...if you look closely, you might notice that they have covered the word OR with a hyphen now, slightly enough modifying the meaning of the sign.

And what of the motivation of those troopers? Were they serving and protecting? They weren't pulling over all the drivers going well over the posted limit ahead of me -- the same drivers who cause so much death and destruction every day. Nope, they were piggybacking down the road, on the lookout for Scott's Law violators, a method with an assured return on their time. Maybe this wasn't entrapment, but it was pretty darn close.

So, what do you think? Were you aware of Scott's Law? Am I overreacting? Was my punishment just? Penny for your thoughts...

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