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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  1. I can definitely understand your frustration--especially with the court appearance. I'm a bit surprised you didn't know about the law though, it was all over the news. I even know about it here in Washington state. :-)

    It does suck, but they need to enforce the law to make it stick. In Illinois (where I seem to remember the shoulders alongside highways being really skinny), it is a good law.

    So, you get to be made an example of. Lucky you.

  2. I knew about the law, but did not know that was the name of it. So, if there is a posted sign stating the law, why doesn't it state the complete law...that you can only slow down and pass with care if you are not able to safely switch lanes? In retail, that posted sign would be known as false advertising. I would bring that up to the judge when you make your court date.

  3. Breakin the Law....Breakin the Law...Breakin the Law...Breakin the Law.