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The Things You’re Doing That Will Get You a Speeding Ticket (Besides Speeding)

Here's a puzzler: Everyone's going the same speed, yet you're the one that got pulled over. Here's what you're doing wrong, and how to avoid trouble the next time you're on the road.

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The official reasons for getting pulled over

There are a handful of things that a cop can pull you over for—which is when you better know the best way to talk yourself out of a ticket. You’ve likely committed a moving violation, which means you could end up with points on your license, an increase in your rates, or depending on your recent behavior, a license suspension, warns insurance advisor, Bradley Hamburger.

According to Edmunds.com, which conducted a poll of three separate police agencies, the number one most common of moving violations is speeding. In fact, a whopping 34 million speeding tickets are handed out each year in this country. After speeding, here are the other most common:

  • tailgating
  • running a stop sign or red light
  • failing to yield (when another car has the right of way)
  • failing to signal (turns or lane changes)
  • failing to drive within a single lane
  • driving on the shoulder
  • failing to stop for a pedestrian on a crosswalk
  • failing to stop for a school bus when its stop lights/signs are displayed.
  • failing to secure a load
  • making illegal use of a carpool lane
  • failing to wear a seat belt
  • using illegal window tints
  • driving without a license or outside the conditions of one’s license
  • driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • unsafe driving (which in some states includes using a cell phone and other forms of distracted driving)
  • street racing
  • vehicular homicide
  • fleeing the scene of an accident

Find out what could happen if you don’t pay a parking ticket.

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The unofficial—but still valid—reason you got pulled over

Although the number one reason police officers cite for issuing tickets is moving violations, according to Hamburger, it’s common practice for police officers to use traffic stops as a way of investigating whether another, more serious violation may be occurring.

For example, a car that is weaving across lanes may also be a car driven by a distracted driver or a drunk driver, Hamburger explains. A car that is speeding may be fleeing an accident that a police officer has already been notified by radio. Here are the things that really catch a traffic cop’s eye. Here are 15 safe driving tips everyone should know to avoid an accident.

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You’re driving a beater

Driving a few miles an hour over the speed limit isn’t usually going to get you pulled over, says Harold Hilliard, retired Plano, Texas police officer, unless you’re driving a beater. Why? Hillard says beaters are more likely to have broken or burned out taillights or headlights, broken windshields, or expired license plate tags. Some of these aren’t always visible at first sight, but a cop will be able to spot the violations in a traffic stop.

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You drive an awesome car

“If you’re driving a Bugatti even slightly over the speed limit, you might get pulled over,” says Hamburger, “just because in addition to getting to write out a speeding ticket, the police officer now has the opportunity to check out your awesome car.” If your slick ride stands out in a sea of ordinary cars that are speeding down the highway, you can attract a police officer’s attention in both positive and negative ways.

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Or you’re driving one of these otherwise unremarkable cars

Yep, there are makes and models that attract more attention and seem to get singled out for a traffic stop. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety these vehicles are the most likely to get pulled over (although no police officer we spoke to could explain exactly why):

  • Hummer
  • Scion tC
  • Scion xB
  • Mercedes CLK63 AMG
  • Toyota Solara
  • Mercedes CLS AMG
  • Scion Xa
  • Subaru Outback
  • Toyota Matrix
  • Audi A4
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If you stand out

Drive vintage a vintage retro car? You could be a cop magnet for another reason: Scientific studies like this one suggest the human eye is drawn to contrast. If seven cars are driving over the speed limit on a stretch of highway, the one most likely to be picked out by a traffic cop is the one that looks different. It could be an unusual color—although it doesn’t have to be red, according to retired Police Captain Michael Palardy of Millburn, NJ, contrary to popular belief. It could be a particularly noteworthy vanity plate (“1 EM DRNK” perhaps?) or it could be a Grateful Dead bumper sticker. Don’t miss these other 10 secrets cops won’t tell you about avoiding speeding tickets.

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Bad timing

Our experts agree: Don’t violate traffic rules during rush hour. More cars on the road mean more police officers issuing tickets. Cops know when they’re most likely to catch bad behavior, and the commute hours—along with holiday weekends—can encourage people to bend and break laws. Check out these other 45 things police officers wish you knew.

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DWR—driving while rude

Tailgating. Failing to yield. Buzzing through a crosswalk with people waiting to cross. Speeding down a residential street. These things are against the law and they reveal that the driver is a bona fide jerk. Cops love pulling over jerks—and then there’s the fact that poor driving etiquette is tied to other potential driving violations, including:

  • driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • unsafe driving, including distracted driving and road rage
  • not wearing a seatbelt

DWR entices a traffic cop with the possibility of writing a two-for-one ticket: Don’t do it. Make sure you always follow these 11 driving etiquette rules you’ve probably forgotten.

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DWY—driving while young

It’s sad but true, kids: New drivers are cop catnip, according to Hamburger. “Being new to the road and lacking in experience, young drivers will provide cops with the opportunity for a teaching moment, and cops will be happy to point out to the youngsters that they’ll be held responsible for their driving choices.”

In other words, young drivers, you’re being watched!

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Eyes on the road, buddy

The most obvious “tell” that you’re driving while texting is looking down. Especially if you’re breaking any other traffic laws while driving with your head down, you’re begging to be stopped—whether for distracted/unsafe driving or for the other traffic violations you may be committing (such as stopping too long at stop signs and red lights, and weaving in and out of your lane, according to Hamburger). This is the real reason why your police officers touch your car’s tail light during traffic stops.

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How to get out of a ticket

Just because you got pulled over doesn’t mean that you’re going to wind up with a ticket, says Hamburger. “As soon as you realize you’ve caught a traffic cop’s attention, you’re going to want to slow down, stay calm, and think polite thoughts because there’s a right way to talk to a policeman, and a wrong way. The right way is to be unfailingly polite. The wrong way is any other way.”

A few rules of thumb:

  • Don’t get out of your car. No matter how long it takes the officer to make his way to your car, just stay put—because whatever you might be feeling when you’re stopped by a cop, you should assume the cop is concerned for his own safety. Being a law enforcement officer is a dangerous job. “Even with a weapon, every traffic stop a police officer makes could be the last,” Hamburger explains.
  • Follow instructions to the letter. This shows you’re making an effort cooperate, and it goes a long way to alleviating the police officer’s own worries concerning the stop.
  • Don’t confess. Anything you say can be used against you in traffic court. Instead, as politely as possible, talk about how safe of a driver you generally are and how you understand that driving safely is of critical importance. “You have 30 seconds to convey that you’re a safe-driving, law-abiding citizen,” so use it wisely, Hamburger emphasizes. If whatever you did had a safety reason attached to it, let the officer know.
  • Ask politely to be released with just a warning. It can’t hurt as long as you don’t flirt or otherwise act smarmy. The key phrase here is “ask politely.”

Try these other magic phrases that will get you out of a speeding ticket.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.