Monday, January 23, 2012

Mistaken Identity: The Police and Me

by Julia Buckley
I have nothing but admiration for police officers, and I had a recent encounter with one which encouraged that respect. While driving home from work about two months ago, I waited in a school zone for some kiddies to get through the crosswalk. The driver in front of me waited, too, but she didn't see the police officer strolling from her spot at the school back to her car across the street.

The driver began moving, nearly colliding with the officer, and naturally the officer looked displeased. The driver kept moving, oblivious, because she was TEXTING. All of this I witnessed, including the fact that the police officer tried to get a look at the license plate before the car disappeared.

A few blocks later, I looked in my rearview mirror and saw flashing red and blue lights. It took me a moment to realize that I was being pulled over; this hadn't happened since I was in my twenties and was detained for a non-working brake light.

I pulled to the side and opened my window, curious, trying to figure out what law I had broken (I tend to drive, if anything, too slowly).

The woman who appeared at my window was the officer who had almost been hit. "Hello, Officer," I said.

"Hello. May I see your license and proof of insurance, please?"

I wanted to make sure I followed protocol. "My license is in the back seat. May I reach back there for it?" I asked.

"Sure." She didn't tell me why she'd pulled me over, which had me nervous. I reached into the back and found that, when I had tossed my things into the back seat and slammed the door, I had caught the handle of my purse in it. I tugged away, my face growing red, trying to get that darn driver's license. I thought the officer smiled a little.

When I finally managed to provide it, as well as my insurance card, she looked at them and asked, "And do you have your cell phone with you?"

"No. I don't have a cell phone," I said. This is the truth; I am one of the last of the phone-free people.

She nodded. "Okay, it's not you, then. Someone almost hit me a few blocks back, she had a blue minivan and the first three license numbers were the same as yours."

"I saw her," I said. "I was right behind her."

She returned my things and told me to have a good day, then returned to her car, made a U-turn, and sped away. And I really hope she caught that careless driver.

When my son and his friend were struck by a car two years ago, the woman at the wheel was texting. She had no driver's license with her and no insurance, and, according to some student witnesses, even tried to drive away while the boys still sat dazed in the street (one of the students chased her down--he is now in the military, and America is lucky to have him).

One of my greatest regrets is that I did not attend her traffic court hearing; my younger son was sick with a fever, and I counted on the fact that the family of the other boy would attend and fill me in on the results--except that they didn't go, either, since there was a terrible blizzard that day.

My son and his friend, miraculously, had walked away with only scrapes and bruises, and one lost shoe. I called the courthouse months later and found that the woman had been given a 200-dollar fine, which she did not pay. She still had her license, although they were considering taking that away from her.

It infuriates me when people text and drive, but I am grateful for diligent police officers and watchful young people who try to do the right thing in bad situations.

Picture: Wikipedia


Writer Lady said...

I don't carry a cell phone either for medical reasons. I do have one, turned off in my vehicle. I hope they caught the driver too. I see so many people still texting and driving - the latest one was driving down a freeway at freeway speeds with her eyes on her phone. I wish the things would just turn off automatically when you enter a vehicl(still accepting 911 calls, of course).

Julia Buckley said...

That's a great idea, writer lady! I thought someone told me that some bill was being contemplated which made the phones at the wheel illegal nationwide, for all drivers, including police. But maybe I dreamed that. :)

JJM said...

Julia, as I understand it, Ray LaHood (Secretary of Transportation) has made texting while driving one of his major issues:

If only there was a way to turn off the cell phones of drivers once their vehicle is in motion ... but adjusting that technology so it doesn't also turn off their passengers' cell phones, and all cell phones on public transportation. (I'm much against using a public area as one's own little yakkity yakkity phone booth, but a brief "Okay, I'm two stations away now, can you come pick me up?" is quite legitimate.)

BTW, as I understand it, all federal workers are already prohibited from using cell phones while driving as part of their work, or while using a government-owned vehicle. Progress is being made. :) --Mario R.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I have to ask. The officer was nearly hit, spotted the offender in a car that matched yours with the same first three letters in the license plate, and when she pulled you over, and you told her you didn't own a cell phone, she just took you at your word and said that you therefore couldn't have been the offender and sent you on your way? Really?

Julia Buckley said...

Mario, that's very interesting, although at least in my area I see any number of Federal workers on cell phones.

Julia Buckley said...

Anonymous, I have no reason to lie. That is in fact what happened. Perhaps she saw that I have an honest face, or perhaps it was quite obvious that I hadn't flung a phone into the back seat when she arrived. I didn't have a purse, or anything else, in the front seat where I could have hidden it.

Or perhaps she had partially seen the other driver, and knew at once that it wasn't me, but went through some basic motions to save face.

I don't really know, but I'm not sure why you think I would make up the story?