Over the last week or so, I’ve clocked over 1600 kms behind the wheel. With all that driving, I’ve had a lot of time to think about driving, hence my earlier post and the one I’m writing now. I may have led you to believe that I’m a crazy speeder with these rantings. But I’m not. I like to think I’m a safe speeder. Seriously. I’ve got a family who depends on me, and is often in the car with me.

First of all, most people would agree that the speed limits in Ontario are all about 20% too low. The exception might be on some rural roads, where I’ve actually had to push a vehicle to its handling limits to reach the speed limit, and decided that the limit was in fact on the verge of being unsafe. (It was fun, though.)

The speed limits imposed upon us Ontarians:

  • were set as such when vehicles were heavy, ill-handling monstrosities with big inefficient engines;
  • don’t take into account the improved handling, braking and fuel economy of modern vehicles;
  • have never been reviewed because they’re a cash cow for the provincial government and municipalities, not to mention the insurance companies who love to crank up your rates when you get a ticket;
  • give cops an excuse to pull almost anyone over, because almost everyone exceeds the posted speed limit nowadays.

I could go on, but the points against our silly speed limits have already been well documented by the mainstream car magazines.

The fact is we’re stuck with them. Plus, in Ontario, we’re not allowed to protect ourselves against convictions for exceeding these artificially low speed limits by using devices such as radar or lidar detectors. But don’t despair: there are ways to avoid needless tickets while speeding safely.

First the legalese:
I’m not doing this because I advocate breaking the law. I especially don’t want dumbass drivers to endanger innocent people’s lives while speeding.

I also don’t mean to position the police as bad guys – they’re just doing their jobs as their management has dictated, and they have been known to do some useful things by pulling over erratic drivers and helping people out of a jam. They are our friends most of the time.

If you get busted, don’t make any moronic attempts at flight. The consequences for this are way worse than a silly ticket.

I simply believe that it’s possible to drive safely above the posted speed limits, and it’s unfair that anyone should be penalized for doing so. I consider the “flow of traffic” to be the safest speed. Any great variance from the average speed of cars around you will get you in trouble in the real world.

So, without further ado, here are Pierre’s Pointers for Safe Speeding:

  • Don’t drive like an idiot. That means no tailgating, no weaving, use your turnsignals, be courteous, look where you’re going, don’t drink and drive, etc.
  • Drive according to road conditions. (Note: 4×4 drivers don’t get a pass on this rule; all-wheel-drive cars, trucks and SUVs generally turn and stop the same as their 2wd counterparts, sometimes worse ’cause they’re heavier.)
  • Don’t outspeed your visibility. Figure out how far you can see, and make sure your car can come to a complete stop in that distance.
  • Know your vehicle and its capabilities. Is it vulnerable to crosswinds? How will it steer around an obstacle at speed? How hard can it brake while maintaining control? Factor all of this in when you set your cruising speed.
  • Constantly assess the risks on the stretch of road ahead of you. What are other drivers doing? How safely strapped down is the load on the truck ahead of you? What’s hiding in that driveway? What’s over the next hill?
  • Be vigilant.

I’d like to expand on the last point, in particular. If you are vigilant, and alert, not only will you stay safe by being able to react to unforeseen events on the road, you’ll also be able to regularly exceed the speed limit with relative impunity.

The reason for the latter is that speed limit enforcement is pretty easy to spot, at least around here. If you’re looking out for the traps, you should be able to see them. Remember in driver’s ed class when they told you to always keep your eyes moving? The rule applies perfectly here, because as you make your way down the road, potential speed traps can be in a variety of places, and they’re rarely very well hidden. Constantly re-aiming and refocusing your gaze will also help you stay alert and see real safety problems before they become a threat to you.

Let’s talk first about where the cops are, so you know when you should be prepared to reduce your speed.:

  • They’re just over the hill.
  • They’re just around the corner
  • They’re in the median turnaround area, often behind bushes or other growth
  • They’re parked on the shoulder
  • They’re behind the overpass
  • They’re standing by the side of the road with a tripod (they may look like surveyors)
  • They’re in oncoming traffic
  • They’re behind you
  • They’re above you, in an airplane, timing your vehicle against kilometer posts

Basically, they can be a lot of places, but if you’re expecting them, you can usually spot them in time to adjust your speed. The best places to cruise at the safe speed of your choosing are long, straight, flat stretches with wide shoulders, little traffic, and no entrances or hiding spots. Valleys help your visibility too.

In addition to knowing where the cops might be, it’s good to know what they drive. Besides the obvious painted car with lights on the roof, there are several other types of police car used for speed enforcement. In Ontario, they tend to be:

The best way to keep up on what’s likely to pull you over is to read automotive publications; you’ll know when a manufacturer is planning to release a “police package” vehicle. The next big release for cop cars is going to be the Dodge Charger and Magnum police packages.

It’s really important to train yourself to instantly recognize the common police model vehicles at a distance. A great way to do this if you’re traveling with a partner is to play a useful variation of Punch Buggy. Instead of spotting VW Beetles, you get points for spotting Impalas and Crown Vics. After a while of this, you’ll be spotting them miles away, or you’ll be nursing a lot of bruises. (Note – yes, I’ve played with Claire, but since she’s just a beginner, she’s allowed to punch me, whereas I just gently nudge her when I spot them.)

Of course, since the road is replete with civilians driving around with similar looking, non-police versions of these cars, you need to learn the typical characteristics of a police cruiser:

  • Wheels. This is the most obvious giveaway. Police package wheels are usually of black stamped steel, with a small chrome center cap. Sometimes they’ll have plastic wheel covers, but you’re not likely to ever see an aluminum wheel on a cop car. (Steel is cheaper, and more durable.)
  • Lights. Speed enforcement cars have lights so you know when you’re busted and so they don’t get rear-ended when they pull you over. I’m not talking about the obvious light bar on the roof; a lot of highway cruisers don’t have them to improve the aerodynamics for fuel economy, high-speed pursuit, and to make them stealthier. Some lights are almost impossible to spot until turned on (strobes hidden behind the OEM lenses), but you can still look for the visible ones:
    • Rear deck lights (back window)
    • Sun visor flashers
    • Dashboard beacon/flashers
    • Front bumper flashers
    • Flashers behind the grille
    • Flashers in the rear side windows
    • Moveable spotlights on either side of the windshield (often black or chrome)
    • Some cruisers have lights on the rear-view mirrors, but I haven’t seen any so equipped around here yet
  • Push bars. These are used, among other things, to ram your car when you’re not pulling over like you’re supposed to.
  • Prisoner cages. These clear plastic shields with steel frames will keep you in the back seat after you’ve been rammed and apprehended. But they’re nice and easy to spot.
  • Tinted windows. Most civilian Impala/Crown Vic drivers don’t tint their windows. Window tinting is a great way to hide lights, cages, etc.
  • Antennas. (Antennae?) These used to be fairly large and easy to spot, but have shrunken to about 7 inches long since the digital radios came out. They’re usually placed on the trunk lid. Also look for squat boxlike GPS antennas, as some police departments use telematics to keep track of their cars’ locations.
  • Markings. Don’t expect these to be obvious, or even present. A lot of speeders get caught by officers driving unmarked cars, or cars with very subtle markings that only reflect light at certain angles.
  • Dealer labels. Most squad cars are bought as part of big fleet purchases, so you’re not likely to see a dealership sticker or license plate frame on them.
  • Chrome. There isn’t much of this on cop cars – the police package is usually built on the cheaper vehicle trim levels, so they’re usually fairly plain-looking.
  • Age. Because of the severe duty cycle of police cars, they’re turned over frequently, which means they tend to be no more than 2-3 years old.
  • Headlights. One police package I saw has a daytime running light defeat switch. So if you see a late-model potential police car during the daytime with no headlights on, it may be bogie.
  • Radar and other gear. Look for a rack of electronic devices on the dashboard, and the conspicuous cylindrical-shaped radar antenna. Usually it’s on the dash too, but some cars have it in the back driver’s side window.
  • Driver. Cop cars are almost always driven by cops, usually uniformed. (Duh.) But if you need to rely on this visual indicator, you’re pretty close by now and I hope you’ve slowed down a bit.

Once you’re proficient at spotting potential cop cars, you can start applying a fairly effective method to avoiding tickets:

  1. Look for potential cop cars and motorbikes. Approach with caution, then look for the characteristics above to determine if you need to drive the limit for a while. When in doubt, just slow down ’til it goes away.
  2. Look for spots along the road where cruisers may be hiding. (See above.)
  3. Look for civilian cars pulled over for no apparent reason. It may be a “wave-down” trap where the only thing in sight is an officer and his radar/laser gun
  4. Travel behind a more conspicuous speeder. Make sure you leave enough distance so you can see ahead of him and react if need be. This technique also has the desirable effect of shielding you from the radar/laser beam, or of giving you a good argument if you do get pulled over and have to go to court. (“You must have locked in the guy ahead of me.”)
  5. Remember the location of traps you identify. Those positions are likely to be used again.

If you drive safely and try to follow these tips, you’ll probably find yourself slowing down more often than before. But when it is safe to speed up, you’ll be able to proceed in safety – both for your person and your driving record.