Ticket trouble: Are cops targeting out-of-town drivers?

Nothing can ruin your vacation faster than a speeding ticket, particularly if you were going just a few miles an hour over the limit. It’s almost as if the cop was waiting for you behind a tree and pulled you over because your car had out-of-state plates.

Targeting tourists is nothing new. Police know you won’t be around to fight the citation, and will probably just pay the fine. So what’s new? It may be happening more often in certain parts of the country.

Betty Facey returned her rental car to the airport in Romulus, Mich., last week, when …

I was getting ready to exit and was going about 60 in the right lane — 70 speed limit — and noticed an unmarked police car with its flashers on the shoulder. He didn’t have anyone pulled over, so I just assumed he had not gotten back on the road. I did have the sense that other cars were moving from the right lane into the center lane, but didn’t give it much thought. The next thing I know, the cop pulled me over and asks for my license.

I gave it to him with the most dumbfounded look on my face. He then looks at my California license and asks if I am driving a rental car. Given that the car had Indiana plates this wasn’t too difficult to figure out – I said “yes.”

He informs me that I failed to yield for an emergency vehicle (him) in that since the center lane was clear – the law in Michigan is that I must move to the center lane. It was very evident to him that I had no idea about this law. He asked if I had a clean record – I said yes. I figured he would check it out and give me a warning.

Wrong. The officer handed her a $150 ticket, and when she asked him why, he muttered something about being “on detail.” Facey says she feels as if she was unfairly singled out because she was not from Michigan.

Related story:   JustFly never paid for this traveler's flights. Now what?

I also think he was using this “failure to yield” as an excuse to look for other things — i.e. seatbelt — but when there was nothing else, he ticketed me for this Mickey-Mouse item. He then had the gall to tell me I should drive more safely.

Facey is determined to fight the ticket. She contacted an attorney in Michigan, who confirmed that the state was paying “massive amounts” of overtime in March to increase ticket revenue.

Interestingly, there’s a rumor that Michigan is targeting motorists with unmarked vehicles in an initiative called Operation Yellow Jacket.

The state insists it’s nonsense.

The Michigan State Police (MSP) wants citizens to know that a widely distributed e-mail message about a “31-day speeding ticket frenzy” in Michigan titled “Operation Yellow Jacket” is completely false. There is no such effort underway at this time, or any time in the future, to generate revenue through the issuance of traffic citations. Citizens should regard the “Operation Yellow Jacket” warning as nothing more than an urban legend.

As a reminder, MSP traffic enforcement initiatives always involve a uniformed officer in a marked patrol vehicle.

Was Facey just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was her citation part of a broader initiative that the state denies? Maybe she’ll find out when she does what police had hoped she wouldn’t do, and fights the ticket in court.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Betty Facey

    Hi All
    I am the infamous Ms. Facey who was the subject of Mr. Elliott’s blog above.  Yes, California had a law at that time, but it is almost never enforced unless there is a safety issue involved and certainly was not widely publicized at that time.  Since more people actually want to live in California than Romulus Michigan – there are usually too many cars on the road to actually “move over” which is why a mountain was not made out of a molehill about this law in California.

    And for those who want to think its all about safety the city attorney’s office couldn’t plead my ticket down fast enough once he saw I had an attorney.  The ticket was changed to “double parking” (sound reasonable as you are going down the highway at 60 mph) – this way I got no points and the city still got there money (about $180 when all was said and done).  Plus I paid my attorney $250 for his services.

    I agree with “justvisiting” and also extract my pound of flesh from the City of Romulus.  I NEVER do any business in that city.  I make it a point to stop for gas before I hit the city limits and will never spend a dime in that city again.  Plus I tell all my friends to watch out for the Romulans – become a bit of a running joke – which the city and its police force totally is.

    I would have posted sooner but just happened to come across the blog today.

    Betty Facey

  • Betty Facey

    Bela – please let me enlighten you as to my particular situation.  A ticket was issued because the cop was ON DETAIL.  This means he has a QUOTA!  My attitude couldn’t have been more respectful and my sense is that he actually felt a bit sheepish about it but QUOTAS are QUOTAS!  So while I appreciate the fact that you would have given me a pass – that was NOT going to happen unless I was the cops’s girlfriend.

    As to how far down the road the exit was – it was IMMINENT.  As in a 1/4 mile.  Betty

  • Betty Facey

    Kathleen – let me enlighten you.  Said officer did NOT put his life on the line sitting in his EXPENSIVE unmarked dodge charger with his lights flashing.  This is a revenue issue – NOT a safety issue.  Trying to paint this issue as anything but a REVENUE issue is just simply wrong!

  • Betty Facey

    That’s nice to know that you have very little sympathy for me.  You must follow all laws to the letter – wow it must be fantastic being perfect.  However when you get a ticket for going 56 in a 55 zone I expect that you will thank the officer PROFUSELY and not complain since you violated the law.

  • Beligered

    like some of the laws that prohibit your gay lover from being in the same bedroom as you….

  • Daniel E. Chapman II

    Sorry about your experience, Betty.  Our city has a reputation for the revenue generated by traffic tickets, especially those going to the airport. 

    Our town is small and believe it or not, the airport doesn’t pay taxes.  The airport continues to expand and take over more land, which in turn causes more land to become tax free.

    So, it’s this little town that is dwindling… and I don’t think that the tickets-as-revenue strategy is doing us any benefit.

    But I just want to point out:  the businesses in town aren’t the one who came up with this strategy, it’s the police department.  (and this is said by someone who is looking forward to probably paying off a relative’s speeding ticket, which is why I searched on these terms in the first part)

    (oh, and before someone else says that these things are “liberal policies,” like someone said above.  We’ve had a Republican led state senate this entire time, along with a state Governor for a while now.  The republican blocking of raising any taxes, coupled with the lowering of property taxes that is the natural result of lower property values, has led to some governments being forced to pick idiotic ways to raise revenue like this whole “let’s give everyone tickets” crap.)

    I wish there was some way I could vote on this sort of thing, but in the mean time, I definitely understand your frustration and agree with it.  but — don’t blame the guys running local restaurants or even the gas stations.  They happen to just live here, same as me.

  • HI Daniel,
    Your empathy for my experience is much appreciated.  When you don’t live in a town, you just come to assume that the town supports the awful police tactics. It is nice to hear that people in the town don’t agree. It would be even greater to hear that locals protested to the point where they took notice and stopped these practices – as out of towners have no say.

    Again I thank you for your kind words.

  • stephen williams

    “As a reminder, MSP traffic enforcement initiatives always involve a uniformed officer in a marked patrol vehicle” says msp…….thats not entirely true because when i lived in michigan and drove the freeways, they always had a very dirty unmarked average late model 1980’s mustang , only it wasnt so average under the hood, supercharged. and was and still is obvious that it is a state car because of the plate and the overhead dash red and blues. seen them stop many drivers with that car that traveled the freeways around detroit. just a hint to all you who drive detroit area, watch for it , be aware of it and you will notice that car.

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