Ticket Rich Environment for Unwary Drivers
Editor’s Note: this is the first of a series of disclosing high-impact courts and highways where California drivers, both commercial and non-commercial, face a high risk of moving traffic violations. It will also appear in our upcoming books Saving Truckers One Ticket At a Time (Commercial Drivers) and Saving Drivers One Ticket At a Time (Non-Commercial Drivers).
Since the 1920’s the corridor between Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley earned a reputation as a dangerous route for motorists and truck drivers. Known as the “Grapevine” or “Ridge Route,” drivers face steep grades at each end of the mountain causing brakes to burn up while going down the grade in northbound lanes. Engine failures are common going up the grade in southbound lanes. Two runaway exit ramps service northbound traffic toward the end of the grade. For northbound truck drivers, the speed changes from 55 to 45 to 35 miles per hour in a very short distance upon descending the hills toward the valley. Congested truck lanes pose a hazard for all traffic. Big rigs unable to travel at slow speeds constantly move over to the #3 lane or even the #2 lane to conserve their brakes.
Mother Nature complicates any journey over the Grapevine. Road closures due to brush fires are fairly common during fire season and winter brings snow and black ice. Many drivers spend their nights in their vehicles waiting for the road to open. Accidents involving big rigs are common, calling for total closure or at least two or more lanes.
Because of these risks, the California Highway Patrol prioritizes coverage from the Tejon Pass just north of Gorman and until Laval Road, a couple miles into the valley floor. With a tremendous allocation of resources, CHP officers issue dozens of tickets in any given shift, distressing many commercial drivers whose livelihoods become jeopardized with a moving violation.
For time immemorial, both commercial and passenger vehicles travelling north down the grade customarily accelerate upon the flat land to compensate for the nerve-wracking descent down the Grapevine. The CHP officers patrolling this area know that and they are waiting to engage drivers before the junction of Interstate 5 and Highway 99.
Ticketed drivers must handle their ticket in Lamont Branch of the Kern County Superior Court. Lamont is a small farm town about 20 miles east of I-5. Staffed by two full-time judges, defendants come from all parts of the United States and even foreign countries. Many drivers plead guilty unnecessarily because they choose not to purchase an airline ticket to Central California. For those who wish to fight ticket, the Lamont venue is no place for novices or attorneys unfamiliar with the court. Court policies vary because each judge has his or her preferences (pets) and concerns (peeves). With competent counsel, some violations can be reduced. In some cases, a clean driving record is a must for a reduction. To achieve a favorable result, hiring a lawyer experienced in the Lamont Court is a prerequisite for a favorable outcome. CHP officer absenteeism is in the low range given the priority CHP has given to this area. Opposing officer-witnesses in a court trial demands representation with a high level of experience and skill sets.
What Must I Do to Avoid a Citation?
If you are a commercial driver, check your equipment thoroughly, pay attention to your weight, log book, and secure your load properly (according to National Motor Carrier Guidelines). Good brakes will save your life and the lives of others. Study the road and know the correct locations if you have to pull over. Truckers: you will get a ticket if you become impatient and you stay out-of-lane to speed down the hill or climb the hill.
For both commercial and noncommercial motorists, maintain a high level of alertness and focus on speed; constantly study the vehicles in your immediate area. Avoid cell phone usage even with hands-free equipment. Keep the radio volume low and monitor your environment. Once a commercial driver reaches 65 miles per hour on the valley floor, they are fair game for a speeding ticket. 80 miles per hour plus places the non-commercial driver in harm’s way.
What if I’m Unlucky and Receive a Citation?
If the officer asks you if you know why you were stopped, respond: “No Sir” or “No Ma’am” because many officers hope for answers admitting guilt such as “I was speeding?” Don’t say that your cruise control was set on 61 mph if you are a trucker or 75 mph if you are not a commercial driver. Be assured that the officers keep notes on what is said by you. After you sign the ticket and hand the citation book back to the officer, thank him or her. Next, read the ticket and record the due date where you keep important information, such as a calendar in your smart phone or a manual calendar. Study the ticket to determine whether or not the officer left any spaces blank – this could be important for your lawyer to review. Call a lawyer or check the DMV website to find out how many points are at risk for the Vehicle Code section(s) listed. Make visual and written notes about the stretch of highway involved especially speed limit signs and other traffic signs. If your cited offense carry points, it’s best to call a lawyer. Even non-pointers are worthy of a lawyer’s attention if you are a CDL – especially if your safety record is at issue through your company or through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
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