When my dad turned fifty and bought a red convertible, the rest of my family congratulated him on his new cop magnet. It’s common knowledge that red cars tend to get pulled over more—the bright color makes it much more obvious when they’re shooting like a speeding bullet down the freeway, or at least that’s the theory. But a fair amount of time has gone by, and my pops has enjoyed his flashy ride ticket-free. Does the type of car you drive really influence how likely you are to get a ticket? Or are there other factors that are better predictors?
After a little research, I found six factors that heighten our chances of spotting flashing lights in the rearview.
1. Driving Faster Than Your Neighbors
I love passing all the cars around me on the freeway, especially when they’re all driving under the set limit. Turns out, this isn’t such a great idea. “I watched for cars that were going faster than surrounding traffic,” says Nick Sanchez a former San Diego-area police officer. Speeding past everyone is as good as putting a sign on the windshield that says “pull me over.” The good thing about this is that if we find ourselves traveling in a pack that’s going slightly faster than the limit, our chances of being nailed shrink.
2. Driving in the Lead
What about when we find ourselves on a less crowded stretch of road? According to Cindy Chung, who makes the 400-mile drive from Los Angles to San Francisco every month, pacing yourself behind another speeder can be an effective way to drive fast undercover. “If I find another car going at a speed I’d like to be going, I’ll pace myself a little ways behind them,” she says. “Three times I’ve had the person ahead of me get pulled over. They get noticed first while I have the chance to slow down.”
3. Driving with Bad Manners
We all know what this is referring to—weaving through lanes, tailgating, cutting off other drivers. We roll our eyes (or worse) at the drivers who do it, but we’re all guilty of it at some point. In addition to displaying some seriously bad road etiquette, we’re making ourselves stand out even more than if we were just speeding. “These are the people I tried to pull over,” Sanchez says. “Their driving style is not only above the speed limit, it’s endangering them and other drivers around them.”
4. Driving a …
Despite red cars being known as cop magnets, cherry-colored vehicles actually don’t get more speeding tickets than their less colorful counterparts do. Sports cars are also not necessarily the ones that get pegged for speeding most often. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety compiled data that tells another ticket tale. The following ten vehicles are actually the most likely to get pulled over. (Another reason to love my Prius.)
- Scion tC
- Scion xB
- Mercedes CLK63 AMG
- Toyota Solara
- Mercedes CLS AMG
- Scion Xa
- Subaru Outback
- Toyota Matrix
- Audi A4
Of course, it’s not all in the car. Younger drivers get more tickets than their older counterparts do, which explains the prevalence of Toyotas and the Subaru. Wealthier people, it appears, are also more likely to race down the freeway in their Mercedes. (Hey, that’s what sports cars are for, right?)
5. Driving for Attention
It’s human nature to focus on the proverbial black sheep. Since Johnny (or Janey) Law has to single out one speeding car to target, he or she will probably find their eyes drawn to the more obvious vehicle. If something on your car is screaming, “Look at me!” this is probably going to be you. Maybe it’s a license plate frame or dealer sticker that pegs you as an out-of-towner (meaning you’re far less likely to contest a ticket in court). Or maybe that bumper sticker raised an eyebrow. (Bob Marley, Snoop, and political one-liners are great, but not when you’re trying to stay on someone’s good side.) And then there are maintenance issues. I always wait way too long to get those little things fixed. But if it’s something visible, like a broken taillight or front license plate that’s MIA, fixing it right away could mean one less traffic stop. Even a busted blinker can result in a ticket. Check all the lights at least once a month, advises the LA criminal defense blog.
6. Driving Poorly When It Matters
When you speed is just as important as what you’re speeding in. Police match their peak hours to rush hour. “There are more police officers on the road during morning and afternoon rush hours to respond to the higher amount of drivers,” says Carilyn Nelson, a defense attorney specializing in traffic violations. “More people are pulled over during this time.” I can attest firsthand that commuters are more likely to drive aggressively and break the speed limit. But look out for the flashing lights in those hard-to-resist shortcut areas, or getting in the exit lane when the divider is still a solid line, or using the exit lane to cut in front of a line of traffic. These moves get under everyone’s skin, and do they really get us home for dinner that much faster?
Despite our wisecracks and complaints, there’s no argument that police are doing an important job out there by keeping the roads safe. There’s proof that tickets do slow us down, and sometimes we need that reminder to keep the road rage under control. Of course, the best way to stay ticket-free is to follow the rules and drive safely. And if you decide to test your luck anyway? Well, let’s just hope you’re not driving a Hummer.
Updated June 28, 2010