Day after day in Warren, Mich., people wait in a long line to pay
traffic fines. Many are there because police say they didn't come to a full stop
at a stop sign. Often the policeman saying that is Officer David
Rolling through a stop sign in Michigan puts
two points on your driving record. That hikes your car insurance premium.
Fighting the ticket could cost even more. So to avoid the points and legal fees,
most people plead guilty to a lesser offense: impeding traffic. The court sounds
like an assembly line, " ... no points ... $135 ... "
On last week's "20/20," you heard a motorist in court insist
that she did come to a complete stop. The judge replied, as judges there often
do: "I find Officer Kanapsky's testimony to be credible. He is an unbiased
But the officer is not really unbiased. The more tickets he
writes, the more overtime he gets. Last year, Kanapsky spent so much time in
court he increased his pay by $21,000.
Last year, the town
made half a million dollars from such fines. Some drivers told us it "seems like
a moneymaking scam.
I don't know if that's true, but when some angry
motorists complained to Heather Catallo, reporter for Detroit's ABC affiliate,
she took her cameras out to see if the cops themselves stopped at the stop
signs. Most didn't.
Her expose caused a ruckus in town. The mayor hired
a new police commissioner, who told me the cops might have been on emergency
calls. "They don't necessarily have to have their lights and sirens on,"
Commissioner William Dwyer said.
I told him the tape showed police cars
rolling through stop signs on the way back to the police station.
some officers make mistakes? Perhaps so," he said.
Dwyer denied the
tickets were a moneymaking scam. He said he didn't think it odd that Kanapsky
wrote thousands of tickets. "It's not unusual for a traffic officer to write 10
to 20 traffic violations a day, if not more."
Please. I'm all for highway
safety, but I suspect that America's roads have too many rules, and that gives
cops too much arbitrary power to harass people or profit off them. As the
ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tse said, "The more laws that are written, the
more criminals are produced."
I bet most Americans roll through stop
signs. I do. It makes for a smoother ride, and it saves gas.
put cameras by stop signs in Warren, Mich., and in New York City. The video
showed that in Warren, 72 percent of drivers did not come to a complete stop.. In
New York, 82 percent kept going.
Warren and other towns probably have too
many stop signs. There's no proof that more signs save lives. Studies show that
sometimes installing stop signs lowers accident rates, but in some cases more
accidents occurred after signs were installed.
In this month's Atlantic,
John Staddon argues that that America's omnipresent stop signs make us less
safe. He writes, "Stop signs are costly to drivers and bad for the environment:
Stop/start driving uses more gas, and vehicles pollute most when starting up
from rest. ... [T]he overabundance of stop signs teaches drivers to be less
observant of cross traffic and to exercise less judgment when driving --
instead, they look for signs. ...
"The four-way stop deserves special
recognition as a masterpiece of counterproductive public-safety efforts. Where
should the driver look?"
One Dutch town experimented by getting rid of
most of its traffic signs. The result? Fewer accidents and fewer injuries.
Drivers look out for people instead of signs, and they negotiate their
way through town.
Remember the stop sign in Warren, Mich., where
Kanapsky wrote many of his tickets? It's been changed to a yield sign. One
result: fewer accidents.
Police say, "[B]etween Jan. 16, 2008, and May
21, 2008, there have been no accidents reported. During that same time frame in
2007, there were four crashes reported." Good. Let's get rid of more signs.
And to all the cops who eagerly punish us for doing what they do, give
me a break.