11.28.2010

highway fun, highway blues in pennsylvania

We always spend the last night of our US Thanksgiving trip at the home of my brother and sister-in-law in central New Jersey (near the city of New Brunswick, for those who know the state). We stay up late talking and drinking wine with some combination of friends - who happen to be siblings, nieces, nephews, and their respective partners - then wake up early to hit the road. The drive takes us through a part of New Jersey to Pennsylvania, through the Delaware Water Gap, up through the Poconos to New York State, then straight up through New York, emerging at the New York State Thruway at Syracuse.

We usually stop for a late breakfast near Scranton. (You may know the name from "The Office". It is indeed a real town in Pennsylvania.) But on this trip, we got horribly lost after leaving my brother's home - trying to correct a simple wrong turn just got worse and worse, and we wasted nearly two hours of drive-time. Because of this, we didn't want to take an hour for breakfast at a crowded Denny's, but we don't eat fast food. We especially gave up eating fast food on car trips many years ago. Driving around trying to find a supermarket would be more time-consuming than Denny's. On the way down, we stop at Whole Foods in Oakville for their amazing salad bar, but this is not an affluent area where we're likely to find one of those. What to do?

Through this dilemma, we discovered Sheetz, my new favourite pit-stop. Sheetz is a chain of gas stations and convenience stores in Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and northeastern Ohio. What makes it special is fresh, fast food made to order. You order by touch-screen from a menu that includes the usual less-than-healthy but yummy items like burgers, breakfast sandwiches, shakes and plenty of fried things, but also salads and wraps with a good variety of ingredients. Any fast-er food franchise where you control exactly what you order - such as Subway or Blimpie - is already a much healthier option.

I see how the touch-screen order system is designed to encourage you to order more food, as you see all kinds of options that you might not otherwise think of, from double meat or dressing to fried things on the side. But the choices are extensive, there are many healthy options, and it's very inexpensive. I was way impressed. Here's Sheetz in their own words, and here's a map of where you find them.

* * * *

Despite Sheetz, Allan and I will be in no hurry to drive through Pennsylvania again. Driving through the Poconos area on a winding two-lane highway, we were cruising along in the right lane, doing no more than five miles an hour over the speed limit. After discovering what two speeding tickets will do to your car insurance, we are determined to never get another speeding ticket again. It takes us a bit longer to get places, but we don't care: we don't speed. Thus imagine our surprise when a state trooper with lights flashing pulled up behind us.

The officer informed us that there is a law in Pennsylvania that requires motorists passing emergency vehicles to move to the left lane if possible. This trooper was parked in a turn-off with his lights flashing - although no emergency was taking place - waiting for cars to not pull over, so he could ticket them. And, we suspect, waiting specifically for cars with out of state plates.

We were doing 70 mph (the limit was 65) in the right lane, and when we saw him, slowed a bit. To our left, cars were zipping by at top speeds, on a road filled with curves. It was far safer to simply drive slowly without changing lanes - especially because we could see there was no actual emergency, merely a police car with lights flashing, no other vehicle present - than it would be to move into the faster lane. Of course we didn't argue with the state trooper, as that can only result in a greater fine.

When he went back to his car to check license and registration, I assumed we would be issued a warning. I was wrong. He ticketed us. He said the fine can range from $25 to $250, and he generously gave us the minimum. As we drove away, I read the citation. Twenty-five dollars? Not quite. The citation includes:
- Fine: $25
- EMS: $10
- Mcare: $30.00
- Costs: $34.50
- JCP/ATJ: $10

I had to look up that last one: it's the cost of checking your information via computer from the cop car. Grand total for the ticket: $109.50.

In the fine print, it says that in order to contest the ticket without cost, you must appear in person. If you plead not-guilty by mail, you are required to send the full amount of the ticket plus a $7.00 processing fee, to be held as "collateral". If you are found not guilty, the money will be returned.

I don't know if being found non-guilty comes before or after pigs fly and hell freezes over, but obviously out-of-state drivers are unlikely to be aware of this lane-changing law, and are probably unable to contest a ticket in person. So the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has state troopers faking an emergency, likely waiting for out-of-state plates to pass, in order to fund the state's EMS, Medicare and mobile toys. Do I even have to tell you we're not paying this?

As an additional irritant, the trooper asked us where we were coming from, why we were traveling, and where we were going. Why is a state trooper asking us those questions? He's not working for federal border control or customs. If we have a valid license and registration, and are using the highway in a lawful manner, what the hell business is it of Pennsylvania's where we are going and why? Yet if we had politely answered, "We are not required to tell you that," things would have gotten much worse. That is an abuse of power.

27 comments:

Shaun said...

The same law is now effect in New York as well. You can be ticketed for not moving over to the left lane when passing emergency vehicles.

L-girl said...

Thanks for letting me know.

The thing is, it always has to be up to the judgment of the driver, given road conditions. It can definitely be safer to simply slow down but not change lanes.

The PA cop said as much, but said the left lane was clear. Meanwhile, people are speeding in the left lane like crazy - and he doesn't pull out to ticket any of them.

redsock said...

Do I even have to tell you we're not paying this?

No. No, you do not.

Also: There was a car in front of me and a car behind me. When Mr. Cop pulled out and got behind me, he had to pass a car who he knew had also broken the law (so he could pull over a Canadian car) or he ignored the car behind me as it broke both the move over law AND the speed limit (which he would ave had to do to pass me). The first car was also ignored.

And as I pulled away, Mr. Cop was in his car, lights flashing -- in the exact same position he was when we went by -- and cars were whizzing past him in the evil right lane. He was ignoring them. I assume they all had Pennsylvania (or maybe New York) plates.

redsock said...

If you plead NOT GUILTY, they still expect you to pay the entire fine up front. That is absolutely hilarious.

Also, one mile before we got to the cop, there was another cop pulled over with a huge logging truck. Everyone, including me, moved over to the left lane. To do so when I saw Mr. Cop would have meant, since there were cars going 75-80 in the left lane, slamming on my brakes so as to not pass the cop before I could somehow move over, thus endangering us (with Tala in the very back of the car) and the car behind me (and maybe cars behind him as well).

A major holiday + hundreds of out-of-state/country drivers on the road + end of the month = a perfect quota-reaching situation.

P.S. Interstates also have a minimum speed limit, usually 40 or 45. If there is fog or rain and you have to slow down to 35 to drive safely, you are technically in violation of the law. Do you deserve a ticket?

L-girl said...

A major holiday + hundreds of out-of-state/country drivers on the road + end of the month = a perfect quota-reaching situation.

How else are they gonna pay for EMS and Medicare? There are no decent jobs in PA, so very few people even have an opportunity to pay taxes. Those who do pay taxes are funding foreign wars, not needed services.

Quite a country they got there.

Jere said...

RI passed this law last year or so, and driving around Mass yesterday, it was posted on all their electronic highway signs so it must be new there too. It's a good idea, but the way you were treated was obviously wrong. Just pigs bein' pigs.

redsock said...

I undid my seatbelt to get out my wallet before he came to the car window. Then, while L was getting the registration out of the glove box, he asked me "Why aren't you wearing your seatbelt?" -- like maybe he caught me in another violation.

FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK YOU!

***

I shall enjoy writing the professional and polite letter that, despite their likely protestations to the contrary, will be the end of this matter.

johngoldfine said...

Interesting to see that the courts are going the airline route and nickel-and-diming. Be glad they didn't charge you for the cop's time, the extra wear and tear on the road your braking incurred, transporting a dog unlicensed in PA, and so on.

MSEH said...

Appalling. Just appalling.

redsock said...

Doing a little research:

ACLU Blog, May 14, 2010:

A recent ACLU of Pennsylvania Right to Know Law request revealed that in a one-year period, the Pennsylvania State Police issued over 770 disorderly conduct citations for profanity or profane gestures. That's two citations a day. Illegal citations, I should emphasize, as the courts have made it very clear that profanity, unlike obscenity, is constitutionally protected speech. ...

While many people find this case understandably humorous, the consequences of these citations are not so funny. In one case (PDF), our client called a passing motorcyclist she knew an "asshole" after he deliberately swerved as if to hit her and shouted an insult at her. That same day, she reported the incident to the state police, who proceeded to mail her a disorderly conduct citation for swearing. The citation noted that she could face as much as 90 days in jail and a fine up to $300. She was eventually found not guilty — after hiring a lawyer to defend her. In the months leading up to her hearing, our client, a mother of three young children, constantly worried that she might be separated from her family because of the citation.

[end blog quote]

***

In another case, Dawn Herb of Scranton swore at her clogged toilet while standing in her bathroom. An off-duty cop on the street heard her -- through the open window -- and issued her a ticket. She faced three months in jail -- but ended up winning a court case and $28,000 in damages. (Which, sadly, Scranton taxpayers (and not the asshole cop) had to pay.)

So, to review: Pennsylvania cops are dicks.

L-girl said...

Thanks for the research!

The youth-to-prison-for-profit scandal exposed in Michael Moore's most recent film was in PA. Not where we were, but in neighbouring Luzerne County, home to Wilkes-Barre.

redsock said...

Text of law:

Pennsylvania Vehicle Code Law:
3327. Duty of driver in emergency response areas.

(a) GENERAL RULE.-When approaching or passing an emergency response area, a person, unless otherwise directed by an emergency service responder, shall:
(1) pass in a lane not adjacent to that of the emergency response area, if possible; or
(2) if passing in a nonadjacent lane is impossible, illegal or unsafe, pass the emergency response area at a careful and prudent reduced speed reasonable for safely passing the emergency response area. ...
An emergency response area shall be clearly marked with road flares, caution signs or any other traffic-control device which law enforcement officials may have at their immediate disposal or visual signals on vehicles meeting the equirements of subchapter D of Chapter 45 (relating to equipment of authorized and emergency vehicles).

***

a 2007 news story says that "if drivers can't switch lanes, they should slow down". we slowed down*, obeying (2) perfectly, considering the situation (a parked police car on the shoulder (clearing NOT an emergency) and the busy left lane).

* doing the exact posted speed limit could be considered slowly WAY DOWN, actually.

i wonder if a lone parked car with its lights on is enough to designate that parking spot as an "emergency response area" - probably is.

regardless, we were not in violation. i need to search for posts or news stories about abuses of this law.

L-girl said...

i wonder if a lone parked car with its lights on is enough to designate that parking spot as an "emergency response area" - probably is.

"An emergency response area shall be clearly marked with road flares, caution signs or any other traffic-control device which law enforcement officials may have at their immediate disposal or visual signals on vehicles..."

It was a police car with all lights flashing - that likely constitutes visual signals.

Amy said...

I would have had no idea that there was such a law and have heard nothing about a change in MA. It does sound like selective enforcement. Perhaps the PA police heard that you were not hassled at the border coming in to the US and decided to make up for that "mistake."

L-girl said...

Perhaps the PA police heard that you were not hassled at the border coming in to the US and decided to make up for that "mistake."

Ha! Funny you say that, one of our trusty trolls came by to tell me that if I don't pay this I'll be arrested at the border. A real legal scholar, he is.

Jere said...

"I would have had no idea that there was such a law and have heard nothing about a change in MA."

It's weird--I just looked it up and the law started in Mass in March 2009, yet with all my Fenway trips in '09 and '10, I saw nothing about it until yesterday's Noho trip, when every electronic sign on the Pike and 91 and 146 was blabbing about it. And now I see RI started in in '08, yet I remember the publicity about that being more recently. Is it possible these laws are passed, the state gets a year's worth of tickets out of people who didn't hear about it, and THEN they start putting up signs to appear as if they're being helpful?

redsock said...

Ye Olde Trolle says even an unpaid parking ticket will get you put into a database that will = an arrest at the border.

I know I have one (and maybe two) unpaid Vermont parking tickets from 1987. They were for small amounts, I lived in NYC, and did not own a car, so I threw them away. I have crossed the border many times in the last 23 years and flown back and forth out of the US more than a dozen times. No arrests.

tornwordo said...

Pennsylvania proably doesn't have an information sharing agreement with Ontario. I recently got a speeding ticket 5 miles from the border on our way back from Boston. F%*%&ers waiting to catch Canadians returning home on a stretch of highway with absolutely nothing. We learned that Vermont does not have an information sharing agreement with Quebec. New York DOES share info though. I paid the ticket since I figure I'll be driving through Vermont again.

Amy said...

Thanks, Jere, for the info. I guess I'd better start warning everyone up here because I doubt anyone is aware of it. I didn't even see any of the signs you mentioned, and we drove from the Cape to Springfield yesterday. (Of course, we left the Pike in Worcester to get out of the traffic and took Route 20 the rest of the way, so maybe all the signs were just on that portion of the Pike.)

L-girl said...

Tornwordo, thanks for that, good to know.

We're not ignoring the ticket - we're responding in writing, pleading not-guilty. I hope it doesn't affect our car insurance.

But one thing's for sure, tickets issued by state troopers - of any state - do not become federal warrants for arrest and show up in a border-control database.

And we can easily drive back from next US Thanksgiving without going through PA!

L-girl said...

I recently got a speeding ticket 5 miles from the border on our way back from Boston. F%*%&ers waiting to catch Canadians returning home on a stretch of highway with absolutely nothing.

Boy does that sound familiar!

Scott M. said...

Just to clarify, some states (and the entire rest of Canada) have agreements with Ontario. More info here, but the skinny is:

Drivers convicted of a driving related offence in the State of New York, the State of Michigan or any Canadian province or territory, will have home jurisdictional penalties such as demerit points and/or suspensions applied to their Ontario driver record as if the offence occurred in Ontario.

Andrea said...

BC has a new law where you have to slow to 35 in city and move over (left or right) for any emergency vehicle or tow truck with lights flashing. Pull right over for firetrucks or ambulances as usual.

Slow to 70 if on the highway. and move over left or right if safe to do so.

I havent heard of anyone getting ticketed for it yet though.

oh and dont forget to be hands free with your phone in our province. That I have heard many people being ticketed for.

redsock said...

Drivers convicted of a driving related offence in the State of New York, the State of Michigan or any Canadian province or territory, will have home jurisdictional penalties such as demerit points and/or suspensions applied to their Ontario driver record as if the offence occurred in Ontario.

But not Pennsylvania?

L-girl said...

Note: this is not a points/demerit offense in Pennsylvania. I asked the officer at the time.

L-girl said...

oh and dont forget to be hands free with your phone in our province. That I have heard many people being ticketed for.

Here, too.

Scott M. said...

The list doesn't specify Pennsylvania, so you should be safe.