It’s late and you’re driving home after hanging out with a friend. You’ve lost track of the time, so you start to drive a bit faster to make sure you get home by your curfew, otherwise your parents may get mad. On the way, however, you’re stopped: You see the flashing lights on the top of the police car first, and then you realize that the officer is following you. With your heart racing, you pull over and await the inevitable.
For many teens each year, this hypothetical scenario becomes a reality. Whether they’re speeding, carrying too many people in their car or staying out past the driving curfew, thousands of teens get pulled over and cited for some driving wrongdoing. However, the law treats them differently than adults, and some argue that police officers do, too. Teen driving laws are a complex issue with stern consequences.
According to Officer Brian Hawley of the Kettering Police Department, speeding is the most common offense for which a teen is pulled over.
Fairmont junior Lexi Evans, who was pulled over a few months ago for doing 80 mph in a 65 mph zone, says her speeding situation was unfair. “The cop was tailgating me so I sped up, and I didn’t know it was a cop,” said Evans. She also says it was late at night, which made seeing the cop behind her more difficult.
Not all teens, however, say their ticket was not their fault. Fairmont junior Trevor O’Hara, for instance, says the ticket he received was all on him. “I was just being careless with my speeding in the late afternoon,” said O’Hara. “I understand why the police officer gave me a ticket and I think it was fair. I also think I treated the cop with respect, which made things go smoother.”
Hawley explained that being respectful is a key factor in how things go when getting pulled over. “Usually the more respect a person shows me, the more I’ll show them,” the officer said.
Evans said that, like O’Hara, she was polite and respectful when she got pulled over but also tried crying. Hawley, however, says this time-tried trick won’t get a person out of a ticket. “Crying to try to work your way out of a ticket does not work,” he said. “It upsets me when a person starts crying. You’re the one who did something.”
Other factors can also affect the dialogue between the police officer and the teenager who gets pulled over. One is having prior offenses on record. Evans, who was pulled over once for speeding and another time for not stopping completely at a red light when turning, says she felt the police officer treated her differently the second time.
“The first time the cop was pretty nice,” she said.” But the second time the cop was a jerk.” The issue was complicated, though, by the fact that getting pulled over a second time warrants a stiffer penalty under the law.
Despite claims of discriminatory treatment toward teens, Hawley maintains police officers don’t go out of their way to treat teens differently. “The respect doesn’t just come from whether you’re a teen or an adult,” he said.” I try to treat everybody the same. If there is any difference at all, it’s that I try to give the teen some type of advice.”
Hawley also refutes the assertion made by some teens that police officers target young drivers. “It is very hard for me to tell who is driving at a particular time,” said Hawley. “I can generally tell if it’s an elderly person compared to a teen, but for the most part I can’t tell the age.”
Some teenagers are also boggled by the fact that they sometimes get harsher punishments for the same offenses as an adult commits. Although judges, not police officers, determine punishments, Hawley says he understands why this happens. “It’s easier to give adults lighter penalties than teens,” he said. “This is because, for teens, most of the time fines won’t work.”
Hawley related a personal experience as well. “When I was 16 and caught speeding, losing my license was a much more impacting experience than if I had just been fined,” he said.
Regardless of their circumstances and punishments, many teens say they learned a lesson from their brushes with the law, just as Hawley did. O’Hara, who was caught doing 44 in a 25 but has yet to receive a legal punishment, says he’s already stopped speeding altogether. “I’ve learned to pay more attention to my speedometer,” he said.
But Fairmont senior Josh Ries, who was ticketed for doing 50 in a 35, hasn’t been as enlightened, despite losing his license for a month and paying fines and court costs. He says he’s just “smarter about speeding now,” rather than just not speeding.
Much like O’Hara, though, Evans says she has definitely learned a lesson from her two driving offenses. Losing her license for three months, on top of two doses of court costs and ticket fines, was enough to change her driving habits. “I drive like a grandma now,” she said.