Maggie Blackwell column – caught speeding

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Maggie Blackwell
For the Salisbury Post
So, it was last Wednesday. Gorgeous spring day, warm. The mockingbirds were singing to high heaven, the sun was shining, and all was right with the world.
It was 9 a.m. I had already taken our child to school, tutored my Bright Young Lad at the elementary school, and had a good cuppa java. I was motoring through Nearby Small Town, probably humming, and listening to NPR on the radio.
The first thing I noticed was the wild look on the officer’s face as his car approached mine. He was facing me, and he wore the stricken look that a man wears when he catches a very large fish. Or when the attractive neighbor leaves her blinds open. That look of, of … “PAYDAY!”
He flipped on his blue lights and hung a Louie right there in the middle of the road.
I was nabbed.
OK, so I have lived in North Carolina for 15 years now and this is the first speeding ticket I have gotten since moving here.
I did ask him not to give me a ticket. Told him I was on the way to yoga class, and it would totally ruin my Karma.
He didn’t care.
So for the past five days, I have done the only thing I could do in a case like this.
I ignored it.
Finally, today, I addressed it, and I have to say it is quite a maze for the uninitiated.
I asked the policeman at the time how much the fine would be. In fact, there is a blank on the back of the ticket where he was supposed to fill in what the fine would be. He told me I would have to call. He did not mention that the number I needed to call is nowhere to be found on the stupid ticket, nor on the accompanying “ATTENTION MOTORIST” information.
Because the fine is payable at the Clerk of Court’s office, I looked that number up in the phone book. Not in there.
So I called the county’s general administrative number and got it. Called. The fine is: $170.
Do I get a cut rate for not having had a ticket in the past?
No. The charge is $170.
These people have absolutely no sense of humor. Didn’t care about my Karma. Don’t care about my spanking clean record.
I explain, I haven’t had a ticket before and I have heard that I have to have points on my record from this. Can you explain it?
Call the DMV.
Do you have the number?
So I look up the number in the phone book. Actually, the only number listed is the local Driver’s License Office. So I call it and they refer me to the N.C. DMV. At least they have the number.
So I call the state DMV in Raleigh. And while I’m on hold (for 40 minutes), it occurs to me how extremely difficult this is. How hard would it be for someone without the literacy to get all these numbers? Without the assertion to speak up for himself? To ask questions? For someone without the means to stay on hold, long distance, for 40 minutes? (Actually I did not pay for long distance for 40 minutes; we have digital phone service so all our calls, in North America anyway, are included in one flat, and very cheap, rate.) But, what if I could not afford digital service? And it was not a 1-800 number.
I have to remark here on how idiosyncratic the voice system is at the N.C. DMV. After pressing “1” for this and “2” for that, the recording says, “Attention, attention! Please notice that we are experiencing heavier-than-normal call volume. Please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order that it arrived.” … all of which is pretty normal, except the ” attention, attention” part. Having made it through that part, the hanging-on part is punctuated every 120 seconds by, “Please be aware that our operators are busy helping callers just like you. We appreciate your patience.” I wonder if they are just like me. Tall? Chubby? Delusions of intelligence? Addicted to Smithsonian Magazine, Wall Street Journal and online Sudoku?
Finally I get Donald at “the call center.” How odd to me that the DMV has a call center. He takes my information and confirms that I have a totally clean record. This episode will give me 2 points on my driving record. Is that bad? I ask. What are the repercussions? Well, if you accumulate 12 points within 3 years, you lose your license. How much will my insurance go up? Well, he says, this is DMV points. Your insurance company will give you your insurance points. You have to call them and ask them.
I call our auto insurance office. We have used a local carrier for a well-known national insurance company for 13 years for both our homeowners and auto insurance. It is actually a relief to talk to someone with some customer service skills. She tells me that this will put 1 point on my insurance record. That it will not cost me much, only $50 to $100 additional on my insurance every 6 months for 3 years. This is $300 to $600 out of our pockets. You don’t think this is much money?
So now I am watching my speed, no matter if the sun is shining in my sunroof and the mockingbirds are singing to beat the band. My Karma is still a little off.