Some people cry, others lie, some curse and a few even plead insanity.
"People come up with the wildest excuses," sighs Arlington police officer Walter Summers, 38, who's heard hundreds of stories from motorists trying to talk their way out of a traffic ticket.
"And I don't believe there's a policeman on this earth who hasn't been talked out of giving a ticket at one time or another."
Technically speaking, an officer should decide if a traffic violation calls for a ticket before he reaches your car, says Capt. Wayne Layfield, 40, who heads the traffic enforcement branch of the Metropolitan Police Department.
However, police officers are human, and in some cases, he says, especially emergency situations, motorists can persuade even the toughest-looking cop to put away his ticket book.
There is no way to get out of the more serious violations, stresses Montgomery County Police Sgt. Norman Queen, 41. Traffic tickets are designed to help save people from injury or death. Period.
So if you are stopped for drunk driving, for driving with a revoked or suspended permit or for committing an intentional violation such as speeding up to run a red light, you might as well just accept your ticket. Graciously.
However, some infractions, such as passing and stop-sign violations, are "judgment calls," Queen says.
If a driver seems to be trying to do what's right and has a convincing explanation for not doing so, Queen says he is inclined to give a little.
"In 95 percent of the cases where I could choose between a warning or a ticket I rely on personality," says one District policeman. "You may have decided to give a warning, but the person gives you such a boatload (a term used often by policemen), you wind up giving him a ticket," says another.
"It's best to be honest," comments a Maryland officier who once let a driver off simply because the man was truthful and polite. "The driver said, 'Officer, you are exactly right. I went through that red light.' I was so stunned I couldn't write a ticket."
Avoid belligerence, officers say. If you want to win a policeman's heart, don't ask why he isn't out catching rapists and muggers, and don't accuse him of stopping you because you are driving a Cadillac, or are white, black, male or female.
Excuses are as varied as the drivers who dream them up. While some may seem original to you, seasoned cops will find them as stale as last week's bread.
Don't even try to tell a police officer:
You have to go to the bathroom.The weak bladder is at the top of the cliche list. Mongomery County Corp. John DeVries Jr., 33, says he, for one, has followed drivers to the nearest public restroom and had a ticket waiting when they emerged.
Your speedometer is broken or your gas pedal is stuck. This could get you a repair order plus a ticket.
You are rushing to a funeral. Unless you are the deceased, this prompts a typical retort, "Your own, buddy, the way you're driving." One Virginia policeman told a minister that his eulogy could wait, the eulogee wasn't going anywhere.
You are best friends with a Famous Washington. District cops are particularly hardened to this line. Their usual rebuttal: "So what?"
Other common excuses: being late for a movie, running out of gas, blowing the carbon out of the engine. If you hand an officer a $10 bill along with your license, have change ready to call your lawyer. You'll be placed under arrest for attempting to bribe a police officier.
There are, however, a few excuses that can get you out of a ticket and earn you a police escort as well.
Full-term pregnancy. If you are, or have in your car, a woman in the process of giving birth, you're all but guaranteed a ticket-free ride to the hospital.
Injury. A sick child, especially one who is bleeding profusely, or an adult who has just suffered a heart attack, will propably get you an ambulance. This, however, does not work with sick animals; a Maryland Humane Society van driver lost a case in traffic court after pleading transport of a sick chicken as his reason for speeding.
On the shadowy road between the hopeless and the perfect excuse rides a truckload of maybes. The nature of the violation, your attitude and the disposition of the police officer clutching the ticket book may determine whether you get an expensive ticket or a free warning.
"Most people with legitimate emergencies are out of their car and running to you before you even leave your cruiser," says one veteran policeman.
A Good Chance
Be prepared to have your story checked, but chances are you'll get out of a ticket if:
You are rushing home or to the hospital to see a sick relative. "If a guy says he's speeding because his wife just called to say their daughter fell down the stairs I might believe him and let him go," says officer Summers. "But I'll get his name and address and check up on him. If it's not true, he'll get a visit from me."
You are a doctor enroute to emergency surgery. Officer Summers cautions that this doesn't work for veterinarians.
A relative just died. A distraught driver who said his father just died and he didn't care whether he got a ticket or not, convinced a District cop not to issue one.
Few officers succumb to gimmicks, but depending on your appearance and acting skills you MIGHT escape a ticket if you:
Flash a shapely leg (women only). Some officiers admit a "leg show" can cancel a ticket in their books, while others say it clinches one. "One woman kept hiking up her skirt a couple of inches and asked me if there was some way to settle the mattter other than a ticket," recalls one area officer. "I had not planned on giving her a ticket, but under the circumstances I figured I'd better give her one."
Cry. Most officers claim they are immune to women's tears. But one tears from a fullback-sized man that he sent him on his way. Another officer claims he ALWAYS gives tickets to weeping men.
Are Motherly. Some police admit they find it difficult to ticket a woman who looks like their mother.
Try humour. George Washington University doctoral student Mel Billingsley, 25, once quipped his way out of a ticket with the help of an 8-week-old puppy he was bringing home from the pound.
"A state trooper pulled us over for exceeding the speed limit and not having a rear bumper on the car. He started chewing us out when this small pile of fluff, as yet unnamed, walked over my lap and licked the trooper's hand.
"I said 'I guess we'll have to call the dog "Trooper," and the cop just melted, warned us to drive more carefully and told us to have a good day." CAPTION: Picture, no caption, By Douglas Chevalier - The Washington Post