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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Impetus to drive well

In a past column I wrote that we all tend to double-check our driving behavior when a police cruiser is within eyeshot.  I have noted this effect to be so strong, that even drivers already travelling at the posted speed limit often slow down further at the site of a cop.

It’s seems to me that drivers who normally drive sloppily (speed, incomplete stops, tailgating, et cetera) must know better since they usually improve their behavior in the presence of police.  A natural question for drivers might be, “Why not drive like law officers are always present?”  In fact, they often are — substantial daily ticket issuance proves it!

I’m not the only one promoting this premise.  Reader S.R. wrote, “I’ve thought on and off about an idea for one of your columns.  Ask your readers to pay attention to how they react when they see a law enforcement vehicle when driving.  Do they make no changes in their driving or are there things they do like slow down, turn on lights at dusk, signal a turn, lengthen the distance from a vehicle they pass, or a hoard of other driving behaviors?  It is a self-check on their driving that is easy to do.”

Good idea, S.R.  So, readers, ask yourselves if you change your driving behavior when you see police.  If so, then there is room for improvement in your everyday driving.  Police presence is a good impetus for improved driving — using the fact that they may be watching you at all times is even better.

The only motivation we should need to drive well is to improve safety for ourselves and others.  Nevertheless, if paranoia of being caught and ticketed for making driving errors is an impetus to drive well, that’s good enough.  Just remember to keep that paranoia active at all times.

As I wrote, and S.R. implied, many drivers slow down at the first sighting of a marked police cruiser.  That suggests many drivers are exceeding the limit.  I make a point of maintaining a steady speed at the posted limit, but still double check my speedometer when the cops appear.  The point is to develop a habit of driving according to the rules of the road at all times — just like you do when you see the police!

Like S.R. asked, do you make sure you lights are on at dusk, or signal each turn when you see a law enforcement vehicle?  If that is the case, then you should do those things all of the time — even when you don’t see any police in the vicinity.

When you have decided to pay special attention to driving well, whether induced by safety, ticket avoidance or whatever, you are likely going the speed limit, maintaining proper following distance, using lights, activating signals, and yielding right of way.

But still, there are numerous (hoards, per S.R.) other driving errors you may be making.  I once had an officer tell me, “No one stops at stop signs.”  By that, he meant that the majority of drivers stop past the line, which is equivalent to not stopping.  Besides that, when attempting a stop, few drivers actually make a complete stop.  Most drivers have perfected the rolling “stop,” where they slow the vehicle to a near stop (wheels still rolling), check traffic, and take off again.

Practicing making complete stops at stop signs is wise.  It not only gives you a better chance of spotting pedestrians, animals or cross traffic, but helps assure that you will make a complete stop when police are watching.

In a related behavior, be sure to stop at the painted stop line at red lights.  This was covered in my 2015 New Year’s Resolutions, but worth remembering.  The only legal stop at a red-light intersection is at the line.  If your initial stop is beyond the line, you have effectively “run” the light.  Even if you must make one stop at the line, then move ahead and make another stop before taking a “free” right or left turn, it is the procedure required to avoid a ticket at an intersection with a camera or attentive police.

Readers may contact Bill Love via email at