How Can You Argue Your Way out of a Traffic Penalty?

Most people don't have the ability to start sobbing on cue when stopped by a police officer for violating a traffic law -- and such a tactic probably only works in the movies, anyway.

A physicist in San Diego successfully argued his way out of a traffic penalty by proving that he had not, in fact, driven through a stop sign.
A physicist in San Diego successfully argued his way out of a traffic penalty by proving that he had not, in fact, driven through a stop sign.

Nor are most people as inventive as Dmitri Krioukov, who turned to physics rather than faux tears to prove that he didn't deserve a ticket for allegedly running a stop sign in 2012. The UC San Diego physicist won over not only the judge but the ticketing officer as well with his four-page paper entitled "Proof of Innocence."

Krioukov wrote about relative motion, used detailed graphs of angular velocity, and relied on the occurrence of a sneeze (his own) to show how the police officer had made a mistake in assuming that Krioukov had run the stop sign because of a change in his car's speed.

"In fact, he (Krioukov) was sneezing while approaching the stop sign. As a result he involuntary pushed the brakes very hard. Therefore we can assume that the deceleration was close to maximum possible for a car," he wrote. Krioukov also explained that he had in fact come to a complete stop, but another car had pulled alongside him at the same time and blocked the officer's view.

"The judge was convinced, and the officer was convinced as well," Krioukov told the website Physics Central.

That's the ticket:

  • Approximately 44 percent of all direct contact between police officers and U.S. citizens occurs during traffic stops.

  • Roughly half of all speeding tickets are disputed, and approximately 39 percent of those challenges end up in a reduced fee or no fee at all.

  • The first traffic ticket was handed out in Britain in 1896 to a man driving his "horseless carriage" at 10 mph, far exceeding the legal speed limit of 2 mph.

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