Sorry Officer, I thought using a turn signal was optional

In the 25 years I’ve been a licensed driver, I’ve been pulled over by the police many times, and most of those times it was a pretty cut and dried experience: I was driving irresponsibly, got caught, got ticketed, paid the fine, went on with my life. But for some of those times I was pulled over for something I did wrong and simply given a warning. I’ve been pulled over for expired plates, speeding, missing tail light, running red lights, and two separate times I was pulled over for having a crack in my windshield.

However, these instances don’t count the many times I should’ve been pulled over, like the thousands of times I drove drunk, was uninsured and without license, texting and/or watching Netflix while driving, or the countless times I should’ve been pulled over for driving with a non-working horn, seat belts, front brakes, speedometer, windshield wipers, a missing window, a dragging muffler, overly tinted windows, extremely bald tires, or a brake pedal that worked intermittently. I once had an oil leak so profuse, that when idling at stop lights the oil would hit the hot external surface of the engine and start to resemble an engine fire (I eventually got pulled over for it and issued a warning).

But the one crime I committed most often, yet never punished for was failure to use a turning signal. I can safely say that up until the winter of 2013 when I finally got pulled over for committing this traffic violation, I honestly thought signaling while changing lanes was an option, not a law. Also, keep in mind that when I passed my drivers exam at the age of 16, I passed it BY ONE POINT.

But like I said, until I finally got pulled over for it, I failed to use my turn signal ALL THE TIME. I was endangering other drivers every time I got into a car, and had I not been pulled over for it, would’ve eventually caused some serious harm. I can remember many times in my driving history where my driving was just plain reckless. There were many times in my life when I could’ve killed someone while driving, yet I was lucky to have not done so. I hate to say it, but the current state of my driving quality is a direct result of being corrected via traffic tickets. I’m one of those drivers who has to learn the hard way. Pretty much everything in my driving technique is a result of either being punished or from fear of the shame and embarrassment of being pulled over.

When a Las Vegas police officer pulled me over for changing lanes in a reckless manner, he clearly was doing it to inform me of my error and to hopefully make an impression on me. It did, and now when I change lanes, I not only use my turn signal, I give the driver behind me at least 5 seconds before I move into the other lane because the officer instructed me that this is what I was supposed to do. I do this not out of concern for other drivers, but because I don’t ever want to get pulled over for this offense again. I used to deliberately drive over the speed limit to shave time off my commute all the time. That changed after I received a $150.00 speeding ticket in April 2015. Now, I am always looking for speed limit signs on the road because I don’t want to pay the fine.

So now, when I drive, i drive in a heightened state of fear. I fear the financial and legal problems that occur when one gets a traffic citation. I fear the shame of being pulled over with with a cop’s spotlight pointed in my rearview mirror. I fear losing my job due to being delayed by a traffic stop. Lowest on my priority is my own safety, which should really be at the top.

I asked my mixed-race fiancee if she ever experiences fear when she drives. She said she does, but for different reasons.

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