WebMugBy Kimmy Sullivan, ’15

Those of us who have jumped through the necessary hoops to obtain a driver’s license all know the feeling of seeing a police officer on the road. Though they’re here for our safety, there’s something about passing a cop car that sends a chill through the spine of even the most cautious driver. Even if you’re doing nothing wrong, the mere sight of a watchful police car—lights dimmed, nose turned toward a road full of unsuspecting drivers—can cause a surge of panic: “Do I have a brake light out? Is the speed limit here 35 or 40? Is he pulling out behind me?”

But far beyond the momentary alarm of simply passing a cop, or even being followed by a cop, is the sight of impending doom, a death sentence due to vehicular insubordination: the blue and red lights. A smaller, less fortunate group of us have certainly experienced the stomach-dropping sensation of those blinding, carnival-worthy lights, of being summoned to the roadside and put at the mercy of some unknown officer.

Late this July, I found myself in one of these situations for the first time. It was a bright morning as I raced down U.S. Route 33 on my way to Hocking Hills. Obnoxiously singing along to none other than Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” I failed to recognize that a State Highway Patrol vehicle was clocking my speed. His car whipped out behind me like in a segment from “Cops.” My heart skipped a beat. I wasn’t sure what the speed limit was, but I was willing to bet it wasn’t 84 mph. I slowed down to a cautious 55 in a final attempt to salvage what innocence I had left, but it was too late. The cruiser lit up like a Christmas tree.

I obediently handed over my license, then told the officer through a flood of tears that no, I did not realize I was going that fast and no, I could not find my insurance and registration information in the glovebox. After about 20 minutes I received a ticket and a pamphlet that told me that I, along with a parent, was to appear in court in one week. There, my fate would be decided.

At 8:30 a.m. the following week, I arrived with my mother at the Fairfield County Juvenile Traffic Court in Lancaster, ready for my episode of “Law and Order.” After all paperwork was squared away, seven pairs of anxious teens and parents filed into the courtroom. You could have cut the tension with a knife—or, perhaps, cracked it with a gavel.

One by one, I listened to each culprit give his or her testimony, from rolling stops to speeding tickets, fender-benders to failure to dim, I heard it all. My mom and I turned to each other wide-eyed when the judge revoked one girl’s license for a year.

Finally, it was my turn. The judge asked me to confirm my identity.

“Yes,” I said, with a nervous crack in my voice.

I admitted to the charge, presented my story, then braced for impact as she scanned my paperwork again. My future was in her hands. Finally, she looked up; her decision was made.

“Well, we’re going to do a fine of $11 plus court costs, and …” I held my breath. “That’s it.”

That was it? A measly fine? No license suspension, no essay, no nothing? There had to have been a mistake. Incredulously, I picked my jaw up off the floor, thanked the judge and floated out the door.

Not only had I been lucky at the Fairfield County Juvenile Traffic Court that day; I had also been lucky the day the state trooper pulled me over. If I had hit another car at that speed, the collision could have been fatal. My final fine totaled $80, which was reluctantly withdrawn from my precious summer earnings, but some people end up giving up much more than $11 plus court costs.

Teenagers are notorious for being bad drivers, but it isn’t always our skill that’s at fault. Although we are the rookies of the road and make occasional mistakes, the true danger often lies in becoming distracted. A car full of tone-deaf teenagers belting their favorite song can make it impossible to focus on your own vehicle, let alone the actions of others on the road. And if you do realize you’re speeding, being five minutes early isn’t worth the risk of getting hurt. So although it’s easy to be careless and obeying the speed limit isn’t always the “cool” thing to do, it’s better to be safe than sorry.