Christmas on the Palisades

I should begin by clarifying my plea: I am pleading guilty to exceeding the 50 mph limit, but I am pleading not guilty to exceeding the limit by 20 mph.

Following are the facts that I present by way of defense or in mitigation of the offense of which I am charged:

I should begin by clarifying my plea: I am pleading guilty to exceeding the 50 mph limit, but I am pleading not guilty to exceeding the limit by 20 mph. My actual speed at the time the officer clocked me was unquestionably less than 70 mph. I wasn’t sure how to register this plea on the previous page.

I also want to present facts that, I hope, will convince the court to mitigate the penalty it imposes on me or, perhaps, even to dismiss this ticket altogether. Please excuse the irregular form and excessive length of what follows:

1) Brief Biographical Summary:

  1. I am a 47-year-old native of New York City. I grew up in the
    hamlet of Congers, in Rockland County. (Since August 2002, I
    have been a resident of Oxford, MS., which is where the car I
    was driving was registered at the time of the alleged infraction.)
    I received my New York State driver’s license in April 1974
    when I turned 16.1 took a driver’s education course around that
  2. I have been driving for 31 years. I have never, in all that time,
    received a speeding ticket. (You should certainly check this claim
    with any and all relevant departments of Motor Vehicles.) Not
    one speeding ticket in 31 years on the roads.

c)  I have achieved this spotless record not by employing radar
detectors but by making a point of obeying the posted speed
limits. On occasion, I have modestly exceeded the speed Hmit in
a way that seems consistent with prevailing practice. I have done
this out of a desire, among other things, not to suffer the wrath
of faster motorists, who are quite willing to behave aggressively
toward those who strictly obey the posted limits. I consider
myself, with good reason, an exemplary driver.

d)   Since   1975, I  have  driven  the particular stretch  of the
Palisades  Interstate Parkway where my summons was issued
hundreds of times. For 22 years, I lived in Manhattan and used to
visit my parents in Congers and, later, in Piermont. The PIP was
my conduit. I know it well. I know that the posted speed limit is
50 mph and has been so throughout that entire period.

2) Mitigating Circumstances Prior to My Alleged Infraction

  1. When I entered the Palisades Parkway in Fort Lee at approxi
    mately 8:10 p.m.,Wednesday, Dec. 21, exiting from Interstate 80
    East, I was at the tail end of a two-day, 1,200-mile drive from
    Oxford to Piermont, where my mother lives. The transit strike
    in New York City had apparently just finished its second day.
    The motorists I had encountered on the 75-mile drive from
    Bethlehem, Pa., to the George Washington Bridge were, to put it
    bluntly, crazed out of their minds. Driving at 70 mph in the cen
    ter lane of Interstate 78,1 was repeatedly honked at, flashed and
    dive-bombed by cars that raced up behind me and blew by me
    at 80 mph and more. I have decades of experience on the major
    highways of the tri-state area; I know that New York metro
    drivers are more aggressive than drivers in other parts of the
    country. I can’t remember this sort of flagrant aggression ever
    being present in quite this way on any highway I’ve ever driven,
    at any time.
  2. When I entered the PIP in Fort Lee, it would be fair to say
    that I had been sensitized by my experience on 1-78 East and 1-80
    East. A driver who travels long distances cross-country strives to

be responsive to the prevailing speed of traffic out of a simple desire for self-preservation. The last thing I wanted to do on the PIP was be honked at, flashed and otherwise intimidated for impeding traffic by traveling at what my fellow drivers adjudged was too leisurely a pace.

  • I drove north on the PIP, away from the GW Bridge and past
    the service area. I was in the right lane. Prevailing practice sug
    gested that 60 mph was acceptable and would not get me
    honked at as long as I stayed in the right lane. So that was the
    speed I traveled—I set my cruise control to maintain it—and
    that’s the lane I was traveling in.
  • On the PIP, as on 1-78 and 1-80, drivers in the left lane had
    plainly been driven insane after two days of the transit strike.
    Many drivers raced by at what I’d guess was 70 mph or more,
    fleeing the city. I made a mental note, frankly, that drivers were
    out of control on the parkway and that I should remain alert. I
    simply wanted to cruise the last 10 miles of my second consecu
    tive 600-mile day without incident, leave the parkway at Exit 4
    and reach my mothers house uninjured.

3) My Alleged Infraction

  1. After 10 minutes or so on the PIP, I slowed behind a driver
    who was traveling at precisely the posted speed limit: 50 mph. I
    nudged my cruise control downward and noted the speed. This
    driver was, I realized, drifting along behind another car that I
    couldn’t quite see.
  2. Cars continued to blast by in the left lane at speeds notably
    exceeding the 60 mph I’d previously been doing. Several, in fact,
    roared up behind me in the slow lane, swerving at the last
    minute and flying by.
  3. After 30 seconds or so, convinced that it was only a matter of
    time on this particular evening before I was honked at, flashed
    and, perhaps, even rear-ended, I downshifted and moved into the

left lane, accelerating sharply so that I would avoid being hit by cars racing up behind me. I passed both cars I’d been tailing— they were holding steady at 50 mph—and continued at my increased rate of speed for perhaps five to seven seconds, until I could see the headlights of the forward car in the right, lower corner of my rearview mirror. My top speed, at this point, was between 63 and 66 mph. Then I pulled back into the slow lane and let my speed fall, preparing to head down the long incline toward my departure point, Exit 4.

  • It was at precisely this moment that a car not far behind me
    suddenly lit up like a birthday cake and swelled toward my rear
    window: a police cruiser. He was, I realized, the forward car—
    lurking, waiting to sting. I’ve never been pulled over for exceed
    ing the speed limit before, but I had an idea what he wanted. So
    I quickly slowed and pulled onto the shoulder.
  • The young officer was courteous but skeptical. He eyed my
    car: a 1992 Honda Accord with 244,000 miles on the odometer,
    freshly repainted in candy-apple blue, with mag wheels, Altezza
    taillights and tinted windows. It looks like a drug dealer’s car,
    frankly, although I am nothing more than a law-abiding professor
    of English at the University of Mississippi. It looks somewhat
    faster than it is, thanks to the good old boys down here who
    know how to paint cars. (1 couldn’t help but wonder if the look
    of my car had something to do with why the young officer had
    ignored a dozen other cars that had raced by prior to me, far in
    excess of 50 mph.) He told me that I had been clocked at 70
    mph, which was 20 mph over the limit.

f) “I don’t know about Mississippi,” he said, as he took my license
and registration, “but here in the state of New Jersey, we con
sider speeding a serious offense.”

g)  I discovered, when I examined the back of the ticket after
reaching my destination, that the breaking point on the PIP is 70
mph. At 69 mph (15 to 19 mph in excess of the posted limit),
my fine would have been $105.At70 mph, it was $200.

4) Summary: Why I Believe My Fine Should Be Reduced and/or the Summons Dismissed Altogether

  1. Reasonable doubt about the speed I was actually traveling:
    Although there is no doubt that I was traveling in excess of the
    posted speed limit of 50 mph and, therefore, might reasonably be
    subject to some penalty, the actual speed I was traveling isn’t
    objectively verifiable. As the summons makes clear under the
    category Equipment, my speed was ascertained not through the
    use of a helicopter or speed measurement device but by upace,”
    which—I assume—is to say that the officer in question brought
    his own rate of speed into concurrence with my rate of speed
    and read our (tandem) speed off his speedometer. Given the par
    ticulars of my offense—that I pulled from behind a car that was
    tailing the officer, accelerated briskly, then quickly pulled back
    into the slow lane and relaxed my speed only a second or two
    before the officer flipped on his lights—I simply do not believe
    either that I attained the speed claimed by the officer or that the
    officer actually had a chance to “pace” me in whatever fashion
    that sort of speed measurement is ordinarily carried out. As a
    measurement tool, I have no doubt that “pace” works well on
    sustained high-speed chases at 90 mph or more. In this particular
    case, however, the margin of error is very high. Quite frankly, 1
    do not believe the officer. I believe that I was traveling between
    63 and 66 mph and that the officer, accelerating to catch up with
    me even as I moved back into the slow lane and relinquished
    speed, spuriously took the figure of 70 mph—a speed somewhat
    in excess of the speed I was actually traveling—from his own
  2. Driver’s credibility: It seems to me that a driver who has man
    aged to log 31 years of driving without receiving one single
    speeding ticket, as I have, ought to be given at least a semblance
    of the benefit of the doubt when he swears in a notarized affi
    davit as to the particulars of his case.
  3. Lack of intent to commit a moving violation: I was unable to
    locate online the motor-vehicle statutes governing the PIP. I

suspect, however, that those statutes contain a provision by which a motorist may briefly exceed the speed limit so as expe-ditiously to remove himself from danger if he honestly feels such danger to be imminent. Please permit me to invoke this clause. And please take items 2.a-d and 3.a-c, above, as evidence for why I believe that clause, should it exist, is relevant in this case.

Respectfully, Adam Gussow

About the Author

Adam Gussow

Adam Gussow is an Assistant Professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. He is the author of two books: Mister Satan’s Apprentice: A Blues Memoir (1998) and Seems Like Murder Here: Southern Violence and the Blues Tradition (2002), which won a Holman Award from the Society for the Study of Southern Literature.

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