Apr 27, 1998, Vol. 3, No. 32 • By TUCKER CARLSON
A friend once told me that the surest way to avoid a speeding ticket is to have your license and registration ready for the cop by the time he shows up at your car window. Police officers appreciate the courtesy, he explained. And rooting through the glove box ahead of time might prevent the unfortunate mishaps that can occur when motorists make sudden, unexpected movements around people with guns.
Sounded like good advice to me, and I kept it in mind when a Virginia state policeman pulled me over on a highway outside Washington last fall. Reaching through the window, I handed him the documents, trying to look both contrite and friendly. He ignored my offering. "Ever heard of road rage?" the cop demanded. "I saw the way you passed that station wagon back there. That was classic road rage."
It was? I thought, feeling totally confused. The cop explained. Road rage, he said, is when a driver suffers a loss of emotional control, owing to pent-up anger, anxiety, and frustration, and projects his hostility onto other motorists. The effect on society, he explained gravely, can be devastating: "A lot of people die from it."
For a moment, I had the sensation of being trapped in a bizarre version of the Sally Jesse Raphael Show, a version where Sally Jesse is a 6'3" steroid-head in sunglasses with a yard-long flashlight on her belt. At that point, I probably could have beaten the ticket by promising to seek intensive outpatient counseling for my road rage. But I didn't. Instead, I foolishly blathered on about how I wasn't angry or frustrated at all, just late for lunch downtown. I could see the disappointment in the cop's eyes: Denial, he was thinking. A classic symptom of road rage. The fine came to more than $ 100.
I'm not very old, but even I remember when cops didn't sound like daytime-talk-show hosts. My first encounter with the police couldn't have taken place any earlier than 1986, and I'm certain that the three Florida sheriff's deputies who searched my car for beer didn't make a single reference to anxiety, repressed emotions, or rage-related syndromes of any kind. As I remember, they called me "boy."
Nor had attitudes in the law- enforcement community become any more progressive by the time I got to college in the late-'80s. Around 1989, one of my roommates decided it would be amusing to uproot every Stop sign in the neighborhood and throw them into the back of his car. And it might have been amusing if the signs hadn't been piled up in the driveway when a police car passed our house at 5:00 on a Sunday morning. There wasn't a lot of emotive banter as the cops led my roommate away handcuffed and barefoot. Apparently, on the way to the station, my roommate did mention something about his "rights." The cops responded by threatening to smash his cheekbones. Then they turned off the heat in the car, rolled down the rear windows, and drove around the snow-covered city for an hour and a half until his feet turned blue. Again, not a word about feelings.
Between my college graduation and my last couple of speeding tickets, something dramatic happened to the way cops talk. My guess is, documentary- style police shows have a lot to do with it. A small-town constable who tunes in to Cops Friday nights is apt to notice that his big-city counterparts don't bear much resemblance to the guys from Adam-12. On Cops, everyone in uniform sounds like a candidate for a master's degree in social work. People still get arrested, of course. But now they get lectured at, too. "Get some help, do you understand me?" some burly sergeant will say to a sobbing woman in a housing project as patrolmen stuff her drunken boyfriend into a squad car. "Domestic violence is a disease."
New Age policing can be annoying, but it can also come in handy if you know which buttons to push. A friend of mine once escaped a drunk-driving arrest by claiming protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The alphabet? Backwards? No way, he explained to the cop, "I've got dyslexia. That's a learning disorder, Ocifer." Spooked, the cop let him go on the condition he get off the highway as soon as possible and find a place to sleep off his disability.
I should have remembered all of this last week when a cop pulled me over for speeding on the New Jersey Turnpike. I was only following the flow of traffic, I explained lamely. He nodded, as if responding to a particularly slow child. "Let me ask you something," he said. "If the car in front of you drove off a bridge, would you follow it?"