Everybody knows about the classic "urban legends," like the one where the woman comes out of the grocery store, gets in her car, and a one-armed man with a hunting knife is hiding in the back seat. Or the one where the little girl is drinking a soda and finds a mouse in the bottom of the can. Or the one where the baby alligator flushed down the toilet, somehow stays in the sewer line for three or four years and grows to 200 lbs. Then, the same person who flushed the little fellow in the first place sits on the toilet and is dragged right down the drain and eaten by the killer reptile.
Well, just like these urban legends, we've heard our share of "road legends." We dedicate this true or false column to all legends of the road.
True or False: When I get a ticket and I pay an extra five dollars with my fine payment that I mail to the court, and the court sends me a refund check for the same five dollars, the ticket can't go on my driving record if I don't cash the refund check?
False. This is, without a doubt, one of the worst legends of the road currently going around. Drivers are always calling us and asking us whether overpaying a fine amount will actually keep a ticket off their record. The truth is, most courts will not even accept your fine payment for a ticket if it's not for the correct amount and they will simply mail it right back to you. In the meantime, your court date passes, the court gives you another ticket for failure to appear, and sends out a warrant for your arrest. Whenever you send your fine payment to the court, always make sure it's for the correct amount.
True or False: If I'm ever pulled over and the cop asks me to take a Breathalyzer, I should refuse to take it?
False. This is one of the most dangerous legends of the road we've heard. The truth is, if you refuse to take a Breathalyzer test, even if you haven't been drinking, your license will automatically be suspended. Remember, when you sign your driver license, you're agreeing to comply with any authorized request from a state or local official. A refusal to take a Breathalyzer is a violation of that agreement.
True or False: Because I have a CDL, I can have a federal marshal come to any traffic stop.
False. The truth is, having a CDL doesn't give you the right to have a federal marshal or any other federal official come to your aid when you're stopped for a traffic ticket. As authorized by the federal government, state officials have every right to stop and inspect your vehicle or issue traffic tickets.
True or False: I don't have to show my logbook to the cop because I have the right not to incriminate myself.
False. The truth is, you do have a right not to tell on yourself when you break the law. But, the courts would likely decide that public safety is more important than your right not to tell on yourself when it comes to logbooks. In cases like Garner vs. U.S.A. and Miranda vs. Arizona, the courts said that Americans do have a general right not to incriminate or tell on themselves. But, these cases had nothing to do with logbooks or commercial drivers. In the case of Garner vs. U.S.A., there was a guy (a professional gambler) who was being prosecuted by the feds on gambling conspiracy charges. Basically, the feds tried to use Garner's tax return (where he admitted he was a gambler) as proof of a gambling conspiracy. Garner argued that the IRS forced him to incriminate himself by having to fill out his tax return.
We're not aware of any current case law that specifically deals with logbooks and a commercial driver's right against self-incrimination. Courts would likely argue that tax returns and logbooks are different because if you lie on your tax return, you don't have the possibility of falling asleep and killing people. Whatever your opinion is, the courts will likely say that protecting the public is more important than a commercial driver's right against self-incrimination when it comes to logbooks.
We hope you can use the information in this column to help with every day, real life problems you face on the road. We invite you to send us any questions or comments you may have regarding transportation law to ROAD LAW, 1330 N. Classen Blvd., Suite 215, Oklahoma City, OK 73106; fax to (405) 272-0558 or contact us through our web site at www.roadlaw.net. We look forward to hearing from you.