So, maybe your car isn't necessarily legal to drive. You've got expired tags, an expired inspection sticker, and even an expired property tax sticker. Maybe it's been that way for more than a year. And considering your daily commute is an hour each way, in traffic, on major highways, you can practically feel the cops closing in.
Well, I'm here to tell you how to avoid capture for the foreseeable future, if not years to come. You'll die before you go to prison. They'll never take you alive.
DO NOT COMMIT FRAUD. You will be tempted to print up a phony inspection sticker, yank the personal property decal off your wife's windshield, and use colored sharpies to draw convincing registration tags on your license plate. Don't do it! Getting pulled over for speeding or making an illegal turn or failing to come to a complete stop at an abandoned intersection at 4 a.m. ... if any of these bad things should happen, no traffic cop alive will be fooled for very long by your fraudulent stickers once they tappa tappa them into the computer in their patrol car. It's one thing to rack up a few hundred bucks worth of embarrassing tickets for expired paperwork, but something else to be arrested for fraud and have your car impounded. No, the goal here is to avoid direct conflict, like Val Kilmer in The Saint, rather than escape conflict, like Val Kilmer in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Important note: Whatever else happens, behave nothing like Val Kilmer in Heat with respect to conflict. My god.
Know When to Speed. Speeding is an easy way to get pulled over. If you're driving a legal car, speeding is a stupid thing to do, unless you really feel like driving fast, in which case speeding is really the only choice, when you think about it. When you're driving a wildly illegal car, especially one with expired tags, the last thing you want is The Man easing up behind you, close enough to read your tags, as you mosey along at the mandated speed limit. The thing to do, then, is drive just a couple miles an hour faster than the flow of traffic. Not enough to get nabbed by a well-executed speed-trap, but fast enough that only cars going significantly faster than the speed limit will overtake you. Here's the thing: The police rarely drive significantly faster than the speed limit unless they're en route to busting up a terrorist plot, and they likely won't have time to pull you over for having the wrong stickers on your license plate when Hans Gruber is turning their colleague's squad car into Swiss cheese. He needs backup assistance now! Now, goddammit, now!
The Right Lane is Your Friend. Let's say you're stuck at a red light. In the middle lane, all the drivers around you have a direct view of your glaringly wrong-colored tags, even those in the lanes to either side. In the left lane, you've got to worry about coppers in the center lane and the left turn lane. But in the right lane, you've got just the center lane to worry about, provided the right-turn lane isn't a no-turn-on-red.
The right lane also provides a handy escape route when The Man closes in. Don't rush it! Just wait a beat, and then ease on over into the turn lane, make the right turn, and turn into the nearest parking lot. With any luck, you can be safely indoors before Officer Numb Nuts fights his way out of the middle lane, through the right lane, through the turn, and into the parking lot. Is he gonna run his lights and sirens and make a big scene for a guy with five-year-old tags? Is he gonna call for backup and do a room-by-room sweep of a five-story office building while you crouch silently on the toilet in a second-floor bathroom stall? Probably not.
The Advantages of One-Lane Roads. While there's nowhere to hide in traffic on a one-lane road, it's easy enough to identify the cars lined up in front of and behind you to avoid any surprises from the authorities. Also, though there are always infuriating urban exceptions, one-lane roads are often found in rural areas, where the hayseed police departments haven't developed the technology to pass other vehicles, let alone run a sophisticated trap. For this reason, if you are going to be driving a car with hilariously invalid paperwork, you should consider moving way out to the country, where freedom is more sacred than The Law.
Gas Stations Are "Base" in the Game of "Dump a Tail." Few people know the finer details of this game, and the police are loath to open up the entire rulebook for public consumption, but trust me: As anyone who has played tag with chicken-shit 5-year-olds will tell you, "base" serves as a magical place where people are safe from just about anything they're running/hiding from. In the terrifying event that a squad car pulls up behind you while driving, head directly to the nearest gas station. Pull up to the pump, park, get out, completely ignore the police officer as he tries to decide whether to violate the Geneva Conventions and cross the sacred boundary, and either gas up or head directly inside. Some police may choose to circle the gas station hungrily in anticipation of you leaving. This will be a good time to pull out your phone and have an animated conversation with your mom or your boss or your ashtray. Conversations like this are known to go on for hours and hours, even at idle gas pumps at 3 a.m.
Choose Freeways Over Surface Streets. The flow of traffic will be faster on freeways, there are more lanes, traffic is generally more spread-out, and there won't be any stoplights where the dragnet can swoop in like hyenas on a wounded antelope. They're looking for opportunities, but freeways allow you to keep on moving. You can even waive to their hopeless little speed-traps as you cruise by, knowing what they know: Somewhere on this highway is a dipshit in a BMW doing 90, and no traffic cop worth his salt is gonna give up that kind of primo collar to go for a small fish like you.
Learn Headlights. It's easy enough to spot patrol cars during the day, but at nighttime, the only way to differentiate between normal traffic and the onrushing dragnet is by developing your ability to recognize the shapes of the headlights of various police vehicles. Here's some basic tips:
- LED lights are not found on police cars.
- Padiddles never turn out to be police cars.
- Narrow, vertical, or noticeably round headlights are never found on police cars.
- Very high or very low headlights are never found on police cars.
- Fog lamps are almost never found on police cars.
- Xenon headlamps are almost never found on police cars.
- Cute, surprised-looking headlamps are never found on police cars.
When in doubt, merge into the right lane and turn off. If the sting operation is especially sophisticated, it's possible the police will use Ferraris and ATVs and possibly even fighter jets, but these vehicle are known for being unable to make any right turns. Better safe than sorry.
Manage Distances. Here's a shit thing that sometimes happens: You're driving along on a two-lane road, and suddenly there's a state cop in front of you, the light ahead turns red, and before you know it it's just the two of you, mano a mano, like a shootout in the Old West, except you're both facing in the same direction for some reason.
The instinct here might be to hang way back and keep a couple of car lengths between your bumper and his. This is a bad idea. Nothing screams, "Maybe I oughta have a closer look at this guy's deal" than a driver who refuses to pull closer than eight car-lengths at a stoplight. It's like refusing to take a pillow off your lap because you've got a boner. Now everyone knows you've got the boner. No, the thing to do here is pull right up behind the cop car. Like, uncomfortably close. You want it to be that he can't even see your license plate, because you're pulled that close.
Okay, what comes next is the part where Officer Hawk-Eye is never going to miss the guy who just pulled within a few inches of his bumper at a stoplight. You've managed to cover up your dead tags, but you've left your expired inspection sticker and decade-old property-tax sticker in full view, more exposed than ever. How will we cover for this?
Time to Perform. There's no doubt you're in a precarious situation, here. Your first instinct will be to grab your phone and simulate an intense conversation, but this will only get you pulled over sooner. The thing to do here is fuckin' sing. Look out the driver's window, groove your head back and forth, tap your hand on the steering wheel, and sing to the heavens. All you're trying to do here is drag his gaze a few inches away from the center of your windshield. He's seen a million people talk on the phone, but who isn't immediately transfixed by the sight of someone grooving out to the rhythm at a stoplight? This will do the trick. He will not be able to tear his eyes away from your moves, your passion. "What a Fool Believes" is a gripping song, man.
Strategic Overcorrection. Ever pull too far into an intersection and had to reverse to get out of the way of cross-traffic? Brutal. But the committed illegal-ass-car-driver can use this maneuver as a ploy to conceal invalid tags. When you're first in line at the stoplight, especially in the middle lane, go ahead and reverse a few feet until you're uncomfortably close to the car behind you, narrowing the angle for adjacent cars to see your shame. The driver behind you will honk helpfully to indicate a satisfactory distance for your purposes. All other signals from this driver should be interpreted as congratulations for your clear thinking and decisive action.
Use Other Vehicles as Shields. By now, you've figured out that stoplights are the real danger zone. Everyone in the whole damn village can see your car! The worst mistake you can make here is pulling to a stop at an intersection with no car in front of you and no clear sense of what cars might pull up directly behind you. What you need to do here is recruit another driver to pull behind you. This is when you need to ambush a nearby car and pull in front of it at a strategically advantageous moment.
Ambushing someone in this way can be dangerous if done at high speeds, so your first order of business is slowing the cars around you. How will you do this? Timely use of your turn signal. Whichever lane you're in, as you approach the intersection, look in your rearview mirror and target a non-cop to be your shield. You will now need to slow this car down. Use your blinker to indicate that you will be moving into the next lane, take your foot off the gas, hang in your lane for a few beats, and slow down.
As you approach the light, slowly, slowly ease into the other lane. This will be an acceptable time to linger between lanes longer than is generally appropriate, and your indecision will ultimately convince the other driver to hang back and follow your lead as you ease into the stoplight ahead of them. We are trying to achieve a kind of shock-and-awe demoralization whereby the other driver comes to believe self-determination is hopeless. If, at any point, the other driver makes an attempt to squirrel around you, zig when he zigs, zag when he zags. At these speeds, there is almost no danger. If you've done this right, you will be like an awesome soccer keeper, protecting the white line that signals the intersection. Denied, asshole!
Strategic Stacking of Infractions. Driving with expired registration tags is illegal. In some states, so is driving without a front license plate. But without a front license plate, you've cut in half the chance of a police officer even sussing out the state in which your vehicle is registered! Why, up and down the East Coast, there are all kinds of rules about who should and shouldn't have this plate or that one, or this sticker or that one. All kinds of things! When you blow past a patrol car with ancient tags on your rear plate and no front plate at all, he's gotta look fast to realize he just missed his big chance at nabbing the infamous Dead-Tag Bandit. The whole time you were approaching, Officer Gullah Bull assumed you were a Florida driver touring the mid-Atlantic region, and only when he's firmly in your rearview mirror will he realize his fatal error. Ha ha ha! you will laugh, before sliding over into the right turn lane to hang a right, pull into the nearest parking lot, enter the first open building, turn your jacket inside-out, and don your fake mustache to top off your disguise. Boom. The perfect crime(s).
Miserable Shitehawk lives in Virginia, writes about the Wizards, and spends too much of his meager income on meals out. He's also written for Vice Sports and The Classical, and can be found on Twitter @MadBastardsAll.
Art by Sam Woolley.
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