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The excuses: How some Sonoma County drivers try to get out of traffic tickets

The Hon. Lawrence Ornell speaks during traffic court at the Sonoma County Hall of Justice in Santa Rosa, California on Thursday, February 9, 2012.

(BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)
Published: Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 2:41 p.m.

Swarming bees in your car is not an excuse for speeding.

And your unborn child does not count as a passenger when you drive in the carpool lane.

Both explanations came up in Sonoma County traffic court, where it appears some people will say anything to get out of a ticket.

“You just can't make this stuff up,” said Commissioner Lawrence Ornell. “Some of it is really bizarre.”

The zingers are offered by some of the 250 people who appear each week before Ornell to challenge their tickets, ask for reductions or get more time to pay fines.

They serve as little more than amusement for Ornell and his court staff, who are compiling an unofficial record of the best stories.

Ornell warns ticket-getters at the start of each morning's session that he's heard them all.

“A medical doctor on the way to the hospital to perform a life-saving procedure is allowed to speed,” Ornell said. “Other than that, there just aren't a lot of excuses that work.”

Still, people try.

Common tales involve wrong-size tires, faulty speedometer cables and inaccurate clocks that have people driving solo in the carpool lane when they shouldn't be.

“A lot of people tell me the radio announcer said the wrong time on the air,” Ornell said.

Other explanations are less thoughtful or depend on circular logic. One man told Ornell that radar was incapable of clocking his triple-digit speed. Another guy admitted his first gear was out so he never came to a complete stop.

An elderly woman told Ornell she was driving 80 on the freeway to try to escape a “noisy truck” that was coming up behind her. Turns out the truck was a fire truck headed to an emergency.

“If you're going to tell me what happened, make sure it helps you,” Ornell said.

More creative excuses delve into unexpected weight gain and outrunning buzzing insects.

One woman said she didn't realize she was pressing harder on the accelerator pedal because she picked up 40 pounds in two months. Another woman said she broke the speed limit when she was trying to outrun bees in her car.

“She said she thought if she drove faster it would propel the bees away from her,” he said.

Ornell has his favorites, including some with unintended philosophical implications.

Recently, a pregnant woman argued the baby she was carrying allowed her to drive in the carpool lane.

Ornell said he couldn't count the fetus. If he did, he'd have to find her in violation of child car seat laws, he said.

“I said I'd find you not guilty as soon as you can tell me how your child was in an approved car seat,” Ornell said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.

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