Just because you’re not paranoid…

…doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. I read that on a fortune cookie at Folk Yews Szechuan Buffet in Walla Walla Washington one evening after a long days ride. When I got on my bike to head back to my deluxe accommodations, room 116 at the Motel 6, I looked over each shoulder, twice…I checked the mirrors, twice…when I got to the street I looked up and down and over my shoulders again. I knew they were out there. Waiting for me.

More and more you see them, or actually you don’t and that’s the idea. The ‘stealth’ cars. The unmarked cop car that oh so casually pulls in behind you and then fills your rear view mirrors with pretty red and blue lights. “Damn…where’d he come from?” Next thing you know a smiling officer is handing you an invitation to contribute to his states general fund. Isn’t that special.

Unmarked cars are nothing new, state troopers have been using them for decades, I believe Arizona was one of the first, clear back in the early ’70s…take a guess as to how I know. Wow, good guess. Early stealth cars were the standard highway patrol cruisers, the lights were tucked in the windshield (but still pretty noticeable), some even retained the push bar in the front. They weren’t too hard to spot, if you were paying attention. Over the years, law enforcement agencies have been getting sneakier when it comes to unmarked cars. Is it because we as drivers / riders are getting smarter? Look around you next time you’re on the road and you’ll know the answer to that question is no.

Coming home from the World Superbike races in Utah a couple of years back, we were just droning along I15 listening to Rush Limbaugh or some other loudmouth spouting off his views of the world on the radio, when we got passed by a little Toyota econobox doing about 85. As the Toyota was disappearing into the scenery, we were passed again, this time by a sweet looking Mustang GT. As I watch the GT motor off, I was thinking ‘people in Utah like to drive fast’, cuz I’m doing 80 and getting passed like I’m in second gear?! A little farther up the road we pass the Toyota and the Mustang like they were standing still, they were. The Toyota and the Mustang were pulled off on the side of the road and the driver of the Mustang, looking pretty spiffy in his Utah State Police uniform, was asking the other driver for the usual paperwork that means this is not a social visit.

State law enforcement agencies say they use unmarked cars for safety reasons citing speeding as a major cause, if not the major cause of highway fatalities and that by using unmarked cars they can catch more speeders, therefore making the highways of this country safer for law-abiding citizens like you and I. What a bunch of hooey…in my opinion. Here’s my thought, you knew you were reading this for a reason, if states really want to keep the highways safer, make sure all the cars are marked in such a way that it is painfully obvious that it, the car, is a highway patrol vehicle. The reason I believe that is very simple. All of us, whether we are in a car or riding a motorcycle, if we are speeding and we see a police car, we slow down…right now, even if the cop has someone pulled over on the other side of the road! None of us wants to pay a ticket and have our insurance go up. If we see more highway patrol cars and see them more frequently, we will all (well, most of us) be motoring along a little more safely. The mission of the state troopers has been accomplished. Is it really that simple? No.

More speeding tickets means more income for the state where the ticket was issued. State police ‘stealth’ cars are nice little revenue generators. The states all say no, that’s not the reason for using unmarked cars, it’s all about safety. Again, I say hooey. Every state in this country is in fiscal trouble (except maybe Tennessee) and they are raising money any way they can. Catching more speeders with unmarked cars may slow them down for a moment and bring more money to the state, but if highway patrols would show a greater presence, drivers and riders would be more aware of their speed at all times. Not just when they are getting a ticket.

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