Straight Talk Advice

Cops Pick On Teen Drivers

Nov 03, 2010

Teen drivers experience profiling by cops

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: I’m a new driver and was pulled over for something I didn’t do. I was so nervous I hardly defended myself — and when I tried, the officer told me I was wrong. It was my word against his, so I was given a ticket with a huge fine. A friend had a similar experience. It feels like teens are picked on. At 16, people are plenty careful and it’s not fair to “teach us a lesson.” What have other teens experienced? — Krystal, Irvine, Calif.

Maureen 18, Redding, Calif. Ask me a question

I was pulled over for running a stop sign that I stopped at. The cop also accused me (wrongly) of being on the phone. He finally believed me about the phone but gave me a warning about the stop sign — which really bugged me because I had stopped fully. Another time, I was in peer court representing a teen pulled over for speeding. Without cause and against his will, the officers had searched his car for weed. They probably figured they could get away with it. Nonetheless, teen drivers are four times more likely than older drivers to crash and it is human nature to profile.

Ashley 23, Auburn, Calif. Ask me a question

At a park once, a cop stereotyped me and harassed me for smoking pot. I don't even smoke pot! Another time I was stopped for a burned-out license plate light. The first thing the cop asked was if I had been drinking! At a frozen yogurt place I frequent, the owner is rude to teens and watches me like I'm going to steal something. Sometimes young people are treated like criminals.

Hannah 16, Safford, Ariz. Ask me a question

I was pulled over heading to church with my younger brother. The charge — my brother having his head out the window — was ridiculous. The officer proceeded to ask me questions, saying my car had been parked outside his house. I realized he stopped me for this, not my driving.

Evan 25, Medford, Ore. Ask me a question

Once, walking to school, I received a ticket for failure to yield to a vehicle. There were no sidewalks and I walked around a car in the street instead of entering someone’s yard. The cop was unbelievably rude and made me sit on my hands. Another time I was waiting to pass a semi when a cop going the other direction flipped a U and pulled me over. I had a perfect driving record but my hair was long and I wore top gun shades. He wrote me a fat ticket for following a semi too close. Would a businessman have gotten this ticket? Probably not. But we will encounter either saints or donkeys throughout life. We just have to smile and say thank you. One day people will see us as a great group of kids.

Katelyn 16, Huntington Beach, Calif. Ask me a question

Actually, at 16, most teens are NOT “plenty careful.” However, policemen shouldn't disrespect you. But if an officer insists you're wrong, take the hit. They're the authority.

DEAR KRYSTAL: Even teens are brainwashed to profile teens! The fact is, most of you are plenty careful. Sure, you don't stack up against mature drivers, but 2004 data for U.S. teens ages 16-19 show that just 2.4 percent were in accidents, with .02 percent being fatalities. Hardly top-to-bottom carelessness and recklessness. I concede that many unsafe teen drivers are lucky and don't show up on stats — but even accounting for them, the vast majority of teens drive responsibly. Most don't speed, don't text, and don't drive intoxicated. You are definitely profiled from the few that give your whole lot a bad name. To be pulled over without cause (or feeble cause) — or not given the benefit of the doubt, as in your case — is unfair, unfriendly, creates unnecessary hardship, and takes an emotional toll on society.

Editor’s Note: Negative profiling of teens and young adults is widespread, not just by law enforcement but by the general population. Unless adults work with teens, many are afraid of them and consider automatically that most are up to no good. It’s not only unfair, but it creates an environment of hostility and fear, and teaches teens that “the world is not a friendly place.” One of my sons, the kindest soul you’d ever meet, had a ‘fro when he was 17. He was bewildered that women would cross to the other side of the street when they saw him coming. On a flight from Canada he was detained in a private room and searched for drugs because of his hairstyle only. There was no cause, it was strictly profiling. I hope that anyone who recognizes himself or herself while reading this will wait for actual cause before jumping to a conclusion about a young person based on appearance alone — or age alone, in the case of traffic law enforcement. Most teens are kind people looking to adults for cues on how to act. Why not model for them the idea of a friendly and fair world? —Lauren

  1. By M.J., age , from Carmichael, CA on 11/03/2010

    My mom and dad are both CHP officers, and I would like equal time on their behalf.  They are very dedicated as are most law enforcement officers, and all they want to do is protect the public and enforce the law.  However, from what they tell me, just about everybody who gets a citation claims discrimination.  Young drivers claim that it’s becasuse they’re young.  Older drivers claim that it’s because they’re old.  Members of minority groups claim that it’s because they’re minorities, etc.  Supposedly, nobody ever gets a citation because the committed a violation.  However, anybody who ever drives sees drivers breaking the law all the time, so how can it always be discrimination?  When I spent the night at a friend’s recently, she and her sister had a poster in their room portraying police as pigs which really made me mad and I told them so and my friend said she got it when she got a citation for speeding just because she’s young even though “everybody else” also was speeding.  She didn’t even deny that she was speeding.  We got into a big argument and I ended up leaving.  My sister and I our proud of our parents who protect everyone and have posters in our room honoring law enforcement even though some of our friends make fun of us because of it and for having parents who are “cops.”  Where would we be without the protection they provide?  I really hurts to hear them put down.


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  2. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Straight Talk for Teens on 11/04/2010

    Dear M.J.,

    Your point is well taken. I am a big supporter of law enforcement and I applaud your parents. It’s a tough job and it doesn’t help that nobody is ever happy with it. Furthermore, I have zero sympathy for young people pulled over for more than petty cause—especially for things like speeding, carelessness, being on the phone, and DUI. They deserve their fines and suspensions and I’m glad they get them.

    Nonetheless, teens do get pulled over for weak causes much more than mature drivers do. Multitudes of mature drivers do gently rolling stops, have running lights out, or go a bit over the speed limit, but they are seldom pulled over. However, the young are often pulled over for sins even more minor than these. A lot of it appears to be an excuse to see “what else” they might be up to. They’re definitely the “freshmen on campus” and by and large, are treated as such. It does end up causing many responsible teens and early 20-somethings who can barely afford to drive a lot of hardship and bad feelings about law enforcement. I just wish the environment was a little friendlier for them, a little less suspicious unless there is cause for it. From the bottom of my heart, there is so much stress today that I believe small acts of generosity and warmth by authority figures make the world a happier place—and make people happier to follow the rules.


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  3. By g taylor, age , from Sebastopol, CA on 11/07/2010

    I, an adult, was pulled over for ‘not stopping before making a right turn’.

    When I want around the corner, the cop was sitting there as I stared at him.

    He stopped me because I looked guilty.

    I fought it in court and won.

    The cop admitted in court that he could not see my car at the time he said I failed to stop.

    BTW I DID make the legal stop.

    I enjoy reading your col in the Santa Rosa, CA Press Democrat.

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