Happy Easter!

My last post described an experiment I want to try:

I am so confused. For my next experiment, I think I’m going to try driving the speed limit again. When a police officer tries to pass me, I’m going to accelerate to match his speed so he can’t. I’m curious if he’ll give me a ticket for going the same speed as him.

A commenter gave a valuable warning:

Regarding your next experiment, in at least some jurisdictions and some circumstances, it is illegal to accelerate when a vehicle is attempting to pass you.

So I thought I should look into it. It turns out the rules can be quite strange. I found a good post about the issue discussing Michigan traffic laws. It quotes the Michigan Vehicle Code:

(b) Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle on audible signal and shall not increase the speed of his or her vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.

Which says a person being passed cannot accelerate when being passed. However, as the post points out, there is the strange phrase "on audible signal." That would seem to suggest you cannot be cited under this code unless the person passing you honked. This is strange because I don't think I've ever seen anyone honk as part of passing a person (well, except when expressing anger).

I thought that was interesting, so I looked up the Illinois Vehicle Code (I live in Illinois). I found the exact same text. That means this is the rule which would apply to my proposed experiment. That means I do not need to "give way to the right in favor of the overtaking" police car unless the officer honks at me. However, the phrase "on audible signal" is only applied to the first portion. It is not attached to the portion prohibiting accelerating while being passed. That means my experiment would require violating this traffic code.

That might sound bad, but the experiment always involved breaking the law. My plan was to travel at the speed limit until a police officer tried to pass me. Passing me would require the officer break the law by speeding. At that point, I would break the same law by accelerating and going over the speed limit. Now we just know I'd also be breaking an additional law.

I mostly wanted to make this post because I thought it was funny to imagine every person passing another person on the road honking while doing so. I do want to ask a couple questions though. First, if this law were not an issue, could an officer give you a ticket for accelerating to match his speed? I don't think so. If one could, any officer could drive over the speed limit then pull over anyone behind him who matches his speed. That'd be silly.

Second, can an officer give me a ticket for breaking this law under the circumstances I describe in my proposed experiment? He and I would both be breaking the law by speeding, but I would also be breaking another law. Does breaking two laws mean it's okay for an officer breaking one law to give me a ticket?

Actually, that raises a third question. While it's true I would be breaking two laws in my proposed experiment, I would only be doing so in response to the officer breaking a law himself. Does that matter? It seems it should.

These are the sort of things I find myself pondering far too often. I don't know how interesting other people find them, but it's Easter today. That means I got to sit with family members watching reality television and talking. It was either think about stuff like this or go insane.

In any event, happy Easter!


  1. Check the laws regarding police exceeding the general speed limit. It's likely that they have codified exemptions for when on duty, even in unmarked vehicles. FWIW, a number of years ago I was following a police vehicle but not tailgating and we both were exceeding the posted speed limit -- 35 mph in a 25 mph zone IIRC. He gave me a warning to drive more slowly. I wasn't going to argue, but my explanation was that I was driving at the typical speed of traffic in this stretch, which was the truth, and not different that the hundreds of other times I'd driven there. The area is rural and sections just ahead are 35 and 45 mph. Somewhat ironically this officer who I didn't know at the time became a friend a few years later.

  2. Gary, police officers are allowed to break traffic laws as part of doing their job. The same is true for emergency service in general. That's the only way they could possibly do their job. However, those exceptions do not apply to all their activities on the job. They only apply when executing duties which require them. For instance, an ambulance driver can run a red light in order to get aid to an injured person more quickly, but he cannot if he's just waiting on his next call. If he does, a police officer can give him a ticket for it.

    The same is true for police officers. A police officer is free to go over the speed limit to match the speed of a driver in front of him in order to measure that driver's speed. He is free to do that because speeding in that case is part of performing his duty. I doubt the same would be true of him simply speeding and waiting for a driver to come by. That'd be like saying, "I drove over the speed limit for half an hour because I was waiting for someone to match my speed so I'd know they were breaking the law." That really doesn't work, especially since a police officer breaking a law (save when necessary to perform his duties) encourages people to break the law as well.

    Of course, all of that is how things should be. I can't guarantee that's how they will be. The Illinois Vehicle Code is clear about what exceptions there are for police officers, but that doesn't mean what it says is what will be enforced. That's part of why I want to do this experiment. Another reason is I'm curious how different things are from one area/group to the next. For instance, would the county sheriff's office handle things the same way as the state troopers? What about city police officers? What about the same ones, just fifty miles over? For all I know, I might get eyerolls in one area, a $500 ticket in a different area, and and a beating in another.

    And no, I don't actually think violence is a serious possibility. I just can't rule it out. After all, if police can freely break some laws, who's to say they can't break others?

  3. This makes me think you don't drive much. State police routinely drive over the speed limit, and will ticket people who match their speed behind them or even those going slower in front of them. Obviously they can't ticket those going faster in front of them.

    I suspect part of the reason for the high speed was if they went the speed limit everyone else would feel pressure to do the same. So as a courtesy, they get out of the way of the other drivers.

  4. MikeN, I drive a fair amount, but I pretty much always follow traffic laws to the letter. That means I don't speed or do other things that'd get me pulled over. I've never gotten a ticket in my life. I've never even been pulled over. That might limit my knowledge of how things are. Given my limited experience in breaking the law, I might not know all the details about law-breaking 😀

    Anyway, what I've said is correct, in principle. A judge will have a hard time upholding a ticket if the ticket was given by an officer speeding before you encountered him as the law is against the officer in such a situation. The judge might uphold the ticket anyway because judges have a lot of discretion, but they won't have much of a legal basis for it. And if you're willing to pursue the issue, they'll likely drop the citation.

    But yeah, I know how things *should* work, not necessarily how they *will* work. That's a large part of why I want to test things like this. I want to know what I can and cannot do, and there's no way for me to look it up. The only way to find out is to test it out for myself.

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