What do sex (gender) and skin have to do with someone’s driving record? I’m not sure, but the past weeks have me thinking of ways in which being a woman who is white might have granted me privileges not granted to others.
Driving record “capital” – the monetary benefits that accrue from having a good driving record – may sound small but can be significant.
In 39 years of driving, I’ve been pulled over 5 or 6 times. The first time, I was 19. In my 1982 Pontiac Firebird, I ran a red light at Fowler and Nebraska, a dangerous Tampa intersection. I didn’t run it barely; I ran it bigly (as a certain politician would say). It was flagrant and I was rude to the officer who pulled me over. I totally deserved the ticket she gave me, and it was painful to pay it.
As a result, the other painful part was that I lost driving record “capital.” I had to pay higher insurance premiums for a few years. This kept down the price of the car that I could afford. Also, if I had applied for life insurance or disability insurance, I would have paid higher premiums for those too. (Yes, your driving record affects your life and disability insurance premiums, no matter what your age.)
But I’ve never had a ticket since. In the past 35 years, I may have been guilty of:
California rolling a stop sign in a quiet neighborhood in an Infiniti sedan; and/or screaming 65 around Florida country curves posted at 35 in a Cayman S; and/or doing a U-ey in front of a sign with a big red line through a black U.
Yet, no tickets. Maybe I’m not guilty of any of these things, but I sure was pulled over for them.
Why Only a Warning?
Each time I left with a warning. Why? Maybe it’s because I learned to be polite. But somehow I don’t think that’s all of it. Only one of the officers actually told me his reasoning. “I’m gonna’ write cha’ this here warning, on account of you’re drivin’ such a nice car. Slow down now, y’hear?”
When he said that, I thought, “Well thank goodness, but that’s not a very good reason to let someone out of a speeding ticket.” “Yes, sir,” I said.
As I carefully drove away, heart pounding with relief, I wondered, what if I had been just as polite, but a guy? And now I wonder, what if I had been just as polite, but a black guy? How about, what if I had been a polite black gal in that rural Florida county “drivin’ such a nice car?” Maybe I wouldn’t be driving away with a warning.
Maybe, for going 30 miles an hour over the limit, he would have arrested me. Bye bye, driving record capital. Hello, perhaps, jail?, lawyer fees, court fees, driving school, and a permanent mark for higher insurance premiums and who knows what else for quite a while.
Capital Begets Capital
As with other types of capital, having some to begin with helps you get more. Each time I was pulled over, no prior warnings showed up on my license (although I was told by the stop sign officer that the warning would show up, and next time would be a ticket.) Does driving record capital also help someone get warnings instead of tickets, so either way is self-reinforcing? Ticketed drivers get more tickets; warned drivers get more warnings?
Regardless, I have been allowed to keep my driving record capital. Heck, with each traffic stop, I was given that capital, and the right to continue on with my life. Others have not been treated so fairly. Wait – that’s an understatement. Others have been severely, tragically wronged.
What To Do?
The question is, what part could I do to even things up? My “extra” driving record capital is not transferable to someone who had theirs taken away unjustly. But it does have monetary value. Each ticket could have cost $200-$500 in additional insurance premiums annually for 3 – 10 years. (Higher increases when you’re 30 – 40-ish; lower when you’re older).
As a starting point, I’ll donate those savings in the same way: $200-$500 per year for the next 3 – 10 years, to causes that help people who have been treated unfairly, especially because of their sex or their skin. Your favorite suggestions for those causes are welcome in the comments below.