One surefire way to avoid a speeding ticket is to drive a 2002 Honda Accord with a somewhat-clogged air cleaner and slightly wonky steering alignment. (As the owner of a 2002 Honda Accord with a somewhat-clogged air cleaner and slightly wonky steering alignment, I can say this with a degree of authority.)
In the five years we've owned the Accord, my wife and I have never received a speeding citation. This is not a coincidence. The Accord accelerates so slowly that speeding is hard work, and it's so dull-looking that no one notices it, even the police.
But now the game has changed – this spring, I bought a Lotus Evora S (in red, apparently the most arrest-prone colour on the automotive spectrum). The Lotus looks like it's speeding even when it's parked. And it really is fast – the last time I was at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park raceway, it hit 230 km/h on the back straightaway before I ran out of room. (The top speed is listed as 275.)
Two days after I picked up the Lotus, a friend of mine gave me a Toronto Police Association cap and key ring. "It might help you out," he said, obviously envisioning a long string of traffic stops. This was not an unreasonable expectation, given my car's sinful looks.
And yet I have done thousands of kilometres in the Lotus without a single ticket. Many of my friends see this as a genuine achievement, and I can see why – the Lotus looks like it should come with an attorney's number stencilled onto the sun visor. (A police officer recently gave me two thumbs up when I drove through his speed trap slightly below the limit.)
This got me thinking about a topic I've been interested in for a while now – how to drive a fast car slowly. In a car that struggles to reach highway speed, any fool can drive slowly (as I have repeatedly proven in our old Accord). But when you get into a machine with serious horsepower, things can get out of hand quickly – I recently drove a Porsche that accelerated to 100 km/h in just more than three seconds.
In today's world, that kind of performance can be a problem. More than 100,000 speeding citations are issued every day in North America, and the fines are more brutal than ever. In Ontario, you face a $10,000 fine and a roadside car seizure if you're clocked at 50 km/h above the posted limit. (Coming back from the Montreal Grand Prix, I watched police load a Ferrari, a Lamborghini and a new Porsche onto flat-bed tow trucks after clocking them at more than 170 km/h on Highway 401.)
In powerful cars, discipline and a game plan are a must if you want to avoid tickets (and stay alive). Here are my fast-car driving rules:
Use cruise: Fast cars will exceed the speed limit in seconds, so I use cruise control constantly, setting it for a speed that keeps me in the middle of the prevailing traffic flow. By holding a set speed, I avoid spikes that put me too far above the limit (and invite a ticket). The only time I turn off cruise control is in heavy traffic that demands constant speed alterations.
Inhabit the second tier: Traffic on major highways invariably travels above the posted limit, but there's a wide range of speeds. I divide traffic into tiers. The fastest tier is a small group of major speeders who consistently drive at speeds that are 40 to 50 per cent above the limit. These are the drivers that attract police attention, and get big tickets. Running with them is like playing Russian roulette. The second tier typically travels at 15 to 20 per cent above the limit, and includes the vast majority of traffic. This second tier often includes the police, who tend to cruise with the traffic flow. This is the tier you want to run with.
Stay between two cars: Try to find two cars that are doing the speed you want, and slot yourself in between them (but don't tailgate). Although it doesn't make you immune to radar, having a shield in front and behind doesn't hurt.
Smoothness rules: Abrupt acceleration and rapid lane changes make you stand out to police in the same way an erratically-swimming fish attracts the attention of a shark. Accelerate and brake smoothly, and make lane changes with gentle pressure on the steering wheel.
Observe the 15 per cent rule: If traffic is light, you can't use other cars to determine the prevailing speed. The safest bet is to stick to the limit. But if you're going to exceed it, don't allow yourself to go more than 15 per cent over – in most cases, this is the limit of police tolerance.
Don't wave red flags: Avoid police-baiting items like deep window tints, speed shop decals and cannon-sized exhaust pipes. Although many sports car owners like to leave the front licence plate off because the car looks better that way, you will get a ticket sooner or later (probably sooner).
Watch for transition zones: Police often target spots where the speed limit drops (like at the outskirts of small towns on secondary roads) because many drivers miss the signs, setting themselves up for a major speeding ticket. Watch the signs, and slow down in time.
Keep your car clean and well-repaired: Badly maintained vehicles draw the attention of police, increasing your chance of a ticket. A traffic-officer friend told me that he often stops vehicles with damage that has obviously gone un-repaired for some time, because it indicates a sloppy approach. (In a high percentage of these stops, he finds lapsed registrations or missing insurance coverage.)
Go to the race track: You can't explore the limits of a fast car on the street (and you didn't buy that Lamborghini Aventador to go slow). Take a high-performance driving course and sign up for track days. (I like to go to lapping sessions at Mosport with a company called Apex Driver Training Inc.) Going flat-out on the track fulfills the need for speed legally, and slows you down on the highway.
The automotive chastity belt: If you get a lot of speeding tickets, you may need a control device. I suggest a 2002 Honda Accord with a somewhat-clogged air cleaner and slightly wonky steering alignment. (You can try speeding in it if you want, but your right foot is going to get tired soon enough.)
Don't forget to check out this week's photo gallery In pictures: Speed incarnate – ten of the world's fastest cars
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Twitter: Peter Cheney@cheneydrive
Globe and Mail Road Rush archive: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/car-life/cheney/