Studies by various polling organizations show most American drivers frequently violate traffic laws.
Those of us who ride motorcycles see traffic violations clearly and up close.
When I ride my Harley into Floyd, for example, and slow down when the speed limits drops from 55 to 45 or 35 or 25, a car or truck behind me too often tailgates because I’m going the speed limit and he or she is apparently in a hurry.
I see it most often when the speed limit is 25. Obeying that speed limit is an invitation to get run over. Law enforcement officers who run radar in the 25-mile zones write a lot of tickets in Floyd.
Tickets are also handed out for passing on the right (a violation that leads to a reckless driving citation) and for failing to yield right of way.
I’ve had to swerve my bike or car to the side of the street or road because of a car pulling out of a side street or a parking lot. I broke my left leg last September when I laid my Harley down because a car ran a stop sign on Rte. 8.
Almost daily, I read on Facebook that someone was stopped for a traffic violation and complained because the officer was simply doing his or her job.
Just about anytime the state police or sheriff’s department put up a traffic check-point, posts pop up on Social Media complaining about “harassment.”
Yet those checkpoints usually bring arrests for driving without a license, safety violations of vehicles and criminals wants on more serious warrants.
One post this past weekend came from a Check resident who complained about getting stopped on his way to church by a trooper because he was hauling kayaks on his truck, which sported “Farm Use” plates.
He complained that the officer’s actions violated his rights to use his vehicle any way he damned well pleased.
Really? Farm Use tags come with specific rules on what an operator can or cannot do.
Virginia law regulates both “registered farm vehicles” and those that are not registered but sport “farm use” plates.
Valid uses for a registered farm vehicle:
Vehicles that are registered for farming purposes can be used to transport:
- agricultural products to market or to other points for sale or processing;
- materials, tools, equipment, or supplies that will be used or consumed on the farm;
- anything incidental to the routine operation of the farm;
- farm produce, supplies, equipment, or materials to another farm through a mutual agreement with the owner of the other farm;
- forest products to the farm including forest materials originating on a farm or related to the regular operation of the farm;
- forest products which originate on the farm.
For “unregistered farm vehicles, the law says:
You are not required to register a vehicle (obtain license plates and decals) or pay a registration fee for any pickup or panel truck, sport utility vehicle, vehicle having a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 7,500 pounds, trailer, or semitrailer used exclusively for agricultural or horticultural purposes on lands owned or leased by the vehicle’s owner. Although registration is not required, such vehicles must be titled. This registration exemption applies only to vehicles that are not operated on or over any public highway for any purpose other than:
- crossing a highway;
- operating along a highway for a distance of no more than fifty (50) miles from one part of the owner’s land to another, irrespective of whether the tracts adjoin;
- taking the vehicle or attached fixtures to and from a repair shop for repairs;
- taking another vehicle exempt from registration under any provision of Va. Code §§ 46.2-664 through 46.2-668 or § 46.2-672, or any part or subcomponent of such a vehicle, to or from a repair shop for repairs, including return trips;
- operating along a highway to and from a refuse disposal facility for the purpose of disposing of trash and garbage generated on a farm; or
- operating along a highway for a distance of no more than fifty (50) miles for the purpose of obtaining supplies for agricultural or horticultural purposes, seeds, fertilizers, chemicals, or animal feed. (Va. Code § 46.2-665)
Farm use plates don’t allow a vehicle to be used for transportation to church or carry kayaks for a float trip afterwards.
Virginia State Trooper Keith Gregory hands out a lot of tickets for misuse of vehicles with Farm Use tags. One of his favorite locations to catch offenders is across the street from Hardees in Floyd, where he stops those with Farm Use plates after they pick up a soda and burger at the drive-through.
Stops for food are not allowed with Farm Use plates.
Spend a morning in District Court at the Floyd County Courthouse and you find a variety of excuses offered by those ticketed for misuse of Farm Use plates.
“I just stopped at Slaughters to get a carton of milk,” said one recently. Another used a pickup with Farm Use plates to take their kid to school.
The judge listens to the excuses and then fines them for violating the law. Sometimes he asks for proof that the owner of the vehicle actually attempts to make any money farming.
One county resident ticketed for misuse of Farm Use plates said his “farm” was a half-dozen free range chickens in his back yard.
Gregory has found drivers of new pickups sporting the Farm Use plates and those vehicles can be found parked at New River Valley Mall in Christiansburg, Virginia Tech football games or high school athletic events. Amy and I saw a Geo Tracker sporting Farm Use plates parked with occupants watching a movie at the Starlight Drive-In.
Too many users of unregistered Farm Use plates try to use them to evade state safety inspections or proper insurance on their vehicles, which are often new and are used for daily transportation, not support of a farm.
Sadly, the widespread misuse of Farm Use license plates are just another example of a society where violation of the law, no matter how trivial, is an increasing part of a general breakdown of decorum and decency.
We see this each and every day in this year’s Presidential election with a candidate who mocks disabilities; attacks parents of slain soldiers; practices racism, bigotry and misogyny; and mocks anyone who dares to disagree with him.