Most drivers wouldn't know it, but letting a dog stick its head too far out the car window can earn the driver a traffic ticket.
So can honking the horn. Even failing to yield to a horse.
Not possible? Think again.
In the past five years, at least one driver in Hernando County has received a ticket for each of those offenses. They are just a few of the many bizarre tickets that surfaced during a Times review of traffic citations issued in Hernando from 1993 to 1998.
No one likes being pulled over, but some of the anecdotes drivers relay and the excuses they muster show that traffic enforcement has a lighter side.
That's something William Schulz knows firsthand.
"I got a ticket for watching TV," said Schulz. "Not too many people can say that."
In fact, no one else ticketed in Hernando can make that claim. Schulz, of Punta Gorda, was the only person cited for driving with a TV in view of the driver. He got the ticket when a Florida Highway Patrol trooper spotted the screen glowing through the darkness on a night in 1994 as Schulz and his wife drove their motor home south on Interstate 75.
Schulz couldn't figure out why the trooper had pulled him over.
"When he told me, I wondered who made up such a strange law," he said.
Some tickets, like Schulz's, were unique. Others, like speeding tickets, were much more common _ more than 25,000 were written.
What about those drivers who creep along at 10 to 15 mph below the limit, single-handedly increasing the blood pressure of the dozen drivers trapped behind them? There's not much relief, according to the ticket data. Only six of the approximately 118,000 traffic citations written in the past five years, or a minuscule .005 percent, were written for driving too slow.
While four of those drivers were eligible to collect Social Security, one came from the group of drivers most known for excessive speed: teenage boys.
Ever wonder what Hernando's only 18-year-old ticketed for driving too slow told his buddies? Ask former Spring Hill resident Joe Alfred. The New York native had kept his 1982 Toyota running for three years on what he called "luck, love and my $149 paychecks." The blue-green compact "blew up" one night on State Road 50, Alfred said. As he tried to limp the car home, white smoke billowed from seemingly every crack, and a deafening clanking resonated from the engine compartment. Those problems likely were what led the patrol deputy to pull Alfred over. Or it may have been the line of cars quickly lengthening in the Toyota's smoky wake.
Alfred tried to keep the ordeal a secret until his girlfriend at that time, a passenger in the doomed Toyota, told his embarrassing tale to several friends. Alfred said he and his girlfriend broke up a month later over "trust issues."
"The story may be amusing to people, but I was young and had a reputation to look after," said Alfred. "Besides, you wouldn't believe how many people were honking at me. It's like they never had car trouble."
Alfred was pleased to find out that three drivers during the past five years were cited for improper use of their horns, though not any of the drivers tailing him.
The three _ from Tampa, Lutz and Spring Hill _ could not be reached to explain exactly what they did to warrant citations. Drivers with horns that are too loud or too soft can be cited, according to the Florida traffic statutes.
Law officers speculated the action would have to border on obnoxious if not altogether absurd _ something like leaning on the horn for more than a minute or honking at disabled pedestrians. "I cannot imagine that it's an easy ticket to get," traffic Deputy Alan Jernigan said.
Having a car, horn or not, was not a prerequisite for getting a ticket.
A Nobleton man was cited for pedaling a bicycle on I-75 at night. Another man received a ticket for illegally driving his golf cart on U.S. 19. A rock truck clipped the golf cart, flipping it on its side. No one was seriously hurt.
Drivers' stupidity also led to some funny scenarios.
Like the woman who claimed she was speeding home to cook a roast for dinner, while several steaming Burger King bags sat in the passenger seat.
Another woman claimed that she was rushing to look after her younger sister, who had been left home alone. The "younger sister" turned out to be 18 years old.
One of Deputy Mike Glatfelter's favorites was the man he pulled over three mornings in a row on the same stretch of road. Each day, the speeder was traveling slightly faster.
"He told me that he didn't think I'd bother to show up the next day," Glatfelter remembered with a chuckle. "Some people never learn."
Sometimes the excuses are so lame the deputies can't help but laugh.
Lateness is a tired defense, law officers said, although some drivers try to spice it up by saying they're late for their mother's or father's birthday parties. A check using an on-board computer or a quick call to dispatch often reveals that the birth date isn't really for several months.
Medical personnel often claim to be speeding to an emergency. If the driver shows proper identification, deputies usually let him or her go. But they call the hospital to confirm that it was a legitimate emergency. If not, deputies often pay a visit to the driver's home.
For the most part, deputies said, excuses rarely keep them from writing a ticket.
"Unless they've got a pregnant woman about to give birth in the car or a passenger with a serious illness, they might as well keep the excuses to themselves," Glatfelter said.
Some excuses, however, remain in a class of their own.
A couple of years ago, a law officer patrolling northern Hernando County wrote a ticket to a man who gave the often-used excuse that he was speeding to get to a bathroom. A few months later, the man, dressed neatly in a well-pressed coat and tie, showed up in traffic court to contest the ticket. The man admitted that he was speeding, but said his bathroom needs were legitimate, County Judge Peyton Hyslop recalled. As proof, the man reached into his leather briefcase and pulled out his soiled underwear.
Hyslop could not remember how he ruled on the case. "I know we let him keep the underwear," he said.
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