Can the Right Music Get You Out of a Traffic Ticket?

(Photo: itdp)

(Photo: itdp)

Aaron Pilkington, an officer trainee at Air Force Officer Training School in Montgomery, Ala., writes to say:

I was driving down the road the other day with a fellow trainee, pointing out to him that the particular road along which we were driving always has police officers hiding out and catching people speeding. Just as I said that, sure enough, we saw a police car pull out with lights on and pull someone over.  My friend, Bill, said that he wondered if the song “Sweet Home Alabama” would work in Alabama. I asked him to elaborate.

My friend, who is from Rhode Island, explained that a couple of years ago he was speeding and got pulled over by a police officer.  He said that the song “Sweet Home Alabama” was on the radio and that somehow the officer let him off on a warning.  Some time later, he was pulled over again and had the song on his iPod.  In the time between being pulled over by the police officer and the officer walking up to his window, he pulled the song up on his iPod and left it on loud enough to be heard by the police officer, but not too loud.  Again, success.  He said this happened one more time just a couple of months ago in Florida and that he now always has at the ready a CD with the song “Sweet Home Alabama,” just in case he gets pulled over again.

I don’t know if there is a causal or simply correlation relationship between these two events (“Sweet Home Alabama” in the background and the police officer letting my friend Bill off with warnings).  My friend also mentioned that the officers that pulled him over, and subsequently let him off with warnings, were all white males.

I think this is definitely an experiment worth conducting.  Maybe send out a hundred people to intentionally try and get pulled over and have “Sweet Home Alabama,” or other songs at the ready, and see what the data have to say. 

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COMMENTS: 21


  1. Leo Salazar says:

    Classical music. It’s the only reliable remedy. Source: personal experience.

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  2. Tim says:

    First recommendation for an alternate song: I Fought the Law and the Law Won.

    Let’s see how that one goes.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 31 Thumb down 0
  3. Matt says:

    I think I’d opt for a citation rather than have to listen to “Sweet Home Alabama”.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 36 Thumb down 13
  4. Andrew Morrison says:

    The vast majority of officer contacts results in just a warning–especially for white drivers. This guy is misattributing the song as causing what is already an incredibly likely outcome.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 12
  5. Henk Timmer says:

    Judas Priest – Breaking the law…

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0
  6. Serpico says:

    How about a testimonial from an officer?: We are all trained, right out of the academy, to issue warnings to anyone listening to Lynrd Skynrd. However, this is only applicable to white male officers….

    Actually, as a real-life Police Officer, I can tell you that your general demeanor and attitude has vastly more to do with what you leave with.

    If you don’t want a ticket just be honest about your mistake, explain that you are usually a careful and considerate person, and hope that there aren’t mitigating circumstances that necessitate you being issued a charge. It’s not a Pavlovian thing folks; granted we have our non-autonomous types like any other profession. That being said, I always made my mind up after talking with the person that was pulled over. Don’t be condescending our rude, admit to yourself that it probably IS your fault that you got stopped, and accept that it is what it is. That will get you out of a ticket faster than trying to trick me into some subliminal disposition.

    Maybe tell your friend to play “f*** tha police” by NWA and see if that works.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 30 Thumb down 0
    • PeacePilgrim says:

      Thanks Serpico. Your post is humorous and honest. I don’t know if your first paragraph was a sarcastic bite at the original post, but its good to know that because I am a Black female who listens to Lynrd Skynrd and who is usually a careful and considerate defensive driver, may have at least a favorable chance to ride away with just a warning during the moment I break the law. An interesting hypothesis to add; whether the music of Led Zepelin, Pink Floyd and Journey works…because I listen to them too.

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    • GenkiDama says:

      So you’re saying we should immediately wave our 5th amendment right, self incriminate ourselves and then hope the officer is in a good mood and gets a good vibe from how we look and sound at the moment? If he is under quota, you just handed him your money by admitting guilt.

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  7. Tyler says:

    I know I was listening to hip-hop in an overwhelmingly white neighborhood when I got pulled over for doing literally nothing one time, so there may be something to this theory, although I was also let off with a warning.

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  8. Aaron Pilkington says:

    Really great comments. I think it would be difficult, but if a study could be conducted to isolate the effect of background music on the outcome of being pulled over for a traffic violation, it would be interesting, and possibly extremely useful. Companies do studies on things like this all the time (e.g. colors/music that make customers more likely to buy their product; music most likely to entice viewers to remember their product/company name in a positive light, etc.) It would be really easy to say what does/doesn’t get you out of a ticket, but I would just love to see what the data have to say in this regard.

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  9. Lespill says:

    During the few times that I have been pulled over by a law officer, I have turned the music down. You can bet that I will be conducting my own experiment and leaving the music on in the future, especially if there is a great song on like “Sweet Home Alabama”. I think the key would be to play any song with catchy lyrics that most people know and can easily sing along with.

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  10. Shane L says:

    I note that the writer is in Alabama, so police officers’ appreciation for Sweet Home Alabama may just be a local thing. (Or even a political thing, as Lynyrd Skynyrd defended Southern men from Neil Young!)

    Perhaps there are other tunes that are locally successful, but might even be a disadvantage elsewhere.

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  11. Bob Zwaska says:

    The solution here is obvious: your friend should be a safer driver.

    Anybody who gets pulled over frequently enough to form/test this hypothesis is being reckless. Behavior of that type contributes to the more than 30,000 US annual deaths involving vehicles.

    Furthermore, actually implementing the experiment as suggested (people speeding fast enough and frequently enough to accumulate 100+ pullovers) is hopelessly reckless.

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  12. RGJ says:

    I have a two part strategy regarding this:

    1. Never, ever in my life be in Alabama. This has nothing to do with speeding tickets.

    2. In my local town, attend the annual PBA golf outing and place the gift gym bag in the middle of my back seat, logo out, where every cop is trained to check.

    Oh, and if you want a cop to know you have a friend in the business, subtly leave your hands on the window by the mirror when he walks up. If you have ever had a loved one that had to do that for a living, you know why he’ll get that….

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  13. Aaron says:

    Largely, it depends upon the officer’s judgement of whether you will break the law again. While music and race are probably factors in this, it also depends on the officer and on their incentive to actually give you a ticket. I have heard that in some departments, the government gives officers a ticket quota to fulfill, as the fines do go towards government finances. All-in-all, I think blasting Sesame Street would be interesting

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  14. Dwight says:

    Sounds like the idea for an NSF grant project. We get 100 drivers. Choose three tunes we think might have differing outcomes. Have them all go out and speed by 10mph over. Cool!

    The pinheads on the human subjects committee might not sign off though.

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  15. Hotrod says:

    It worked for me once in Montana. I was on my way home, listening the Oak Ridge Boys singing “and we will sail away…”. I told him that I was going home and, the more I listened and sang along the faster I drove.

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