After thirteen years of driving, I have received 1 (one) ticket. Yesterday, that number was 0 (zero).

I’m still deciding whether to contest the ticket or not. I allegedly missed a no-U-turn sign before making such a turn. Where I come from, no-U-turn signs are posted in the middle of a street, not on the far right side of it. You know, where you might be able to see such a sign if you were contemplating turning. But the statute in question reads as follows:

Turning on curve, grade or place where view obstructed or State highway marked with “no U turn” sign. The driver of a vehicle shall not turn such vehicle around so as to proceed in the opposite direction upon any curve or upon the approach to or near the crest of a grade or at any place upon a highway as defined in R.S. 39:1-1 where the view of such vehicle is obstructed within a distance of five hundred feet along the highway in either direction; and no such vehicle shall be turned around so as to proceed in the opposite direction on a highway which shall be conspicuously marked with signs stating “no U turn”.

The “highway” in this case is a commercial block of Nassau Street in downtown Princeton – hardly a highway by any reading, even though it apparently doubles as a state route. Additionally, I think emphasis on the word “conspicuously” might play prominently in my examination of this statute. It obviously wasn’t that conspicuous if I could drive for months on the road without ever noticing a no-U-turn sign… something the cop himself thought was dubious.

As any rational driver in the United States, I couldn’t care less about the actual ticket itself, though I do kind of mourn my unblemished driving record. But all that really matters is the potential impact on car insurance payments, which are based on something I’ve only heard in mythical strange terms before – license “points”. Points seem to be some sort of demerit on the license that can accumulate toward larger penalties, which never seem to get around applying to that guy on the highway whipping around you at +40 mph from the speed limit. In any case, there’s a list of all violations and the number of points assessed by the state of New Jersey at this website.

I naively thought that an improper U-turn violation would be relatively nominal in the points department – perhaps even no points, as Emily and I briefly surmised. After all, U-turn regulations have nothing in particular to do with safety. If one checks that one has the time and radius to make a U-turn, they’re among the safest driving actions one can take. And the fact that they’re a time-consuming maneuver makes a driver all the more likely to check to ensure all the right conditions are in place. There’s nothing innately wrong with a U-turn and generally their prohibition is more about the arbitrary judgment that usual traffic patterns will not allow them. But at 8:15 PM in a sleepy college town, usual traffic patterns are wide-open to U-turns. The law should reflect this, right?

Wrong. New Jersey assigns 3 points to U-turn violations, placing them above the standard violation. This seemed bad on face, but preposterous as I started reading through some of the 2-point violations.

So, for the record, here are selected driving violations New Jersey considers less problematic than making an improper U-turn (truly amazing ones in bold – emphasis added):
-Moving against traffic
-Failure to yield to pedestrian in crosswalk
-Passing a vehicle yielding to pedestrian in crosswalk
-Failure to observe direction of officer
Operating a motor vehicle on a sidewalk
-Failure to observe traffic signals
Wrong way on a one-way street
-Failure to yield to overtaking vehicle
-Failure to observe traffic lanes
-Failure to yield at intersection
Failure to yield to emergency vehicles
Destruction of agricultural or recreational property
-Exceeding maximum speed 1-14 mph over limit
Failure to stop for traffic light
-Failure to stop at flashing red signal
Leaving the scene of an accident – No personal injury
-Failure to observe stop or yield signs

Yes, kids, the mighty sanctity of not U-turning is all that is keeping New Jerseyans safe. Apparently the state would rather I had sped up to 44 mph or run a red light or hit another car lightly and fled the scene than make a U-turn with no cars in sight in either direction (the cop was parked at the time he saw me).

It’s almost no wonder that I came to this state just 8 months ago with a perfectly clean driving record over 13 years in 3 states (plus countless visited states) and have since collected my first accident and first ticket. Jersey, you’re just as bad as everyone says.