The original goal was to take Montana 212 diagonally into South Dakota, mostly avoiding Wyoming. Both Lisa and I had been to Wyoming enough times in our lives to know it would not matter much to the kids whether they drove through the state for several hours or for twenty minutes. A major crash on 212, however, made going back to Interstate 90 the only option, so we were on the way to Wyoming once again. This time, however, we’d be profiled as tourists and pulled over by an obviously-bored Wyoming State Patrolman, leading to this article.
We stayed in Gillette, Wyoming, which has apparently grown from the town my uncle described as probably having a Motel 6 and not much else. Maybe it’s because of the folks who get caught in snowstorms heading east from Sheridan, weary travelers who have just gotten through Montana’s mountain passes, or folks who got a late start west after touring the Mt. Rushmore area. Regardless, there are hotels in Gillette, and we stayed at the Arbuckle, which was better than expected (and harder to find than any other hotel on the trip). When asked why we were visiting Gillette, the attendant at the hotel seemed surprised that we were just passing through, meaning there must have been even more to the town than the World Series of Beer Pong Satellite Tournament. At the hotel pool, several college-aged guys complained to Lisa about some injustice they’d seen at a local bar delivered by a local police officer. I chuckled a bit because I figured that these young guns were just biased against authority.
The next morning, Lisa and I realized that both Devil’s Tower and Jewel Cave were in opposite directions off I-90. We were thinking of skipping Devil’s Tower, but we realized that if we checked that off the kids’ To-Do List, they might never have to return to Wyoming at all, and that’s a pretty nice service for a parent to provide. We did Devil’s Tower. Lisa was cold, and since it was her third time walking around the rock formation, she’d pretty much reached the lifetime limit of feigned interest in a giant rock in Wyoming.
The good news is the kids do not have to return to Wyoming unless they want to see the other ten less-interesting things to see in the state. The bad news is that Lisa opened up the Sun Chips as we got back onto I-90, and the Sun Chips were more interesting to me than the wheat crackers or pretzel thins she had opened earlier. This led to me not seeing the state patrol car wherever he was hiding, so I was driving like a normal person. Honestly, I was driving much better than I would have been had I been paying full attention: I set the cruise control for 80 mph EXACTLY. The only issue was that the speed limit was set at 75 mph in this section of the interstate, odd because it wasn’t any less God-forsaken than the rest of the state. I also passed a van I’d been stuck behind on the state highway, but it’s not like I did it Chicago-Style. Within a couple of minutes on the interstate, however, I was getting pulled over by one of Wyoming’s finest, just as I noticed an 80mph speed limit sign.
To review, I passed a couple of cars at exactly 80, and I even signaled. I told Lisa as I pulled over that I had not done anything wrong, and I knew it. As the officer approached on the passenger side, he kept a hand near his sidearm and kept staring into the car. We were all seatbelted (as usual), and there were a couple of kids eating snacks in the backseat, but he kept looking in at them like one might be trying to hide our drugs in a stuffed animal. Lisa was nervous and cordial. I was angry and quiet. The officer explained that I was going 80 when he saw me and that I passed a car without properly signalling 100 feet before and after passing. According to the Wyoming handbook for driving, here is what the officer was referring to:
Proper driving techniques on Interstates
Once you are on the Interstate, you should:
MAINTAIN a steady speed, keeping pace with other traffic.
OBEY posted speed limits.
DO NOT follow too closely to the vehicle in front of you. Always leave at least two seconds space cushion between you and the vehicle ahead. When the weather is bad or the pavement is slick, double or triple your following time. Rear-end collisions are the most frequent type of crashes on the Interstate.
WATCH for vehicles entering the Interstate. If it is safe, move left to allow them a smooth, safe entry.
AVOID unnecessary lane changing. Stay in the right lane unless overtaking and passing another vehicle.
SIGNAL lane changes.
PASS with caution. Check your blind spots when making lane changes. Make sure you can see the vehicle you are passing in your rear view mirror before pulling back in.
Granted, I was likely a little closer than two seconds behind the vehicle, but I did not cut it close on either side of my pass. I was going with the flow of traffic, and trying to stay in the right lane. Basically, I was doing what I'd been doing for 4000 miles of the trip already.
Another issue we had was providing proper documentation while getting pulled over. In Wisconsin, you need a driver’s license and proof of insurance. In Wyoming, you also need vehicle registration. I happened to have an emissions test result, but that wasn’t good enough to show that I owned the 2001 Saab that was filled with a family of four and all of our gear, even though it had a valid plate and sticker. That’s annoying, since it’s probably what took the extra ten minutes of the trooper monkeying around in his vehicle, even though he had another officer in there who could have run the plates while we were having a conversation with his partner.
The conversation itself was unnerving because the officer kept asking questions he did not need to know, like why were we on the road and what we did for a living. We told him we were traveling back to Wisconsin from a vacation to Oregon. This was I-90, and it’s the main road that allows one to make that journey, so why does it matter what I do for a living? It’s not like we had a car full of college kids driving home from the beer pong competition. If he was legitimately interested in a nice conversation, he can feel free to contact me or leave a comment below. I saw it as the use of questioning to try to elicit a response that would warrant a search, which makes it disingenuous.
In the end, I got a warning for speeding and improper signaling. I’m glad he didn’t issue a ticket, only because I would have had a hard time getting back to Wyoming to get it thrown out in court. However, the whole experience does not speak well for Wyoming, police officers, or profiling. We were pulled over because we were from out of state, and the reasons given were an obvious means to gain access to our vehicle in order to assess whether or not a search was necessary (and check for seat belts, I assume). Since the initial reason for pulling us over had no real merit, we were subject to the officer performing a full visual search of the interior in order to attempt to find actual violations, as well as questioning meant to ascertain whether or not we’d be carrying something illegal in the vehicle. No matter how I look at the situation, it was an abuse of power, and I can see why folks want to own cameras in their cars that record police in situations like this. I know we all have a fear of what someone else might be up to, and I’m sure the profiling in Wyoming is meant to intercept some of those behaviors, but I just hope our country does not suffer too much from our fear so that we are all scared to drive down the road with our families.
Feel free to comment. We live in a free country that gives you the right to disagree without me sending the thought police after you. Conversely, I have the right to post an artcile about my experiences. Keep in mind that I am not a minority or a drug dealer or a woman or a Muslim or anyone else who might have an opinion about profiling, and I also can't say that I totally disagree with the process at all times. But I can say that getting pulled over in this manner makes a person upset. In fact, Lisa was so emotionally shaken that it made the rest of the day less fun for her. My advice would be for state troopers to realize that their use (or abuse) of power is important, and that most of us appreciate what they do, but we also want them to use common sense and compassion when it comes to dealing with law-abiding citizens. This was an obvious hook and release situation that should have taken five minutes. Drive safe and have a nice day. That's it.