New York City’s traffic courts are located in eight buildings in five boroughs. Started in the 1970’s to help unclog the city’s criminal courts, traffic court is “stand-up improv at its most creative with an occasional James Bond-like tale or even a violent plot, all in search of that one shimmering, often elusive dream, the dismissed ticket,” says the New York Times. The show, which includes a total of 50 judges, plays weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and later on Thursdays. Each trial takes about 10 minutes; judges hear from 50 to 100 cases a day. In all, the courts process about 1.3 million traffic tickets a year.
The courtrooms have flags but look more like corporate offices than halls of justice. The administrative law judges, do not wear robes but are addressed as “your honor.” “If they tell you a story you’ve never heard before, they seem to think this makes it more believable,” one judge said. “It doesn’t.” Scatological defenses (think badly timed laxatives) are common, though rarely successful. More banal approaches include hidden traffic signs and broken car parts. “Speedometer is broken? That’s a nonstarter,” the judge said. One driver said he was certain of his speed because his fiancée happened to be eye-level with the speedometer. “Obviously not brilliant,” the judge said.