UCSD scientist gets out of ticket with 'very simple' physics

A UC San Diego scientist convinces a judge — with 'physics and math that you can study in high school' — that he shouldn't have to pay a $400 traffic ticket.

April 23, 2012|By Matt Stevens, Los Angeles Times

Thanks to a "very unusual combination of circumstances" and a quick set of calculations, a UC San Diego scientist successfully fought a $400 traffic ticket with a four-page research paper.

Dmitri Krioukov, a senior research scientist at UCSD, successfully appealed his failure-to-stop ticket using a physics and math argument that ultimately swayed a San Diego judge.

In the paper, titled "The Proof of Innocence," Krioukov offered a series of equations and graphs to show that it was physically impossible for him to have broken the law, as an officer claimed.

The judge was "very, very smart," Krioukov told The Times. "She got my point, I think, very precisely."

Krioukov compared the problem to the way a person standing on the platform sees a train approaching and thinks it is moving slowly, when in fact it is barreling down the track. Krioukov determined that a car moving at a constant speed can appear to move in the same way as a car that is moving fast but stops for a short time and then accelerates.

In other words, a car that appears to be moving at a constant speed through a stop sign could have actually stopped before speeding up again.

These calculations, combined with a UCSD building that obstructed the officer's view of the incident, created what Krioukov diplomatically wrote was an "unfortunate coincidence" in which the officer's "perception of reality did not properly reflect reality."

He called the calculations "very simple," adding that this is "particular physics and math that you can study in high school."

"All you need to know is classical mechanics and a little bit of geometry," Krioukov said.

He said the calculations took him five to 10 minutes, but writing the paper took a few hours. Krioukov joked that it was much faster and less expensive to write the paper and defend himself than to find and pay for a lawyer.

Krioukov has posted his paper online for any motorists who find themselves wrongly accused of failing to stop.

The paper's abstract reads: "A way to fight your traffic tickets. The paper was awarded a special prize of $400 that the author did not have to pay to the state of California."

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