Finally, Oklahoma has a proposed bill that would crack down on lucrative speed trap business

| 2/26/2003

Motorists and truckers alike are watching with great interest as a new bill continues to clear legislative hurdles in Oklahoma.

HB1456 was written to allow the state’s public safety commissioner to crack down on certain speed traps in small towns that use them as moneymakers.

Several states, including Arkansas, Texas and Missouri, have passed laws to limit the amount of money a community can keep from police fines, but in Oklahoma, the sky is the limit. For that reason, towns like Stringtown, Big Cabin, Caney, Valley Brook, Moffett, Asher and Watts are well-known to truckers and motorists alike. According to an investigation by The Oklahoman, at least 18 communities in the state get more than 26 percent of their money from police fines.

HB1456 could change all that. Sponsored by Speaker of the House Larry Adair, D-Stilwell, the bill could result in certain municipalities losing the authority to write all those speeding tickets.

According to The Oklahoman, Adair said he wrote the bill because of constituents’ concerns that some departments were using traffic enforcement as a primary means to raise revenue. One of those constituents is Fred H. Gravett, OOIDA senior member from Atoka, OK. Gravett has been on the front line of thespeed trap battle for more than five years and credits new interest, including that of the state’s new governor, Brad Henry, for the recent progress.

“The laws that allow this to continue need to be history,” Gravett said. “Stringtown and Big Cabin are the worst, but truckers should watch Big Cabin on I-44 as well.”

One of the reasons Gravett and his allies are finally getting the state to move in the right direction is that several of these communities may have become so greedy that they overstepped their legal bounds. State officials are now investigating several communities for possible violation of the state’s speed trap law. Public Safety Commissioner Bob Ricks told the newspaper the towns might have annexed more land for the sole purpose of writing tickets.

An earlier investigation by The Oklahoman revealed eight cities and towns in the state get more than 50 percent of their money from police fines, and at least 18 communities get more than 26 percent of their money from police fines. Stringtown makes the most money off traffic fines on a per-capita basis, at $872 annually.

For years, the complaints have fallen on deaf ears. Under the proposed bill, Public Safety Commissioner Bob Ricks would be given the power to take local law enforcers off certain state highways and interstates and reassign those roads to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

In addition, the proposed bill would give Ricks the authority to further investigate complaints of municipalities operating speed traps.