AAA takes speed trap warnings to a whole new level

| Monday, August 18, 2003

Truckers across the country have always shared information about which towns are speed traps. But now, AAA has taken the idea a step further.

Big rigs headed into the Florida towns of Waldo and Lawtey will pass by two large billboards with the names of the towns and the words “Speed Trap,” along with the distance from the billboard to the town, The Associated Press reported recently. The auto group put the billboards up.

According to AAA, fines make up a considerable portion of the two town’s budgets, qualifying as the top source of revenue. In Lawtey, fines are 45 percent of the city budget, while in Waldo, they make up 31 percent of city revenue. The two towns sit about 19 miles apart along U.S. 301 near Gainesville in north central Florida.

It’s not the first time AAA or others have gone after the two towns. The association has listed them as the only “traffic traps” in America (although it lists several other “Strict Enforcement Areas”).

In 2001, Florida legislators introduced two bills to outlaw the speed traps in the two towns.

“The problem of overzealous traffic enforcement within the city limits of Waldo and Lawtey has existed for years,” Rep. David Russell, R-Spring Hill, said at that time. Russell was chairman of the House Transportation Committee and supported the two bills. “The time has come for these two cities to develop their economies by means other than the exorbitant extraction of fines from unsuspecting motorists.”

The auto association even went so far as to work with the Florida Department of Transportation on placing highly reflective yellow panels on all “Speed Limit,” “Speed Strictly Enforced” and “Reduced Speed Ahead” signs on the highways leading into Waldo and Lawtey.

Waldo Police Chief A.W. Smith told The AP his town’s speed enforcement is to promote safety, not income, and he points to a low number of traffic incidents to prove his point.

Local resident Tom Ramsey was more blunt.

"AAA is way out of line," Ramsey told the news service, calling the billboard “a lie. It's not true."

The issue of speed traps has come up in other states as well. In June, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry signed legislation to crack down on certain speed traps in small Oklahoma towns that use them as moneymakers.

An earlier investigation by The Oklahoman revealed eight cities and towns in that state receive more than 50 percent of their total revenue from police fines; at least 18 communities get more than 26 percent of their money from police fines.

The new law, which passed as HB1456, could result in certain municipalities losing the authority to write all those speeding tickets. Under the new law, the Public Safety Commissioner 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. It also gives the commissioner the authority to further investigate complaints of municipalities operating speed traps.

The Oklahoma bill takes effect Nov. 1.

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