Oklahoma ‘speed trap’ towns can write tickets, again

| 5/25/2007

Law enforcers in small towns in Oklahoma once tagged with the label of “speed traps” now can get their ticket books back out. With revised language, a restriction has been stripped from the books that kept those traps in check.

How that happened has plenty of people asking their lawmakers questions and others just plain steamed, concerned that those towns will again turn the art of ticket-writing into big money.

Until 2003, the sky was the limit for the amount of money communities could keep from police fines. For that reason, Oklahoma towns such as Caney, Big Cabin, Moffett, Shamrock and Stringtown became well known to truckers and motorists alike.

Fred Gravett, an OOIDA member from Atoka, OK, told “Land Line Now” on XM Satellite Radio it started out with one officer running radar.

“Business was so good, they bought another trooper car and hired two more cops,” Gravett said. “The next thing you know, they're driving brand-new SUVs. They're doing OK for themselves, writing tickets right and left.”

The Legislature and Gov. Brad Henry later barred the towns from enforcing speed limits on highways in the wake of an investigation by The Oklahoman that found eight cities and towns in the state were getting more than 50 percent of their money from police fines, and at least 18 communities in the state were getting more than 26 percent of their money from police fines.

The new law, previously HB1616, prevents the speed trap designation from being issued in the future. It also removes the label from the communities affected by the 2003 law.

The provision to expand patrolling authority was a last-minute addition to a bill that was nearing passage in the statehouse. Opponents said it was a matter that deserved more debate instead of being slipped in quietly.

According to a news report from The Tulsa World, Rep. Paul Roan, D-Tishomingo, struck some language from HB1616 “unbeknownst to his fellow lawmakers.” Roan, a retired Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer denies being slippery about it.

Two of the speed traps are reportedly in his district.

The Tulsa World also reported that Rep. Glen Smithson, D-Sallisaw, called it a clear case of a “woolly-booger,” or a clause slipped in at the last minute. Smithson wrote the 2003 bill that established the limits on how much revenue cities can generate from traffic tickets. He is making plans to file legislation next session that would restore the limits, The Oklahoman reported.

Supporters said the change was needed because police department must be allowed to enforce traffic laws. They also said people who follow the law shouldn’t have to worry about the change.

Fred Gravett has a different take on the situation. The longtime OOIDA member from Atoka is chairman of a group called Citizens for Better Government. Gravett says the group is “still in shock” that the Legislature could have let Rep. Roam “slip one over.” Gravett and similar-minded citizens are outraged and claim lawmakers passed the “cleaned-up bills” without even reading them.

The new law allows five towns to resume issuing tickets on state and federal highways within their city limits. It doesn’t change rules for interstate highways.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Staff writer Reed Black contributed to this report.