By Kalani Morse
“Nothing can ruin a good road trip like a speeding ticket,” said Elizabeth Mckinley, a homemaker from Laie, Hawaii.
Whether highway patrolman are out in the open, hiding behind bridge pillars or passing overhead in airplanes, the tickets they give and the consequences they bring are all the same.
Some however, feel the speed limits on certain stretches of highway are manipulated to yield unnecessary tickets. These areas are commonly referred to as Speed Traps.
“Just look on the Internet,” said Mckinley, “you can find tons of websites that list all the speed traps in your area.”
Many of these Web sites claim that municipalities and police departments across the country knowingly lower speed limits below logical or realistic speeds for the sake of creating speed traps.
Some sites claim many cities create the traps for the sole purpose of revenue generation from ticket fines and fees.
Andrew Warner, 23, from Atlanta, Georgia, created one of the most popular sites, Speedtrap.com, in 1995.
“It started out mainly in the South, looking at entrapment cases,” said Warner, “but it has evolved into a general driver”s service.”
In addition to informing potential speeders where to watch out for the highway patrol, some websites offer tips on how to expose and challenge cities and law enforcement agencies that my be profiting from poorly engineered highways and speed limits.
As far as entrapment in Utah Valley is concerned, very few give much credence to conspiracy theories. “When I”m guilty, I”m guilty,” said Eric Marlowe, a graduate student from Rexburg, Idaho. “I don”t blame the police,” said Marlowe, “they are just doing their job.”
Despite a number of speed trap listings for Utah County on various websites, Sergeant Al D. Christianson of the Utah Highway patrol in Utah County denied that cities and police agencies in Utah County purposely set up speed traps.
“The Highway patrol doesn”t see any of the money that motorist pay for speeding fines,” said Christianson, “the cities keep it all.”
According to Christianson, the Department of Transportation decides what the speed limit in specific areas should be based on.
As for areas that seem to be policed more heavily, Christianson said that high enforcement in certain areas is the result of administrative decisions based on the accident histories of those areas.
“When we see a lot of speed related accidents in a certain area, we are going to focus heavily on enforcing the posted limits in that area,” said Christianson.
“The areas around the University Parkway exits are a great example,” said Christianson. “Road closures and construction makes lowering the limits necessary for the safety of all involved.”
According to Christianson, speeding is the biggest causes of accidents in the county, second only to tailgating.
“If people would drive with courtesy and common sense, I”d be out of a job,” said Christianson.
While putting people like Christianson out of a job could be one step closer to reality as a result of speed trap listings on the Internet, most sites carry disclaimers saying that they are not trying to undercut the efforts of police departments to control motorists” speeds on dangerous roads.
Some law enforcement officials are grateful for the positive results speed trap listings may offer.
“The purpose of speed enforcement is to reduce car crashes and save lives,” said Capt. Robert Bird of the Massachusetts State Police.
“Whether you can get people to slow down by warning that police may be there or by catching them in the act, it accomplishes the same thing,” said Bird.
One website listing speed traps for Dover, Massachusetts reads, “They will pull you over for less than 5 mph over the limit at any location, even if you”re riding a bicycle.”
Dover Police Chief Joseph Griffin said the listing exaggerates the manner in which his department enforces speed limits.
“We”re not quite that zealous,” said Griffin, “but if somebody says to themselves, ”I better not speed in that town,” then that Web site has done my job for me.”
The argument that enforcing speed limits lowers accident rates and makes America”s highways safer sounds like a logical one, but it”s not an argument accepted by everyone.
The National Motorist Association, a motorist advocacy research group in Waunakee, Wisconsin, claims that allowing motorists to determine safe speeds rather than imposing speed limits actually lowers the number of accidents on the highway.
Citing studies done in the state of Montana, where lawmakers recently went back to posted speed limits from no daytime speed limits, the NMA reports that after the new speed limits were reinstated, fatal accidents on interstate highways went up 111 percent.
The number of fatal accidents in the state of Montana on interstate and federal highways combined went from 101 with no daytime limits, to 143 with the new speed limits in place.
After six years of a downward trend in the percentage of multiple vehicle accidents on 2 lane highways, multiple vehicle accident rates have started an upward trend since the fixed speed limits were reinstated on Memorial Day weekend in 1999.
Citing increases in seat belt usage, lane courtesy and stable automobile speeds, the NMA makes the argument that non-fixed speed limits are effective because of the psychological effect of self-governance.
According to the NMA, motorist who have the expectation of higher speeds when there are no daytime limits, are more likely to use seat belts and other safety restraints.
Studies done by Montana”s Department of Transportation reveal that seat belt usage in the state was well above the national average on highways without daytime limits.
Claiming that it is time to accept the fact that increases in traffic speeds are the natural byproduct of advancing technology, the NMA asserts that a new approach to traffic safety engineering is needed.
NMA advocates claim that the current paradigm of police enforcement and lowered speed limits does not compensate for faulty traffic engineering or a lack of motorist responsibility.
“People do, in fact, act in a reasonable and responsible manner without constant government intervention,” said NMA member and activist Chad Dornsife.
“Speed limit signs will not automatically decrease accident rates nor increase safety, and highways with posted speed limits are not necessarily safer than highways without posted limits,” said Dornsife.