June 25, 2022

Yesterday I noticed a traffic stop on the state road that goes past my work.  While we are located on the edge of town, the stopped vehicles were all moving toward the city limits, and not entering a reduced speed limit in town.  What surprised me was the police department only has one full-time and one part-time officer, and this was happening on a Sunday.  In the 2 ½ years I have worked in this town I have only seen a city police car four times, and twice was when I stopped by city hall.  Several people gathered with me, and we watched as one vehicle after another was pulled over.  While the officer may have been issuing tickets, he did not seem to spend much time with any of the people stopped and may have just been issuing warnings.  Regardless, it appeared we were watching some sort of speed trap.

When I looked online, I found speed traps are a section of a road where police, radar, or speed cameras check vehicles’ speeds and then strictly enforce traffic regulations for appropriate speed limits or average speed.  These traps are often distinguished by hard-to-see speed limit signs and concealed traffic signs.  When most people talk of speed traps, they think of small-town police hiding behind billboards, or officers waiting to pick up drivers where the speed limit varies.  A speed trap is established to focus on collecting money rather than maximizing safety.  Most traps are made possible by speed limits below the current traffic flow.  The speed trap is then set at a point where the speed limit changes quickly, like at the edge of town where it drops from 55 mph down to 45 mph.  The trap can be watched by officers or mechanized traffic enforcement like speed cameras or red-light cameras.  An actual speed trap is when something genuinely illicit is going on.  Speed traps in the US cover about 4,000,000 miles of roadways, and there are an estimated 55,000 speed traps across the country.

The state of Arkansas has a very strict law prohibiting cities from running speed traps but there are still instances of the practice being used.  Act 364 was amended in 2019 to dissuade police departments from using their power to write citations for revenue over public safety.  A simple mathematic equation is used to see if a city is using citations for revenue and the Arkansas Speed Trap Law can be violated in two ways.  Either a police department’s fines exceed 30% of the city’s total revenue, or more than 50% of the speeding tickets are written for drivers going less than 10 miles per hour than the posted limit.  There have been two Arkansas cities investigated for operating speed traps since 2019.  If the State Police investigation reveals a violation of the Arkansas Speed Trap Law, the department faces sanctions.  Either the police department will no longer be able to write tickets, or the revenue from speeders goes straight to the schools.  Both departments were found guilty of the traps.  My town was not one of them.

THOUGHTS:  When I lived in Kansas, I traveled the interstate between my house and where my mom lived.  I would periodically see a sign posted along the highway warning “Drug Check Point Ahead”, but there was never one there.  I asked the Chief in my town if the check was real and was told it was illegal to set up a drug checkpoint on the highway, although DUI checkpoints were legal on less traveled roads and streets.  The signs were used to get illicit drivers to pull off the highway to avoid the check, and those vehicles were stopped for other traffic violations.  The debate regarding driver safety and speed limits is a polarizing issue, with those who believe in them and those who do not.  Police traffic stops are at best confrontational and can potentially be deadly for the driver and officer.  There are other ways to manage traffic control without putting either at risk.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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