Crackdown on speed traps- Is it needed?

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Most Missourians who have been driving for more than a couple years and whose paths take them into the state's rural areas know a thing or two about speed traps.

And many of those motorists learned the hard way.

Basically, a speed trap is a town that sets an unusually low speed limit in the middle of nowhere, which means many motorists buzzing along at highway speeds don't notice the sudden drop to 35 mph, although it's clearly posted.

It's a novel way for small towns to pay the bills. Out-of-towners get stuck with tickets costing upward of $50. There's no use fighting it either. The law is the law. So most folks simply write out their checks and go on with their lives.

But embedded in an omnibus traffic regulations bill recently debated by the Missouri Senate is a measure that would restrict how much of a city's budget may be funded through traffic fines.

In the debate, one senator made a bold announcement about the speed trap concept: "It is basically nothing other than highway robbery," said state Sen. Delbert Scott of Lowry City. He added that some small towns are motivated by profit rather than public safety.

Some? When the speed limit drops 20 mph on a rural highway with no residences around, it's likely that money is the primary motivator.

The proposed budget limit is a follow-up to a law passed a couple years ago. That revision was prompted by Macks Creek, which sits along a main thoroughfare leading to the Lake of the Ozarks and often was cited as a prime perpetrator of ticket abuse. Until the law was changed, the town of fewer than 300 residents generated more than $200,000 a year from traffic fines.

The new provision would limit revenue from fines to 35 percent of a municipality's general revenue budget. Court fees would count toward that percentage. Excess revenue would be forfeited to the state.

Currently, fines can constitute 45 percent of city's total budget, and municipal court fees aren't counted in that amount.

It's understandable how such a measure might appeal to legislators who routinely drive to Jefferson City over many rural highways across many counties. Undoubtedly, they've also received an education about speed traps and their not-so-subtle nuances.

Of course, if one is a conscientious driver who looks out for posted speed-limit signs , it's unlikely one will be caught in a speed trap.

Locals are well aware of where they're supposed to step on the brake.

And becoming a charity for the cash-strapped state government probably won't appeal too much to these small towns making thousands from speed traps.

In a time when Missouri is facing so many pressing challenges, it seems unnecessary to spend time on a speed trap bill that could very well be the result of some peeved lawmakers' personal experiences.

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