When is a speed trap not a speed trap?

A new police chief in Georgia is pleased to learn that the department he took over has been cleared of running a speed trap. A local TV station reports. (Warning: autoplay video. Why isn’t that illegal?)

Despite not running a speed trap, he may still be running a speed trap.

Jacksonville is a dot on the map at the intersection of two state highways. According to Wikipedia it has 140 residents and the world’s largest bass was caught nearby.

Where I live it wouldn’t even have its own police department. The speed limit drops to 35 for no apparent reason entering town. It is exactly the kind of place you expect to be a speed trap.

But what is a speed trap? “Speed trap” is a slippery phrase. It covers everything from fabricating evidence to giving somebody an unwanted ticket.

My personal definition includes both overly aggressive enforcement and unreasonably low speed limits. The second part can be defined reasonably objectively, because there are standards for setting speed limits. (I mean, other than the usual “ask the mayor what he wants.”)

The TV station didn’t use my definition or yours. It used the definition in Georgia law, which specifically defines what is an illegal speed trap.

The law says police need a state permit to use radar. While this rule is intended to prevent radar enforcement of unreasonably low speed limits, it does not prohibit such enforcement. It merely requires a permit from the DOT. The DOT can deny a permit based on improper speed limits, but that is discretionary.

The police force had the proper permit.

Another law prohibits raising too much revenue from speeding tickets. This rule is intended to deter revenue-based enforcement, but it does not prohibit revenue-based enforcement. It sets limits on the amount of revenue.

The city did not report collecting more revenue than legally allowed.

A state law prohibits use of unmarked cars for traffic enforcement. But the law doesn’t require local police to use high-visibility markings. It is sufficient to have four inch high letters with the name of the department. Drivers are responsible for distinguishing “Jacksonville Plumbing” from “Jacksonville Police.”

The city’s police car was legally marked.

The state didn’t find any evidence of enforcement at illegal places, from hiding or too close to a speed limit reduction… but they wouldn’t.

The allegations of extortion were outside the jurisdiction of the DOT.

On the present state of the evidence we can say there is no good evidence that Jacksonville, Georgia is running an illegal speed trap.

I have no idea if it’s a safe place to drive.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links. The author is from the North and doesn’t “get” sweet tea.

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