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Speed Traps: Their Uses and Their Legality

Speed Traps Their Uses and Their Legality

Insurance website The Zebra recently published the results of a survey in which over 1,000 drivers across the United States were asked about their driving habits. Of those surveyed, approximately 90 percent admitted to having exceeded the speed limit while driving, despite over one-third of the respondents stating that speeding is never permissible.

Furthermore, research published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2020 has identified speeding as a contributing factor in approximately three out of every ten fatal accidents.

Safety and a desire to prevent needless deaths on the road, though, are not the only reasons why law enforcement enforces speeding laws. Some municipalities and jurisdictions depend on the revenue generated from speeding fines to fund their local city’s or town’s operations.

Whether motivated primarily by safety concerns or a desire to help manage the local jurisdiction’s budget, a favorite tactic of law enforcement to combat speeding is the deployment of speed traps.

What Is a Speed Trap?

In its simplest terms, a speed trap is a gadget or other set-up that is operated by officers and designed to detect speeding drivers so they can then be cited and fined. Speed traps are routinely set up along stretches of roadway where there have been numerous reports of speeding vehicles or where traffic volume is high.

Overall, officers do not need to make use of just one type of trap; they may employ several in conjunction with one another. In general, there are three forms of speed traps that law enforcement agencies may deploy:

The “Stopwatch” Speed Trap

Popular in the past, the first type of speed trap involved law enforcement officers measuring how long it took a river to travel a known distance between two fixed points. Officers would have a general idea of how long it would take a driver traveling at the speed limit to traverse the distance, and they would stop drivers who covered the distance too quickly.

Today, some agencies use an airplane or even drones to measure how quickly a vehicle covers two known points from overhead. Prior to executing the trap, the plane or drone operator will know how long it should take a driver traveling the speed limit to cover that distance, and they’ll identify any vehicles that appear to be moving too quickly. A ground unit will then stop the identified speeding vehicle and cite the driver.

The “Hiding in Plain Sight” Trap

Plain-sight speed traps are the kind of speed trap that you and other drivers will likely encounter most frequently. With these, a law enforcement officer will stop alongside a road that speeding drivers are known to frequent. The officer may conceal their vehicle or otherwise park in a way so that they cannot be easily seen by speeding drivers.

Using a radar gun or other speed-measuring equipment, the officer will check the speeds of approaching or passing vehicles. Vehicles that exceed the posted speed limit will be stopped and ticketed.

The “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” Trap

The last of the three general forms of a speed trap is the most insidious, as it involves not just an officer’s actions but also the actions of an entire municipality. 

Here, the municipality suddenly and dramatically reduces the speed limit along a certain stretch of road for no reason other than to catch drivers unaware of the change. Officers will set up near the area where the speed limit has changed, stopping and citing drivers who fail to reduce their speed when the limit changes.

Most Speed Traps Are Legal

“Stopwatch” and “Hiding in Plain Sight” speed traps will almost always be found to be legal, and the citations issued as a direct result of their use are enforceable. Such traps do not involve any deception by law enforcement officers themselves; instead, they are simply enforcing the rules of the road that have long since been established.

A “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” type of trap, however, is a different story. Many states have legal processes that must be followed before the speed limit on any road can be changed, and if they are not followed, any resulting tickets may be deemed invalid.

Need Help with a Speeding Ticket? Contact TicketVoid Today

Fighting speeding tickets that come as the result of a speed trap is not easy, but TicketVoid is here to help. Connecting you with a qualified traffic attorney in your area, they’ll be able to review your case and advise you on the best way to address your speeding charge. Where you were unlawfully stopped and cited, your attorney can assist you in challenging your charges.

Get started by completing our short online form or giving us a call at 888-296-3059.


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