A call for sanity on speed limits

Yeah, I’m in a bit of a “stupid traffic law tricks” mode. This draft has been sitting in my drafts folder for about a month, and the article dates from July of this year. However, the issue at hand is still very current as Michigan is not the only place this happens.

Car and Driver recently reported on a situation in Michigan where local governments continue to enforce outdated speed limits which are set much lower than the prevailing speed of traffic, despite a specific state law to the contrary. This is a practice which happens to line the pockets of small “speed trap” towns at the expense of the motoring public.

Now, I agree in principle with reasonable speed limits being set on public roadways. However, all too often I see limits clearly set for revenue, such as the stretch of Jones Road through Jersey Village posted at 35 which, surprisingly, jumps to 45 as soon as you leave city limits. A post to survivalistboards.com also mentions Jersey Village and speed traps, and I know I’ve seen many others out there, including a post mentioning a ticket for 38 in a 35 (yes, three over the limit, when usual tolerance is five or ten) which I conveniently can’t find at the moment.

And it’s not just the small towns. A stretch of  Briar Forest between Gessner and Beltway 8, well inside Houston city limits, was posted 30 for years and was a frequent speed trap. However, in a rare move of actually doing something that made sense, the limit was raised to 40 briefly before being dropped down to 35. I haven’t been through the area recently (moved away) so I’m not sure if it’s still a “speed trap” now.

With speed limits frequently set too low on purpose for revenue, it’s a wonder that the violation rate is so high. It is simply not right for a government to create a dangerous situation by setting artificially low speed limits, then taxing the drivers that drive at a reasonable speed. (Yes, I am using the word “taxing” instead of “fining” on purpose.)

Nightmare on Shepherd Drive

I will admit Wayne Dolcefino drew my ire years ago with one of his investigative reports that had some annoying consequences for me personally. I’m not going to go into details but it’s been well over a decade ago now and it’s water under the bridge. Anyway, this is 2010, and Wayne’s latest report about the Houston Police Department’s dubious speed traps got my undivided attention for a few minutes yesterday. As a former courier I would frequently see HPD officers, almost certainly including the mentioned and shown “ticket champion” Matt Davis, staked out at the 700 block of North Shepherd, in both directions (as it happens, I made a fair number of my paycheck deposits at the Capital One branch in the area).

The interesting part of the story here is from Victor Trevino, Precinct 6 Constable, who is quoted as saying:

If you’re writing tickets at this location, and we don’t have any complaints from citizens and you don’t have any accidents out here, then what is your logic?

I don’t think anybody in law enforcement or any public official is actually going to admit that [this is about money instead of public safety], but it’s what it would look like to the common-sense person.

It is indeed rare for me to praise a law enforcement officer. However, I applaud Constable Trevino for his efforts to defend the public image of law enforcement in and around the Houston area. It looks bad on not just HPD but every law enforcement agency in the area when these kind of speeding tickets are written for what must be obvious revenue generation as opposed to safety. Like it or not (and believe me, I don’t), the image of the entire city can be affected by what its police officers do.

So this is what I suggest to my readers: If you get a speeding ticket written by Officer Matt Davis, don’t get mad, get even. Plead “not guilty” and set it for trial. Talk to an attorney. If enough people do this instead of quietly pleading guilty and paying up, Officer Davis and HPD will get the message, because there is no way a million dollars’ worth of traffic tickets will ever make it to trial. And that message is that we as a community condemn the practice of traffic tickets for revenue generation.

Wayne’s story includes a link to a Google map showing the ticket hotspots for surface streets and the number of tickets issued. It’s worth a look, especially if you regularly travel the entire city as part of your job as I once did.