The case of the two-sided speed trap

Yes, it’s a bit old, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this is still happening somewhere. It’s still an interesting case study for the law enforcement officers who read my blog on how not to run a speed trap. (Yes, I know cops read my blog.)

This post on tells the story of a Washington State Patrol speed enforcement effort using aircraft on Highway 2. The law enforcement officers caught speeding on their way to a non-emergency Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) conference were let off with a warning. The unlucky citizens caught speeding during the same operation, on the other hand… well, you probably already guessed this, but they got speeding tickets.

At least until someone who recorded the radio conversations between the trooper in the aircraft and the troopers on the ground found its way into the hands of news media. Those radio conversations were recorded by Bill Gilliam and posted to his blog.

According to this post to, any civilians (non-LEOs) who received speeding tickets had them voided. One comment to Bill’s blog post by someone identifying himself as Peter G. offers some insight into the reason why:

KOMO news reports that all the charges against civilians on that stretch of road have been dropped. Did this happen because someone was ashamed of what happened? I doubt it. Did this happen because someone knew those civilians would get the charges dropped anyway, on the basis of selective enforcement? Sure. But the MOST important reason for dropping the charges is that those civilians could go into court, allege discrimination, and force WSP and all the officers at that conference to document all the unticketed violations. And with that information on the record, those uniformed violators– the speeders and the cops who let them go– would have to be prosecuted. So in other words, the criminal justice system is allowing ALL the criminals to go unpunished in order to protect its own.

In other words, rather than let themselves be pushed into a situation where they would have to prosecute a bunch of their own, the Washington State Police decided it would be better just to void all the tickets and write off the aircraft fuel, motor fuel, officer wages, and other expenses as a loss. Yep, your tax dollars at work, Washington…

I wouldn’t be nearly as disturbed if this was nominal speeding… say, up to around 70 mph in a 60 mph (a lot of speed limits are intentionally underposted by 5 to 10 mph). But seriously, setting aside for the moment the issue that these are the people we trust to enforce the law and keep us safe… what’s the excuse for over 80 in a 60? In some states that’s reckless driving automatically (North Carolina, Virginia, Hawaii, and Arizona per John Carr’s traffic law guide; there is also some kind of increased penalty for 20 over in Missouri and 15 over in Arkansas which is not stated clearly in that guide). In Texas, the option to dismiss with a driver safety course (defensive driving) disappears if you get busted for 25 mph or more over the limit, meaning one can be stuck paying a rather large fine. (Or at least the statutory requirement that they allow it disappears; on at least one court appearance, I’ve heard an ADA working that day says they’ll dismiss it anyway even if that’s the case.)

Those are the laws for the non-badged, anyway. What happens to cops caught speeding is anyone’s guess. It might be the same rules, but more often, the badge translates to a very heavy “get away with it” card. I’d honestly like to see that change.

A “number 1” ranking Houston can do without

CNBC recently reported on the worst speed-trap cities in the US. Houston was at the top of the list, which was enough to get KHOU-TV (our local CBS affiliate) to pick up on the story. CNBC used the website for the raw data to generate the rankings.

It’s a topic I’ve visited before on this blog when KTRK exposed a very dubious speed trap on Shepherd Drive near I-10. CNBC refers to this investigation in the caption showing Houston (it’s a shot of I-10 near downtown on a stretch of freeway closed for some reason, as one of the HPD officers is facing the wrong way). I remember my blog post about this story as one of the rare occasions I had something really good to say about a law enforcement officer; specifically, Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino. (To be fair, he wasn’t very flattering towards HPD in his comments.)

Anyway, suffice it to say this is another area of distinction which Houston would do well to shy away from. I am reminded of Houston making the top of the “fattest cities” list (as compiled by Men’s Fitness magazine) back in 2001 through 2003. And I will admit at the time my figure was more voluminous than I would have liked (suffice it to say, I need not have worried about picking up the nickname “slim”). And it still is a bit, but I have lost at least one pants size since then (today I usually wear size 40, then I wore size 42).

Unfortunately, for this particular problem, I can’t really help out, except to raise awareness. And no, the problem is not motorists with heavy right feet. The problem is greedy local governments, and police departments willing to write tickets for the dubious “crime” (okay, technically it’s an “infraction”) of exceeding an arbitrary posted limit. Which, by the way, is usually set below the maximum safe speed. In some cases, quite far below.

Examples of underposted speed limits in the Houston area that come to mind (biased a bit towards my neighborhood and roads I currently travel or formerly traveled with frequency):

  • Jones Road from FM 1960 to Grant Road. Signed with a 40 mph limit, when the limit is 45 from the northern outskirts of Jersey Village up to FM 1960. This one makes no sense; the area north of FM 1960 is, if anything, less built up than the area south of it.
  • Jones Road from Grant Road to Lakewood Crossing Boulevard (just north of Cypresswood). The limit is posted at 30 mph here. While I understand Jones runs through a residential area here, it’s still a thoroughfare to Louetta and Texas 249, and almost everyone does at least 35, if not 40 or higher, through here. At minimum this should probably be posted at 35 mph (unfortunately, I suspect too many residents will balk at a 40 limit).
  • Briar Forest Drive between Gessner and Dairy Ashford (former). This is a former underposted limit but deserves mention because it’s one of the best examples. The City of Houston finally came to their senses on this one, after irate residents got sick of the HPD speed trap at W Rivercrest and/or E Rivercrest. It was posted at 30 mph, then 40 mph, then lowered again to 35 mph where I would assume they still are today. I would have liked to see the 40 mph limit stay but 35 mph is still an improvement over the original.
  • FM 1960 from Texas 249 to US 290, Texas 6 from US 290 to Clay Road. Posted at 40 mph, but it’s the de facto main drag for much of the area, and it’s still a major state highway. I’m pretty sure this used to be posted at 45 mph at one point.
  • Shepherd Drive/Durham Drive from Larkin Street (just north of I-10) to where an intersection with West 9th Street would be. I realize it’s short, but this could stand a slight speed limit increase to 40 mph, maybe even as far north as West 11th Street, if nothing else just to reflect the reality that people go a little faster over this stretch. Oh wait, then HPD couldn’t write all those tickets here. You know what, that’s too bad. I say let those cops (especially the “ticket champion” Officer Matt Davis) earn their living doing real law enforcement, not harassing motorists.
  • Stretches of W Hardy Road/E Hardy Road bordering the Hardy Toll Road between Beltway 8 and I-610. Given this is now the service road for a busy tollway, the speed limits need to be re-evaluated, along with the stop sign at Hill Road that’s probably a holdover from the days where the urbanized area stopped shortly outside I-610 (I’m guessing here, because I wasn’t yet born).
  • US 59 mainlanes through Humble (former). This was a notorious underposted speed limit at one time: 55 mph in a stretch that easily deserved a 65 mph limit. Thankfully, the City of Humble finally gave up on this source of revenue, much to the relief of the area’s motorists.
  • The Sam Houston Ship Channel Bridge (Beltway 8 over the Houston Ship Channel). Not only is the 50 mph speed limit here out of touch with reality, this is the most expensive stretch of the Sam Houston Tollway ($2.00 cash/$1.50 with EZ Tag, versus $1.50/$1.30 elsewhere). I can’t think of anywhere else where I can pay so much for the privilege of seeing a “SPEED LIMIT 50” sign. The kicker? There’s no way to enforce the speed limit on this bridge, outside of using aircraft (which, even if legal in Texas, is rarely done).
  • I-10 just east of downtown Houston (former). I don’t remember exactly where, but there was a stretch with a posted limit of 55 mph. Actually doing 55 mph was an invitation to get tailgated or have obscene gestures made at you. Finally, the city came to their senses on this one as well.

I’m sure there are others, but these come to mind most readily.

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 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.)