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Watch your driving: Cities setting up more speed traps

I used to live near a sheriff's training academy in California's Kern County, where young cops practiced their skills by setting up "speed traps." They would lie in wait with radar guns, behind a shaded corner or on top of a on-ramp entrance, ready to pounce upon unsuspecting speeders. Us locals knew when to slow down to the speed limit, and what time of the day was the best and worst for avoiding the traps. But that's not the case anymore -- there's more speed traps in the area, and they seem to be manned round the clock.

The same thing is probably happening in your area. Cities with budget shortfalls need to raise revenue somehow and to do it, they're having their police forces issue more tickets. The financially-strapped Detroit suburbs are home to some of the worst speed traps in the entire country. The number of moving violations issued has increased by at least 50% in the past six years; 11 of the city's municipalities have seen ticketing increases of 90% or more. Michigan's police chiefs admit the main reason for more ticketing is to make up for dwindling property tax revenues. James Tignanelli, president of the Police Officers Association of Michigan, told Car & Driver, "A lot of police chiefs will tell you the goal is to have nobody speeding through their community, but heaven forbid if it should actually happen -- they'd be out of money."

To help drivers nationwide avoid excess tickets, the National Motorists Association has created the Speed Trap Exchange, letting in-the-know drivers warn others in their area about where the cops may be lurking. Click on "Find Speed Traps" and you can search for specific speed traps in your own neighborhood. Now I know that a bicycle cop on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge tags traffic while a motorcycle cop on the other side pulls speeders over, and that motorcycle cops are hidden at every intersection south of the baseball park after a Giants game. (However, I think San Francisco's police department sees easier money in expired parking meters than in ticketing speeding drivers on city streets -- it's hard to do Steve McQueen's chase scene from Bullitt with so many pedestrians, bikes and buses around.)

I'm not condoning speeding here. I try to avoid the left lane on highways and make complete stops at intersections but I'm one of scads of California drivers who typically drive a few miles over the speed limit, and that never caused me to be pulled over in the past. While more speed traps will undoubtedly make me drive slower, I wish cities could find some less-shady way to earn money than by imposing a "random driving tax."

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