Mero Moment: Away With the Speed Traps!

What would you do if you were king or queen for a day in Utah? If you could make any decision to create any law or repeal any law or pass any regulation you want, what one thing would you do? Would you get rid of the state income tax? Would you create a new tax that would only help to feed people? Would you legalize drugs? What one thing would you do if you were king or queen for the day?

As odd as it might sound, I think I would get rid of speeding and speeding traps. Not that I’m plagued by speeding tickets – I’ve had three speeding tickets in 40 years of driving. It’s just that I have a visceral and palpable animosity every time I see a speed trap. I think to myself – or sometimes say out loud in my car – “Don’t you guys have anything better to do than to sit there waiting to make criminals out of otherwise innocent people?”

I should say up front that I don’t oppose laws against reckless driving, just speed traps. I think excess speeds can be reckless. I’m not opposed to having speed limits. I’m just opposed to violations based on speed limits and especially speed traps. In other words, if I were king for a day I would change all speeding violations into violations for reckless driving and I’d abolish all speed traps as a matter of law enforcement policy – no more sitting around and waiting to create criminals.

First, there is something deeply offensive about the arbitrary nature of speeding laws and how they’re administered when violated. The officer pulls you over and typically asks, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” Or he’ll ask, “Do you know how fast you were going?” Frankly, both of those questions are designed to elicit a de facto confession. I have a friend who told me he once told an officer, “Give me a ticket or give me a lecture, but don’t give me both.” Either I broke the law or I didn’t, right? And yet what does the officer say to us typically? “You were 20 miles per hour over the speed limit but I wrote the ticket for only five miles per hour over.” And what’s our response? “Thank you.” We’re so relieved that he didn’t cuff us and take us to jail that we actually thank him for arbitrarily fining us!

Second, there are few examples of a police state more egregious than the arbitrary nature of imposing speeding violations. Again, police just sit there and wait for someone to catch. An officer can choose to let one violator go while grabbing the next one. Driving laws are so numerous that an officer can cite anyone at any time for any reason – and the only reason he wouldn’t is because of his own good graces and judgment. If you look up the term “police state” in the dictionary, that’s the definition you’d see.

If I were king for a day, I would require officers to act as pace cars on our highways if we’re concerned about excessive speeds. Just get out there and drive. If they see someone weaving in and out of traffic or going so fast in traffic as to make driving unsafe, then go ahead and pull that driver over and cite them for reckless driving. But no more speed traps. No more sitting at the bottom of a hill waiting for people to naturally increase their speeds going downhill only to cite them for speeding. No more citing one driver going 80 m.p.h while letting the driver next to him advance who’s going the same speed. No more making otherwise innocent people feel as if they’re criminals because they chose, consciously or not, to go five miles faster than an arbitrary speed limit permits them. No! Instead we should require law enforcement to focus on reckless driving and real threats to public safety. If police departments need more revenue, let them get it the old fashioned way: ask duly elected officials to re-allocate government funds or raise new taxes. Police departments shouldn’t take funding into their own hands.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.