How Do Speed Traps Work

Wondering how do speed traps work, or why anyone would ever get caught in one? The locals may know that there's a cop hiding behind that billboard, but if you don't know the area, you could get pinched. Get caught in a speed trap, and you're almost guaranteed to have a ticket that you can't fight, an insurance surcharge and a trip to traffic school if you're a repeat offender.

Setting up a Speed Trap
Law enforcement selects a specific area to strictly enforce the speed limit. Typically, this is an area where people are known to be speeding. Several police officers work in tandem to measure the speed of passing motorists in the area. Motorists that pass through the area over the posted limit are pulled over and ticketed.

Because several police officers are involved, it's virtually impossible to avoid being pulled over if you're driving too fast. You can also be certain that all the paperwork for the police radar is up to date, so you won't be able to get your ticket dismissed on a technicality.

Types of Speed Traps
Usually, a speed trap is stationary. One or more police officers are partially hidden on the side of the road. They use radar or laser guns to check the speed of passing vehicles. The police officers with radar guns measure the speed of passing vehicles, then radio the information ahead to another police officer, or group of police, who pull motorists over and hand out tickets. 

Because the police only need a split second to get a radar reading on cars, they can set up in places where it's nearly impossible to see them before they clock your speed. Speed traps can be set up in any of the following locations:

  • Behind roadside billboards or bushes
  • Around curves or blind corners
  • Just past the tops of hills
  • On highway overpasses
  • On hidden roads

You may also encounter a mobile speed trap, In a mobile speed trap, officers on the ground work in conjunction with a helicopter or airplane. The airborne police officer flies over the specified area, measuring the speed of the cars passing underneath. Once a speeding motorist is clocked, that information is passed on to officers on the ground. They pull the speeder over and issue a citation.

The newest type of speed trap is a stationary speed trap that utilizes a camera. The camera may be mounted on traffic lights or a sign on the side of the road. The camera may also be in a vehicle parked on the side of the road.

The camera includes a radar gun that reads the speed of passing cars. When a car goes by that is traveling above the posted limit, the radar gun triggers the camera. The camera takes a photo of the car's license plate, which is used to identify the vehicle. A ticket is then mailed to the registered owner of the car.

Dealing with Speed Traps
It is extremely difficult to fight a ticket from a speed trap. Because most speed traps use stationary, vehicle-mounted radar or lasers, you can't use operator error as a defense. If you get caught by a camera system, it's a virtual guarantee that you'll lose if you try to challenge the ticket.

Your only defense against a speed trap is to claim that officers pulled over the wrong vehicle. If police are manning the radar or laser guns, they often can't see your license plate, so they radio the make and model of your car ahead to other officers. If you have a particularly common type of car, there is a chance that you were pulled over by mistake, and a judge may be lenient if you have a clean driving record. If you drive a bright yellow '78 Corvette, you won't get too far with this kind of challenge.

Your best defense against a speed trap is to drive within posted speed limits and get to know where police set up traps in your area. Most of the time, speeds of five to eight miles over the limit won't get you a ticket. 

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