Speed traps. Driver's hate them all. The occasional officer hidden from view and armed with a radar gun is aggravating. Complain if you will, but you often deserve the resulting ticket. Then there are the real "traps." Well-traveled highways through rural communities—ones that out-of-state travelers often seek to stay off the busy interstates—that use legal, but controversial methods to lure unsuspecting driver's into their lair.
Until the fall of 2014 Florida had two of the worst speed traps in America—Waldo and Lawtey. Now drivers can mark one of them off their list. Late in 2014, Waldo disbanded its small police. Waldo's seven officers wrote nearly 12,000 speeding tickets in 2013, collecting some $400,000.00 in fines.
Both rural towns, located northeast of Gainesville on a 20-mile stretch of Highway 301 north of Ocala, had a reputation that drew national media attention and criticism of its ticketing tactics. In fact, AAA warned motorists of the speed traps and advised motorists to go slow through the towns or avoid them altogether.
To be fair, two other towns along this stretch of highway should also be included—Starke and Hampton. All of these cities have little claim-to-fame beyond their speed trap reputations. Waldo is the location of a huge weekend flea market and Starke is home to the Florida State Prison. Interestingly, Hampton is not even located along Hwy 301. The city incorporated a portion of that highway.
Setting the Traps
What do these towns do that others don't? Three things. They place rapidly decreasing speed limit signs close together, they regularly patrol the highway looking for violators, and they write tickets. Lots and lots of tickets...even for violations of just one mile an hour over the speed limit. They are not shy about what they do. Officers are often easily spotted laying in wait for their next victim, motorists even complain about being followed for blocks through town.
Speed limits are usually set by traffic engineers, but these speed limit signs seem to defy the logic of their locations. Some are located in areas without congestion that would usually call for reduced speeds. The decreasing speed limit signs are close together and vehicles cannot meet the newly decreased speed by simply coasting. Officers will cite drivers that are going faster than the posted speed limit at the time they pass the sign.
While community leaders and law enforcement claim they do what they do in the name of safety, others see nothing more than greed. The high-priced tickets bring thousands of dollars every year into the budgets of towns that have little industry and nothing to draw tourists.
More Florida Speed Traps
Although they do not draw as much attention, there are additional areas in Florida where the speed limit is strictly enforced. Use caution in these locations:
- US 98 in Gulfbreeze - Beware of this popular route for of those on their way to vacation in Destin.
- US 19 & Alt US 27 in Chiefland - Watch the speed limit signs carefully. This divided highway with little traffic can encourage higher-than-posted speeds.
- US 441 in Lady Lake - A reduced speed limit and regular patrols stretch a few blocks through the central part of this little town just south of the retirement development of The Villages.
- US Hwy 1 near Mile Marker 35 - Shortly after this bridge there is a "Keys Deer" sign with posted speeds of 45 mph during the day and 35 mph at night. You will get a ticket if you speed and whatever you do... don't hit a deer!
How to Avoid Getting a Ticket
Of course, the best advice is to drive slowly and watch your speed carefully or avoid the areas altogether.
Speed traps are not the only ticket in towns across Florida. Caught on camera has taken on new meaning in Florida as red light cameras have been installed in many communities. Running a red light could cost you, so once a traffic light turns yellow, stop as quickly and safely as possible.