To ticket or not to ticket

Published 8:27 am Friday, May 29, 2015

This Memorial Day weekend, my fiancée and I didn’t really plan much. She had Sunday off, so I decided to travel down to the University of North Carolina, where she had just wrapped up her Master of Library Science degree.

On my way to Chapel Hill early Saturday morning — taking Route 58 to Emporia and traveling down a short stretch of I-95 before it turns into North Carolina — I saw 10 vehicles pulled over by the highway patrol.

That was in Virginia alone, over a stretch of 45 minutes in just Southampton County, Greensville County and Emporia. In my two hours of North Carolina, I saw just one person pulled over.

During the return journey on Monday morning, I saw zero people pulled over in North Carolina and eight during my stretch of Virginia. My fiancée had been in Franklin for an interview in the area on Thursday. Making the same trip to Chapel Hill Friday morning, she also saw 10 pulled over in the Commonwealth, and none in North Carolina.

Talking around the office, the patrol was just as bad over shorter distances in Hampton Roads.

Certainly, it was expected that the presence of law enforcement would be stepped up over a holiday weekend, as there would be more motorists on the road. The problem is that not seeing multiple cars pulled over on Route 58 and Virginia’s portion of I-95 is a rarity, no matter what weekend it is.

In 2012, Emporia collected $1,299,444.35 in local revenue for court fees and fines. Greensville County took in $1,767,735.62. Southampton County, which doesn’t have a stretch of interstate, pulled in $859,365.98. That’s just considering the local aspect, not the federal dollars that go into these programs. Based on the numbers, Franklin and Isle of Wight County do not appear to participate in the speed trap phenomenon, though Sussex County does — to the tune of approximately $1.3 million in 2012.

As you might could guess, the courts are pulling in millions of dollars in the name of highway safety — $100-plus million a year.

Studies show that cash-strapped towns are more likely to find additional people guilty of the crime of speeding. Often, they are targeting people from out-of-state or from many miles away from the courthouse, where the ticket can be challenged. Interestingly, some argue that people driving too slow causes more accidents compared to people going the seven to 10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit, which is all it requires to get pulled over in certain areas of Virginia.

Many motorists have taken to social media to call Route 58 the worst speed trap in the Commonwealth, though recently that seems to have been taken over by the stretch of I-295 in the City of Hopewell. In case you didn’t know, a speed trap is a stretch of interstate or highway where the speed limit is often arbitrarily slower than assessed to be.

All this said, compared to North Carolina, which doesn’t seem to have as many speed traps, Virginia does have fewer traffic accidents.

That’s at least a good outcome of the increased enforcement. However, it comes at the expense of terrible traffic congestion, and having to learn to slow down to the posted speed limit, even as it changes at random from 60 mph to 55, 50 — even 40 — or from 70 to 60.

For me, I received the second speeding ticket of my life about two years ago for going around nine or 10 mph over in Brunswick County — which pulled in $1,196,552.05 in 2012, by the way — at the point where I failed to notice that it changed from 60 back to 55 mph.

Since then, I’ve learned to pay closer attention to the postings, even as people zoom past me. So the argument that it’s avoidable is certainly one I understand.

The fact that it’s avoidable doesn’t deny that it’s happening, though, and in many cases it’s not necessarily just for public safety, according to multiple studies. Considering that speeding tickets average around $250 a pop, officers who write at least one ticket every five hours are paying for themselves. Should an officer write two or three an hour, which many do, it becomes quite profitable. So much so that many companies would kill for those profit margins.

In a time when county and city budgets are decreasing around the state, it’s also quite understandable that many localities would turn to such tactics to improve finances.

While law enforcement should certainly stop the truly dangerous drivers out there, the government should not be lowering speed limits and putting out more troopers with the intent to milk us for money not already being taxed from us. Additionally, it hurts the people who can’t pay on time. Some are out thousands after all is said and done, they end up in jail, or both.

This loan-shark like behavior should not be a function of the government.

Cain “Lead Foot” Madden is the managing editor of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at 562-3187 or