Danger, danger. If you’re among the flock of snowbirds driving from the Great White North to Florida this winter and you wisely opt for the scenic, less-trafficked route along US Highway 301 South from Baldwin to Gainesville or Ocala, beware that you will pass two notorious speed traps.
Before you reach the towns of Waldo and Lawtey (20 miles apart), which use speeding-violation fines to fill their coffers, you’ll see billboards giving fair warning. While unsigned, the billboards are paid for by the American Automobile Association.
“Waldo and Lawtey are the only two municipalities in the US recognized by AAA as traffic traps,” Gregg Laskoski, spokesman for AAA Auto Club South, told me today. While AAA designates some other towns as a “strict enforcement” area for speeders, only Waldo and Lawtey have the not-so-complimentary speed-trap label. “The distinction comes when the municipality exceeds a certain level of its budget funded exclusively by traffic tickets. We’re not sure exactly what theirs is, but we know they’re high.”
Earlier newspaper reports have put the towns’ ticketing income at a third of their budgets. And an ABC News report last July said that in Lawtey, population 700, police officers in 2007 wrote nearly 9,000 tickets, netting the town $300,000. That’s more than 25 tickets a day!
The police response is always “We’re just making sure people are safe.”
According to earlier articles, AAA pressed the Florida Department of Transportation to at least give drivers more warning. Now there are markers saying “speed strictly enforced.” In Lawtey and Waldo’s defense (though I think they deserve their bad reputations), they’ve erected pre-speed signs highlighted with brightly colored reflective strips that warn of impending speed reductions, from 65 gradually down to 30. I drive this route enough to know they’re not kidding.
If you get nailed, see hints on fighting speed-trap tickets at the National Motorists Association’s site at www.speedtrap.org. And of course we’d love to hear your speed-trap stories.