Speed traps


Where was the first speed trap set up?


The first speed trap was set up in 1905 when New York City Police Commissioner Bill McAdoo was caught going 12 mph in an 8 mph zone in New Hampshire. Two dead tree trunks spaced one mile apart each contained a deputy inside with a stopwatch and telephone.  When a speedster appeared to be going too fast, a deputy would start the stopwatch and telephone his comrade in the other dead tree trunk and another deputy manning a roadblock.

Commissioner McAdoo was so impressed he asked the local sheriffs department to devise similar systems for New York City.

So called speed traps are entirely legal not necessarily evil devices. Enforcing traffic laws are a normal part of police operation. Knowing that traffic laws are enforced causes people to slow down and drive prudently.

Speed limits are enforced by using a variety of devices and instruments, including, VASCAR, radar, lidar, cameras, or sensors imbedded in the roadbed,

VASCAR (Visual Average Speed Computer and Recorder) marries a stopwatch to a simple computer. The operator on the ground or in the air presses a button as the car passes  two landmarks that are a known distance apart. Those large white stripes along the Interstate are used by both the “bear in the air” and units on the ground. Sometimes the two landmarks are posts or signs along the highway. VASCAR makes radar detectors useless. The police aren’t sending out any radar beams.

Radar (Radio Detection and Ranging) sends out a series of microwaves and times how long it takes for the beam to go to the target and return. Doppler radar analyzes how the frequency of the returned signed has been altered by the cars motion. Lidar is similar to radar except a laser light beam is used instead of a radio signal.

Radar detectors are legal in most all of the United States, but not in Canada. However, trying to jam police radar or lidar is illegal. Drivers have been known to flash their lights to warn approaching drivers of a speed trap. Some places this practice is tolerated, in others it is deemed illegal.

Increasingly, people tend to think that radar detectors are useless and a waste of money. That’s why radar detector sales are way down. Radar detectors are simple radio receivers, or light receivers. Many police do not have their radar sets on continually, but rather turn them on when they see a suspected “Mario Andretti”. They’ve registered your speed by the time you can even take your foot off the accelerator.

Lots of places are installing those unmanned roadside radar units that flash the speed of approaching vehicles. Some are now powered by solar cells. They are highly effective in making people award of their speed and hence slowing down in critical areas, for example, where kids are walking to school. Wife and I saw many of those units in Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota on a recent trip. Locally, one of those radars was recently installed on Butts Avenue near Tomah High School.

The National Motorists Association blog lists the “worst speed trap in Wisconsin”

as Rosendale, a small community ten miles west of Fond du Lac along Highway 26. Motorists going between Madison and the Green Bay, Oshkosh, Appleton area often use Highway 26. Rosendale has also been dubbed as “The Speed Trap Capitol of North America”.  Rosendale police are said to issue about 1500 tickets per year.

There is a surefire way to avoid getting speeding tickets: slow down.


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