Finding speed traps? There's an app for that
Speeding is as dangerous as it is costly, but some say speed traps are meant to raise money -- not protect the public good.
Technology is not only changing the way we do things, it's changing the way we avoid them. Take speeding tickets, for instance. Over the past year, one of the most popular (for motorists) and hated (for police) ways to avoid them is with a smart-phone app called Trapster.
According to its developers, this free app "combines technologies such as GPS and wireless location, voice transcription, geocoding, reverse geocoding, and SMS, with a central database server. It communicates in real time, using the Internet." The result? Your smart-phone sounds an alarm when you're approaching a known speed trap.
Here's a story I recently shot while hanging out with a local motorcycle cop. Check it out, then meet me on the other side for more.
As I mentioned in the video above, I don't advocate speeding. It's dangerous not only to you, but to other drivers around you. But when the economy goes bad, according to some, speed traps can become more about easy money than public safety. The University of Chicago's Journal of Law and Economics published one of several studies that's come to that conclusion. And Dean McKimm, the police chief in Canton, Ohio -- home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- even admitted to MSN Money that his department has raised revenue for the city by more than doubling the number of tickets it writes.
"I'll be very blunt about that: It does save jobs," McKimm said. "It was kind of a no-brainer."
Not surprisingly, cops hate Trapster and similar technologies like the National Speed Trap Exchange, a website that lists and constantly updates speed traps nationwide. Washington, D.C., police chief Cathy Lanier called such use of technology a "cowardly tactic" and vowed, "People who overly rely on those and break the law anyway are going to get caught."
The cop I talked to when I did the story above just chuckled when I told him what the story was about. He wasn't worried about losing business, and I could see his point: In the hour we were together he wrote five tickets for speeding in a school zone, some for as much as $500.
But even for those who hate the idea of unveiling speeding traps, there's another factor to consider: If an app or website identifies potential speed traps, that makes drivers slow down -- a benefit to everyone on the road.
Things to consider if you're relying on technology to skirt the law:
- Both websites and smart-phone apps rely on "self-reporting." In other words, speed traps are noted by users who have seen them or been ensnared by them. So don't expect every speed trap to be listed.
- "Police are not stupid," Trapster's site warns. "They change the locations where they set up speed traps many times per day."
- If you're thinking, "Hey, I'll just buy a radar or laser detector," think again. These days they're a waste of money. As Trapster notes: "Even the latest, most expensive radar detectors are useless against modern police enforcement technologies such as instant-on radar and laser. Your radar/laser detector will still beep, but in almost all cases, only after it is too late."
Obviously, the best way to avoid a speeding ticket is to drive the speed limit. And what will a ticket cost you? The nationwide average is $150, and that doesn't include any hike in your auto insurance if you can't get the points removed by attending traffic school. So slow down and save -- and see this post on beating a traffic ticket.
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