Ohio Town Refunds 980 Speed Camera Tickets For Only Driving 10mph Over The Limit (Versus 11mph)

from the go-speed-racer dept

A story suggest to us by reader Dan describes how an Ohio town recently issued 980 speeding ticket refunds. The city of Garfield Heights, Ohio, installed two speed cameras, attached to unmanned police cars, and then sent speeding tickets to those that were deemed to be speeding. The policy was to only issue tickets to those driving more than 11 miles per hour over the speed limit, so, when it was found that a number of tickets were issued to those driving 10 miles per hour over the limit, almost $100,000 in ticket revenue was refunded. Apparently, city officials had told the public that the tickets would be issued if people were caught driving 11 miles over the limit. So, if that's the case, then is the speed limit actually the speed limit or not? Once again, this goes to show how completely arbitrary speed limit enforcement can be. Is there really a difference in safety in going 10 mph over the speed limit vs. 11? And, if anything, it seems that widely circulating this policy would simply encourage people to drive 9 miles over the limit.

Clearly, it's a great money maker for the city. Since the month of June, when the cameras were installed, they sent out nearly 11,000 tickets, representing about $1,000,000 in added revenue. Sure, it's possible that the city may need to cover a shortfall in a budget, but is the false guise of public safety the appropriate manner in which to obtain this revenue? At least this method is a little more scientific than other Ohio towns, where a policeman can issue a ticket by simply guessing how fast you were going.

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  1. icon
    Gregg L. DesElms (profile), 13 Oct 2010 @ 10:29am

    One time I saw a motorcycle officer in a gas station lot using the radar gun, and I pulled-in and boldly asked him if he'd help me figure out how accurate was my car's speedometer. To my surprise, he agreed. Pretty nice guy, actually. More on that in a second.

    So we agreed that I'd approach him going precisely 30 MPH (according to my speedometer); and that I'd make a couple of passes and we'd compare the results.

    His radar gun said I was doing 28 MPH both passes. And on both passes I had managed to by-golly set the needle right on 30 MPH.

    This result squared with one of those automated, lighted speed warning signs that I knew of where the digital display thingy tells you how fast you're going as you approach the sign. It, too, said that I was going 28 MPH when my speedometer said 30 MPH.

    And as expected, one day when I found one of those lighted digital sign thingies on a street with a 50 MPH limit, my speedometer was about 4 MPH off when I pegged the needle at 60 MPH (in other words the digital sign said I was going 56 MPH.

    So then I repeated the entire process with my wife's car... and it, too, had around a 2 MPH speedometer error at around 40 MPH, and around a 3 MPH error at 60 MPH... in both cases, she was actually going slower than the speedometer said she was going.

    Three or four miles per hour error at 60 MPH is not insignificant. Assuming that most cars have a minimum of that level of error, and others are even a little bit worse, then it seems only fair that there should be around a 10% allowance.

    And, indeed, that's what the motorcycle cop said was his policy... though he confessed to just making it 5 MPH rather that calculating things in his head. He said that anyone going up to 5 MPH over or under was fine with him; but that anyone going over 5 MPH faster than the limit earned them, at minimum, a written warning; and depending on how fast they were actually going, whether or not they were staying with traffic, and what was their driving history, he'd either give them a written warning or a ticket, at his discretion...

    ...which is exactly as it should be. Cops should (and in most jurisdictions, do) have that discretion, and that they actually use it does not make anything "arbitrary."

    There must be lines drawn somewhere, so there will always be someone who isn't punished on one side of a line, and someone who is on the other. That's just the way of things. How else can it be handled? It's the way in court, too. It's one level of severity for a speeding ticket up to 15 MPH over the limit, and an entirely different (and higher) level of severity for driving more than 15 MPH over the limit. And at some point (I think, in most jurisdictions, it's 25 MPH over the limit and higher), the becomes, categorically, "reckless driving."

    Those demarcation points aren't "arbitrary." They're just demarcation points... because the lines have to be drawn SOMEWHERE... and, again, there will always be people on either side of those lines who get, because of that, treated differently.

    I suppose a more fair way would be to have some kind of point system so for each MPH over the limit, the severity is increased by one point; and points convert into fines or jail time or whatever. But that's not how most states do it. And I don't think any of them are going to change how they do it anytime soon.

    It seems to me that Garfield Heights was kinda' silly, in this case, though. Had I been running that show, here's how I would have done it...

    Anyone going from zero to five MPH over the limit gets a letter explaining that up to five MPH falls within typical speedometer error, and so there will be no consequences; but please slow down and try to do better.

    Anyone going six to ten MPH over the limit gets a written warning if they haven't had a ticket in... oh... I suppose five years would be a good number; and anyone who has had one or more tickets in that time period get a ticket.

    Anyone going 11 MPH or faster over the limit gets a ticket; and the severity of the ticket would, of course, increase as the number of MPH over the limit increased, per state law.

    As far as the refund, had it been set up the way I just described, they'd not have had to have refunded very much; and I don't believe I'd have refunded anything at all.

    The police saying that they'd only cite for 11 MPH or more over the limit was not legally binding, and I believe I'd have just shrugged my shoulders and said, had I been the police chief, "oh, well." And the reason I'd be unapologetic for it would be because, no matter what, those going up to 10 MPH over the limit were speeding. Not citing them would have been a gift; and so the police ended-up not giving that gift after all. So, what: They were still speeding.

    Proper policy for ANY jurisdiction should be to allow up to 5 MPH over the limit, with verbal or written warnings at the officer's option for those drivers; written warning or citation for 6 to 10 MPH over the limit (at the officer's discretion); and then pretty much (but not necessarily) mandatory citations for 11 MPH or more over the limit, again at the officer's discretion.

    One time my car's speedometer cable broke, and I was literally on the way to the ARCO station where the mechanic I liked said he had just received the one he ordered for me, and was waiting for me to arrive so he could install it. I went with traffic on the way there, and got stopped by a police officer for speeding. He said I was going 12 MPH over the limit...

    ...as, even he admitted, was everyone else. When I told him about the cable, and offered to have him follow me just three more blocks to the station so he could confirm that, indeed, that's where I was headed, and that there was a new cable awaiting me there, he balanced that against that I hadn't had a ticket in something like 17 years, and he let me go without even a verbal warning. Even told me to have a nice day.

    Every moment of any situation has context; and reason and fairness should rule such moments. Sadly or not, sometimes there are demarcation points involved, and those on one side get treated one way, and those on the other get treated a different way, and we rely on the fairness, reason and mercy of cops and prosecutors and judges to mete out justice. It is what it is, and I'm not sure there's any one right or wrong way to do it.

    What more or less can anyone say?


    _________________________________________
    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

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