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Speed law

Published April 01. 2011 05:01PM

Many of us have heard the old jokes and stereotypes about southern police justice, where traffic law violators are tossed in jail in some remote town off the main road.

More than one episode of the old Andy Griffith Show had deputy Barney Fife laying down the law to some scofflaw caught speeding through the fictional town of Mayberry, then having the violator face Sheriff Andy Taylor, who turned into a justice of the peace and served as judge and jury in the case.

Police work has come a long way in the last four decades since Mayberry's low-tech operation. A prime example is the small town of Ridgeland, S.C., population 4,000.

South Carolina is one of 14 states that use the radar cameras. What speeders fail to realize, until it's too late , is that one seven-mile stretch of I-95 runs through Ridgeland.

In just eight months, the municipality, which has a 17-man police force, has issued 10,000 speeding tickets. However, the violators usually won't see an officer and may not even know they've been caught until the citation shows up in their mailbox.

That's because they were caught on camera, South Carolina being one of 14 states that allow the use of radar cameras. A single officer can monitor the I-95 traffic flow from inside an RV.

It's no surprise that 80 percent of the violators are out-of-state drivers. The speed limit on that stretch of the interstate is 70 mph. When a driver is doing 81 mph, the radar camera flashes, indicating the evidence has been collected. The camera takes a picture of the driver as well as the license plate.

There's also a monetary benefit. The violations have brought in almost a quarter-million dollars in eight months. Two-thirds of the revenue goes to the state while the municipality splits the remainder with the company that owns the camera equipment.

The mayor, Doug Hodges, as well as the police feel it's not all about the money. They say it's just an efficient way to get people to slow down.

But there are detractors who want to see the speed cameras turned off. One state senator, Larry Grooms, insists it's a money-making deal and he doesn't want the state to become known as the nation's speed trap. Others take the Big Brother is Watching argument, claiming the cameras are just too intrusive.

One thing that one can't argue is Ridgeland's safety record. Since the cameras began recording last August, there have been no fatalities on the dangerous seven-mile stretch of interstate.

Giving speeders an easy pass out of a town's limits isn't our idea of law enforcement and it's hard to understand how a state senator could be offended that the state's reputation is somehow being damaged by a "speed trap" reference.

Surely, Mr. Senator, nothing is more important than protecting lives, as the speed laws are intended to do.

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