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Georgia Anti-Speed Trap Laws

It might not seem like it traveling through Georgia, but the legislature has, at times, taken steps to rein in local law enforcement from profit-motivated traffic law enforcement.  Indeed, it has a long history in Georgia, but not as long as the history of such local revenue building.

No look at the history of anti-speed trap laws can begin anywhere other than Ludowici.  There is a great write-up of the history of Ludowici at The Oxford-American, the Southern Lit magazine started up by John Grisham.  The short version is that Ludowici was a very small town that became notorious in the fifties for its ability to hand out speeding tickets to travelers headed to and from Florida.  Traffic fines made up twenty-five percent of the town's income.  Despite gubernatorial and legislative efforts to stop the Ludowici speed trap, it ultimately took the opening of Interstate 95 to end Ludowici's reign of terror over Florida-bound tourists.

There are basically two sets of laws aimed at curbing local efforts to pad their budgets from the wallets of passing travelers. 

Control over Speed Detection Device Use

In order to operate speed detection devices, municipal and county governments must qualify for a permit issued by the State and must purchase state-approved speed detection devices.  Qualifying to get a permit requires proof of the legitimacy of the law enforcement agency (staffing, training, etc.), listing the roads and locations where the devices will be operated, and posting of signs at the boundary areas to alert travelers that the devices are in use by local law enforcement.

A few of those requirements can come up in a courtroom defense against a speeding citation.  They are:

  • Each device used by local law enforcement must be tested for accuracy at the beginning and end of each duty shift (O.C.G.A. § 40-14-5)
  • In making a stop based on a speed detection device, the officer must notify the driver that an accuracy check can be requested. If so, the officer must do the check prior to issuing a ticket, and if the device fails the accuracy check, then the officer is not to issue the ticket.  The driver is not entitled to observe the accuracy check. (O.C.G.A. §  40-14-5)
  • The failure to have the required warning signs in place can be a defense to such tickets (O.C.G.A. § 40-14-6)

That which is given can be taken away.  So, too, if the State is convinced that an agency is not using the devices within the limits of the laws, that permit can be taken away.  Georgia can suspend or revoke an individual officer's or a county or municipal government's privilege to operate speed detection devices.  O.C.G.A. §  40-14-11)

One of the more interesting rules in relation to that process is the evaluation of the financial component of city and county government operation.  This one, to my recollection arose from the investigative efforts of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution of Pine Lake in DeKalb County and some other very aggressive municipalities.

At any rate, the rule is that there is a presumption that an agency's permit is not being properly used when the fines levied based on speed detection devices for speeding offenses are equal to or greater than 35 percent of a municipal or county law enforcement agency's budget.  That calculation includes citations for violation of O.C.G.A. §  40-6-180 (too fast for conditions) and O.C.G.A. §  40-6-181 (speeding) are included but fines for speeding 20 miles per hour over the speed limit are not included.  O.C.G.A. §  40-14-11)

The Actual Speed Trap Defenses

There are a number of very concrete limitations on the manner of use of speed detection devices by local law enforcement which operate by allowing evidence of the readout of the speed detection device to be inadmissible in court.

  • No operation within 300 feet of a reduction of speed limit inside an incorporated municipality (O.C.G.A. § 40-14-9)
  • No operation within 600 feet of a reduction of speed limit outside an incorporated municipality or inside a consolidated city-county government (O.C.G.A. § 40-14-9)
  • No operation within 30 days of a new posting of a reduction of speed for that area excepting highway work zones or variable speed limit areas. O.C.G.A. §  40-14-9)
  • No operation on any portion of a highway which has a grade in excess of 7 percent. (O.C.G.A. § 40-14-9)
  • No operation of a stationary speed detection device from a vehicle which is obstructed from the view of approaching motorists or is otherwise not visible at a distance of at least 500 feet. (O.C.G.A. § 40-14-7)
  • The most notable limitation is that local law enforcement officers cannot issue a citation based on a speed detection device unless the speed of the vehicle exceeds the speed limit by more than 10 miles per hour above that limit with a few exceptions: (1) in properly marked school zones within and close to the time of school operation, (2) within properly marked historic districts and (3) within properly marked residential districts. (O.C.G.A. §  40-14-8)

The Exceptions to These Rules

There are ways for these limitations to be avoided.

These rules of operation do not apply at all to state law enforcement.  Georgia State Patrol officers are free to hide behind bushes and trees and the occasional low billboard and still operate their speed detection equipment.  They can also operate in hilly areas.  They can certainly hand out tickets for speeding ten miles per hour or less over the speed limit.  Most of them would probably say that they have no need to use such tactics because of the plentitude of people operating their vehicles substantially above ten miles per hour.

Local agencies can make sure that they do not hit the financial limitations by handing tickets out for a variety of other offenses:  inoperable lights, not using wipes when it is raining, obscured tags (film covers or plate frames, etc.), no insurance, expired tags, defective equipment, etc.

It is worth noting that 300 or even 600 feet is nothing these days with modern radar detection or laser detection units.  With line of sight, the primary issue is the size of the vehicle being tracked.  A good radar speed detection unit can read the speed of a tractor-trailer rig from up to a mile away, pickups up to three-quarters of a mile, and sedans at around half a mile.

Radar Detection Devices

Drivers in Georgia are free to use radar detection units and crowd-sourcing traffic information apps like Waze to alert themselves to law enforcement traffic enforcement operations.  Forewarned is forearmed. 

Conclusion

Of course, the best protection is to keep your speed within the posted limits.  Of course, on some stretches of the interstates and the Atlanta-area highways, that may be more dangerous to your health and safety than speeding would be to your finances. 

Sean A. Black

Sean A. Black is a 1992 graduate of the Emory University School of Law. He has been in private practice in Toccoa, Georgia since June 1, 1992.

Comments

James Baxter

Posted Jul 12, 2020 at 08:36:55

Steve, I am glad to see your message on speed traps in Georgia. Any good work that the state has done to protect Georgia drivers from speed traps amounts to almost nothing. The reason I say this is that the state patrol has simply taken the good spots and are running the speed traps themselves, I live and drive on Hway 27 in West Georgia,. They work one spot where to speed limit goes from 65 to 55. They sit below a hill where you will not see them. They also work a steep hill going down to Buck creek. With your foot off the gas you gain around 10 mph going down the hill. Of course the laws against both of these that effect local law from using them does not apply to the State Patrol.

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John

Posted Apr 18, 2021 at 09:11:32

Morgan county sits on an overpass on opposite side of oncoming traffic using radar on I-20 with a chase vehicle waiting on the on ramp. Is that legal.

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Posted Apr 19, 2021 at 03:30:46

It sounds like they are visible. I cannot say for sure.

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Dee massey

Posted May 04, 2021 at 06:07:33

I gotten a citation 40-6-181 the officer said he used a laser but he came from behind me on I-85 north in Braselton came they use laser while moving

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Posted May 04, 2021 at 08:29:44

Most laser speed detection devices can be used in a moving mode.

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G A

Posted May 12, 2021 at 22:55:16

Hello Mr. Black,

In response to your last reply, LASER speed detection cannot be used in a moving mode. Only RADAR can be used in a moving mode. LASER is a completely stationary method of speed detection. I am a retired Police Officer and was certified in all speed detection devices. I just wanted to bring this to your attention Sir.

Best Regards,
-G.A.

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Hob Bope

Posted Jun 02, 2021 at 10:16:00

Very interesting, Sky Valley city police operate a daily speed trap on Highway 106 going up to Highlands, NC. The grade is well in excess of 7 degrees. Last evening I observed them set up over a mile inside NC clocking people entering Georgia. Who would a citizen complain to about these tactics? The town is only 272 people, is there a state agency for Georgia that can field complaints?

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Posted Jun 03, 2021 at 08:02:31

The Department of Public Safety grants municipalities licenses/permits to operate speed detection equipment which specifies the roads and locations on those roads where speed detection equipment may be operated.

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GaDriver

Posted Jun 19, 2021 at 05:26:48

Braselton also sits on the ramps at HWY 211 North. That clearly has less than the required visibility. Braselton is nothing more than a speed trap agency for Prue Profit.

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Thomas Moon

Posted Sep 06, 2021 at 07:14:50

How boutcha I’m on hwy 27 in walker Co and pass a gap. He busts a uturn rides my bumper then blue lights me. I ask why did he pull me over and says he clocked me goin 70 or 71 in a 55. So why the guess if he “clocked” me and how if we were traveling in opposite directions. Please let me know if I have a argument before I take this to court. Can’t afford to lose cause don’t think I can have another point on my license. Also insurance is killing me.

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Posted Sep 07, 2021 at 05:40:57

“Clocked” may mean different things to different people. Clocked can mean observed or registered. It does not necessarily mean to calculate speed based on timing. It may mean that using radar, he or she observed that your speed was 71 in a 55 zone.

Take a closer look at the ticket where it sets out the speed. Near that, it will identify the method used to determine the speed cited.

But, no, it would not be possible to pace you while going in the opposite direction.

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Ryan

Posted Oct 13, 2021 at 07:27:42

Sean,
Could you provide the code section for this? Very curious about what roads our sheriff can and cannot run radar on.
Thanks

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Posted Oct 13, 2021 at 08:14:14

OCGA 40-14-3 spells out the permitting process. As far as getting a copy of the permit which will have an addendum of roads and streets where detection devices can be used, you would have to send an Open Records Act request to either Georgia DPS or the particular law enforcment agency for a copy of the permit and attachments.

An interesting side note from by Google search is that the city of Ball Ground was sent a cease and desist from using speed detection devices earlier this year. I am not sure what the status of that is. The article I found was behind a paywall.

So, maintaining the list of roads seems to be a joint enterprise of the DOT, the local agency and the DPS.

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Ryleigh

Posted Oct 17, 2021 at 19:05:54

If the cop has no lights on can he still give you a ticket?

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Posted Oct 20, 2021 at 09:45:19

At one point, Georgia had very strict rules about patrol vehicle markings and lights. Many of those have been loosened. Many departments have policies regarding unmarked patrol vehicles making stops.

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Scott Wallace

Posted Nov 02, 2021 at 04:50:07

My wife got a ticket by mail in a school zone by a stationary camera set at the school zone signs. These cameras are set up in most of the school zones in Henry County. She is a teacher so she is very conscious of school zones as she is around kids all day. So many have gotten violations in what I consider a speed trap.

She was supposedly clocked 47 in a normally marked 45 mph speed area but it was ten minutes prior to school zone speed limit expiration. It is marked as 35 mph until 4:45. Is this legal? Thanks for your response.

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Posted Nov 02, 2021 at 06:58:17

Let us start by saying that these camera issued tickets are not uniform traffic citations and do not have license consequences at all. In most cases, they are inconveniences that people pay a nuisance fee to get them to go away. Paying them will not result in transmission of a conviction to Georgia Department of Drivers Services.

There may be technical defenses to individual citations but in most cases, the costs of asserting them through a lawyer is cost prohibitive.

Your wife’s case. She was within the marked speed zone. She was within the time that the school zone limit applies. The “normal” speed limit is 45 mph. The speed limit during school hours, which includes time prior to school start and a period after school end, is 35 mph. The school limit applied at the time and place that she was driving 47 mph. Yes, it is legal, and your statement of the facts indicates she was accurately cited.

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Dion Randolph

Posted Nov 10, 2021 at 11:15:26

Cop pulled me over, said he lased me from behind. The only possible place for him to have been stationary, he was not at. Which leaves me to believe that somehow he magically lased me while also moving in the same direction behind the car I pulled out in front of (not possible to laser while moving). I think it’s because my vehicle is a loud srt jeep and I accelerated hard to what I thought was 45ish in a 40 (turns out it’s a 35 and he claims I was going 56). Anyways, he didn’t annotate the method of detection on the citation. Does that help with anything?

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Posted Nov 10, 2021 at 11:52:27

So, one possibility is that his denotation of the detection method did not transfer through on your copy of the citation but may be on the copy submitted to the court. Check that before getting too committed to any particular argument.

Yes, his ability to actually use a detection method is important. Might give the prosecutor or court room to reduce the speed.

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Posted Nov 11, 2021 at 08:08:34

So, one possibility is that his denotation of the detection method did not transfer through on your copy of the citation but may be on the copy submitted to the court. Check that before getting too committed to any particular argument.

Yes, his ability to actually use a detection method is important. Might give the prosecutor or court room to reduce the speed.

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Wali

Posted Nov 16, 2021 at 16:58:22

I received a notice from the DMV that my title and registration is on hold due to an unpaid speeding ticket captured by a camera. I was never notified that this speeding ticket existed but apparently since 60 days has passed, I am beyond the statute of limitations to contest it. Is there still a way I can fight the citation? I believe it is unlawful because it occurred within 30 days of the speed limit being reduced – speed used to be 35 mph and then was changed to 25 mph. Also, there is zero signage stating that a speed detection device is in use.

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Posted Nov 17, 2021 at 05:30:05

Off the cuff, it is hard to say. My guess is that paying the ticket (which does not put points on your license) would be significantly cheaper than contesting the ticket at this point.

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Russell

Posted Nov 18, 2021 at 08:46:25

They can not use bait & chase tactic. Thats illegal for non state officers.

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Eric S

Posted Nov 29, 2021 at 05:45:06

Sir,

I was cited for driving 63mph in a 45mph zone, however, the alleged violation occurred in an unincorporated area within 600 feet of a speed limit reduction to 35MPH. While the violation did not occur in the 35mph zone but just prior to it (though within 600’ of it), would it still make sense to state that pursuant to § 40-14-9 (Evidence obtained by county or municipal law enforcement officers in using speed detection devices within 600 feet of a reduction of a speed limit outside an incorporated municipality shall be inadmissible in the prosecution of a violation of any municipal ordinance, county ordinance, or state law regulating speed;) I believe that the evidence presented by the deputy is inadmissable? Granted, the word “within” is key to this defense, and the obvious intent of the law is to prevent law enforcement from issuing citations when a speed limit has just changed, however, as the law reads, especially the part of the article reading “within 600’ of a reduction of speed limit” could be interpretted to mean on both sides of the change in speed limit location.

In addition to this, pursuant to § 40-14-5 (b) (Each county, municipal, or campus law enforcement officer using a radar device, except for an automated traffic enforcement safety device as provided for under Code Section 40-14-18, shall notify each person against whom the officer intends to make a case based on the use of the radar device that the person has a right to request the officer to test the radar device for accuracy.) I was never notified that I had a right to this request.

Do I have a case?

Thank you for your assistance.

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Posted Nov 29, 2021 at 06:57:54

You need to understand first that the officer will likely testify that he or she made a visual estimate of speed before deploying their speed detection device. Such testimony can be sufficient by itself to support a conviction of the speeding offense. Where the speed detetection device is determined not to be admissible, that does not necessarily mean that he speeding violation goes away.

There is no case law as to your point that the use of the device within 600 feet does not specify the area after the sign as opposed to before the sign. Obviously, the bad use that OCGA 40-14-9 is aimed at is the use within the distance immediately after the speed change. I could not find that the appellate courts have weighed in on this argument, so argue away.

As to the failure to offer the test of the device by the officer, you should subpoena any bodycam or videocam footage to see if the footage matches your recollection. You will likely also need it to rebut the officer’s testimony that he or she always makes that offer. A side note is that this is a goofy provision anyway, because you are not entitled, under the statute, to witness the test. The officer goes back to his patrol car, conducts the test and then reports back to you that the device is still within calibration.

The biggest issue you have is that the visual estimation of speed may allow the judge to find you guilty of some degree of speeding. A prosecutor is not required to prove that you were speeding at the speed notated by the officer; the prosecutor just has to prove that you were exceeding the speed limit by one or more miles per hour.

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