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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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