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Web sites take surprise out of speed traps
Friday 23 April 1999
Grant Yoxon - The Ottawa Citizen
Exceeding the speed limit is against the law, but many, if not most, drivers routinely exceed posted limits. There is a difference, many would argue, between driving faster than the speed limit and driving too fast for conditions.
Even those who normally adhere to the limit can, in a moment of distraction, find themselves pulled over to the side of the road and on the receiving end of a speeding ticket.
While the safest practice is to pay attention and control your speed, knowing where police are likely to set up speed traps can save you a lot of grief, money and demerit points.
But unless you travel the same routes frequently, odds are the speed trap that catches you will be a surprise.
Now, with help from the Internet, you can benefit from the experience of fellow motorists and be forewarned about speed traps in Canada, including Ottawa, and the U.S.
The Speedtrap Registry (www.speedtrap.com) based in Atlanta was set up four years ago by 24-year-old computer engineer Andrew Warner, who received his only speeding ticket while in Kansas in 1995. His site includes trap locations, average fines, types of police cars and the speed detection devices employed. The registry includes a long list of Ontario locations.
Mr. Warner's site receives an average of 100,000 visitors a week -- big numbers for a small, single-issue site -- indicating that motorists find this a useful service.
And police don't seem to mind. In an interview with The Associated Press, Massachusetts State Police Capt. Robert Bird said, "Whether you can get people to slow down by warning that police may be there or by catching them in the act, it accomplishes the same thing."
Ottawa has its own speed trap registry, operated by Nepean resident Isaac Wong. It is part of a larger site dedicated to helping people fight speeding tickets. Mr. Wong, a software engineer, began Fight Your Speeding Tickets (www.magma.ca/~fyst/) in 1996 after contesting a ticket in court. He felt his research could help others.
"Even in traffic courts, attorney fees are usually prohibitively high," he says, "and legal jargon can be cryptic. My site provides insight (not legal advice) and info in plain English, for free."
Mr. Wong's Web site lists several locations in the Ottawa area where speed traps are known to be with some frequency, including sections of Moodie Drive, Hunt Club Road and Highway 16 south of Prince of Wales Drive, where reduced speed limits often catch inattentive drivers.
Mr. Wong says people should know common speed traps because, "there is the legitimate reason to slow down, especially when motorists are coming from a country highway to an urban street." He adds: "Many speed limits don't reflect the reality (of the driving conditions). I feel that people should be aware of the really bad speed traps so they won't be caught surprised."
Neither Mr. Warner nor Mr. Wong encourages speeding. "If you love to drive excessively fast, please take your car to a racetrack," Mr. Wong suggests. "If you are late for work, please wake up five minutes earlier the next morning. Irresponsible drivers should face a stiffer penalty than just a monetary fine."
But Mr. Wong says speed limits are unreasonably low on some roads and that Ontario traffic enforcement is a thinly disguised revenue system that treats people as guilty until proven innocent. He encourages people to fight their speeding tickets because "when the law defines 90 per cent of the people criminals, then we must do something to change it."
Grant Yoxon is editor of CanadianDriver (www.canadiandriver.com), a guide to automotive and motorsport resources online. Read previous columns at www.ottawacitizen.com