• Jun 17th 2011 at 2:00PM
  • 489
Avoid speeding tickets by knowing about speed traps ahe... Avoid speeding tickets by knowing about speed traps ahead of time (Getty Images).
When states and municipalities go through budget shortfalls and the economy is in a down cycle, more speeding tickets are issued.

It might seem counterintuitive, but police officers are writing more tickets and making less money. They're being tougher on drivers, issuing tickets for drivers going just 10 mph over the speed limit than 20 mph, but the fines for smaller infractions are less.

For example, in the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg area of Florida, police handed out 1,500 more tickets in 2010 than they did in 2008. But revenue from those tickets declined nearly $200,000 over those two years, hitting $494,214 in 2010.

Drivers, too, are getting smarter. Widespread use of radar detectors and smart-phone apps that keep drivers aware of speed traps are helping drivers avoid getting tickets in the first place.

The best defense against speeding tickets is to drive no more than 5 miles over the speed limit. But it can be easy, for example, to sneak up to 45 mph in a 35 mph zone, or even get up to 80 mph on a highway straight-away that is a 65 mph zone.

There are several tools, some of which are free, that give drivers a fighting chance to avoid the dreaded ticket and points on their license that will result in higher auto insurance premiums, as well as lighten their lead feet. As the economy remains sluggish and tax revenues down, pressure is mounting on law enforcement to write more tickets.

Free Apps

Radar detectors, such as the Escort 9500 IX, that alert a driver to a police car armed with a radar gun are legal in every state except Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia. But there are also some free smart-phone apps that inform a driver, though not with 100% accuracy, where the police are set up to catch speeders.

If you don't want to spend any money, you can try the free Trapster, PhantomAlert and Fuzz Alert apps for smartphones. These apps display a map on the phone, and as the driver is going along, patrol cars, red-light cameras and school zones are displayed. The app will let the driver know audibly what is coming up, so eyes can stay safely on the road.


These apps are helpful, but not foolproof. Both Trapster and PhantomAlert rely on drivers who have downloaded the apps to touch the screen when they see a speed trap. Consider this a sort of social networking approach to avoiding tickets.

The shortcoming with these apps, though, is that police cars change their locations throughout the day. On a recent drive between Toledo, Ohio and Sandusky, Ohio, a 60 mile stretch of the Ohio Turnpike known for speed-traps, every warning of a patrol car provided by Trapster was a false alarm. On the plus-side, the fact that it showed four patrol cars on the highway governed my speed, so I avoided tickets anyway. I already knew that highway was heavily patrolled, but an out-of-state driver passing through would be well warned by even the ghost patrol-cars on the app to slow down.

On my return trip, I employed PhantomAlert. This experience proved the point about how the app is affected by police cars changing their locations. Three warnings were empty, but a half mile after passing one of the alerts, I saw a state trooper who had pulled a car over onto the shoulder. I'm glad it wasn't me.

Fuzz Alert works the same way, but because it's not as popular as the others its ability to leverage the social network appears weaker. Three 60-mile commutes on Michigan highways came up empty with no alerts at all.

Another popular app, Cobra iRadar, allows drivers to connect your iPhone to a conventional radar detector -- boosting its performance by giving it updated information.

These apps have been controversial, though, because, until recently, they also tipped off drivers to Driving Under the Influence (DUI) checkpoints.

Earlier this month, smartphone makers instructed the app makers to delete the DUI feature at the behest of four Democratic U.S. senators -- Charles Schumer of New York, Harry Reid of Nevada, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Tom Udall of New Mexico. Canada-based Research in Motion, maker of BlackBerry smart-phones, pulled the apps immediately. Apple and Google initially balked, but then agreed.

"Apps which contain DUI checkpoints that are not published by law enforcement agencies, or encourage and enable drunk driving, will be rejected," Apple's new guidelines say.

Paying For Radar Detectors

You can also pay varying amounts for radar detectors. These can range from well below $100 to more than $600 for devices with lots of bells and whistles. Beware the cheap radar detector, though. You want one that has range enough to give you plenty of time to slow down before your Chevy Camaro is practically climbing into the patrolman's passenger seat.

One favorite, at the higher end of the price ladder, which has been around for a few years, is the Escort Redline ($487.99 at Amazon.com). This radar detector has the benefit of being a somewhat "long-range" detector, meaning it will give the driver more time to brake before coming up on the patrol car, and it will not be detected by the police in Virginia or Washington DC where radar detectors are illegal. When driving through Virginia and DC, the law requires the devices be disabled. AOL Autos recommends following the law in all instances.

The Escort Passport 9500ix ($479.14 at Amazon.com) detects four bands of radar, as well as speed traps and red-light cameras. Over time, the machine actually "learns" the routes you take most often, editing out false alarms and alerting only when there is a real speed trap.

A lot of these radar detectors will be very obtrusive in the beginning, and send out a bunch of false alarms. Then, as their systems begin to store data through the internal GPS antenna, they become much smoother in their operation.



The Cobra's XRS 9960G ($149.99 at Amazon.com) is a unit that allows, if you are really obsessive, to update new speed-trap locations and red-light cameras daily if you want to. The unit's GPS unit is on a USB dongle that can be plugged directly into your computer for daily updates to the AURA database. The unit is the same size as a USB key, so it's small and convenient. A good unit for anyone, but especially if you have a daily commute along a heavily "trapped" area.

The Beltronics V955 Vector High-Performance Radar Detector ($135.49 at Amazon.com) is a good choice at the lower end of the price ladder as well. A good value, this model will detect radar and laser based speed detectors, as well as alert you to highway construction or maintenance, highway hazard zone advisories, weather-related hazards, slow-moving vehicles.

One tip: Don't get sucked into buying the latest radar detector. Prices tend to come down a year or two after the new models are introduced. The Cobra XRS 996OG, for example, was almost $400 when it came out in 2009, and now can be had for less than half that price.

Are radar detectors worth it? Just one ticket on the Ohio Turnpike for going 15 miles over the speed limit can cost almost as much as the Cobra detector, to say nothing of the increase in insurance premiums. In St. Petersburg, Fla., going 48 mph in a 35 mpg zone will cost you $206, well more than either the Cobra or Beltronics models we discussed.

Drive safely, but drive smartly.


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 489 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      Here's a no-brainer - use your cruise control! Drive without worry and stress. Most cruise controls will work at 35mph and higher. Remember, it may take a few more minutes to drive the speed limit or five miles above but if the police stop you it will be a LOT LONGER and a lot more expensive. Start a few minutes earlier and be good to yourself, giving yourself more time to get where you are going.
      Good day Maurice
      • 4 Years Ago
      speed ticket are source of income for the cities,so they can pay these bloted salaries and pensions to cops, every fine collected goes to the general fund of the cities
      • 4 Years Ago
      its very easy... DONT SPEED! xD
      owr1491
      • 4 Years Ago
      Try obeying the speed limit? I live in Md. Anne Arundel Co., and travel frequently on state rt 100. The limit is 55, I usually, (As recommended) travel at approx. 60 mph. I am the slowest vehicle on the road. I have been flipped off, cursed, cut off, and tail gated, for being so SLOW! As for the local constabulary, they pass me all the time, I guess their blue cars are just unusual in that they won't go less than 70.,
      • 4 Years Ago
      My daughter turned 16 last month and there was just no way we could afford to add her to our existing insurance policy. I started shopping around for new car insurance and found this site: ( http://tinyurl.com/InsuranceTip ) I just put in my ZIP code and received four quotes instantly after filling out your form. By comparing rates we were actually able to include my daughter in our new policy and not pay anymore per month for car insurance than we were originally paying for just me and my wife!
      John
      • 4 Years Ago
      Speed traps when the limit is set correctly-good idea, local government setting the speed limit artificially low to generate money---should be illegal!!! Speed limits are supposed to be set by highway engineers not local politicians.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Or you could just slow down!!
      • 4 Years Ago
      Why not just go the speed limit? Seems sensible to me and does not rely upon getting the best of the other guy (law enforcement?). Why does one need to speed?
      • 4 Years Ago
      There is an easy way to not get caught speeding on highways: Cruise control! I have seen very few late model cars that are not equipped with this "option", and I am amazed by how many (expensive in particular) cars I see on the interstates who are obviously not using it. I get on the highway, set my cruise for 5 mph over the limit, take my foot off the accelerator, and shazam! I don't get tickets and the constant speed I'm running gets me to my destination at the same time, or just a few minutes later, than any of the speeders or "speed up, slow down" drivers I encounter on the nation's highways. And the added benefit of cruise is I get better gas mileage as well (I've done the math and the research on a personal level). Tickets ARE a backdoor tax on people. But, it's a tax you can easily and efficiently opt out of.
      bmoreland
      • 4 Years Ago
      Here in Acushnet, MA the street I live on is posted two different speed limits depending on which direction you are going. Go figure. A great way to raise revenue would be to outlaw any phone communication while driving. The roads would be safer and the various police departments would make enough money to have Caddilacs for squad cars. Statisticly, cell phones cause more accidents than drunks.
      lbriggs864
      • 4 Years Ago
      Many commenters have questioned whether or not police officers have quotas. They may not have quotas, but an article in the Houston Chronicle a year or two ago highlighted a handful of officers who were making well over $100,000 a year because of overtime on all the tickets they wrote. They got the overtime money for court appearances. These officers were very nitpicky, such as the entire word "Texas" not being visible on the license plate. The overtime rules gave these officers a huge incentive to write tickets for the little things. I would not be suprised is a similary system is in place in other locales, too.
      Steve
      • 4 Years Ago
      There is another great tool for avoiding a speeding ticket. It's called cruise control and nearly every car has one. Hit the interstate, run it up to the speed limit and set the cruise control. Now you don't have to worry about speeding, you saved money by not buying a fuzz-buster (which are illegal in many states), and you can concentrate on traffic instead of watching the speedometer. Then watch all the people passing you get a ticket 5 or 6 miles down the road. One other thought: If everyone drove the speed limit there would be fewer accidents. You wouldn't have to constantly watch for people racing up from behind weaving in and out of traffic as they try to get someplace two minutes sooner, and you wouldn't have to worry about Ma and Pa Kettle doing the minimum on the interstate because "it's safer to go slow."
    • Load More Comments