Most people have never heard of Waldo, Florida, a tiny town of about 1,000 residents that lies along Route 310 between Gainesville and Jacksonville. But motorists who have driven through the tiny community may know it all too well. For decades, Waldo has operated one of the most notorious speed traps in America.
In 2003, AAA took the unprecedented step of erecting billboards to warn motorists of speed traps ahead
The speed trap has been considered such a blatant money-grab that AAA, one of the nation's leading advocates for traffic safety, has rebuked the town's enforcement practices. In 2003, the organization took the unprecedented step of erecting billboards along Route 310 that warn motorists of the speed traps ahead.
But now, the traffic situation in Waldo may be changing. Last week, the city council voted to disband the town's police force. The vote came on the heels of the resignation of the interim Cpl. Kenneth Smith, the interim chief. Five of the department's officers had told the city council that Smith had imposed a "strict ticket quota," according to The Associated Press.
Smith had been the interim chief since August, when Chief Mike Szabo was suspended pending a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation.
Now, the Alachua County sheriff's office is handling patrols in the area. AAA says it will watch the traffic situation in Waldo closely, and if traffic tickets are written to enhance safety rather than to meet a quota, it will consider ending its lease on the billboards.
"Assuming the disbanding results in the end of traffic enforcement taking place for the purpose of revenue generation, then we would strongly consider not renewing our billboards there," Karen Morgan, a public policy manager for AAA's southern office, tells Autoblog.
AAA said there's significant consideration in naming a town a ticket trap and erecting billboards. There's only one other town in the country where the organization has taken the step of buying billboards that warn drivers of a trap ahead. It's in Lawtey, Florida, about 19 miles north of Waldo along Route 310.
As a percentage of its city budget, no other municipality in Florida relies on traffic citations as heavily as Waldo. The small town has derived as much as 73 percent of its overall budget from traffic fines. Florida Department of Law Enforcement documents say the ideal ratio of police to citizens is 2.5 officers for every 1,000 citizens. Prior to the resignation, Waldo had eight.
One of the key factors is whether the town has mandatory ticket quotas for its officers.
"AAA condemns traffic enforcement practices that are designed to raise revenue rather than prevent crashes," Morgan said. "AAA condemns all practices whereby a law enforcement agency rates the efficiency of its officers based upon the number of arrests made or citations issued."