Ready: How to ensure safety and increase city coffers

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
Mary Ready talks speed limits along Kelly Street in her latest column.

If you type in “speed traps” on, you’ll get a listing by state of the notorious speed traps throughout the U.S. The worst one in Florida, apparently, is tiny little Waldo which funds its government budget by ticketing unsuspecting drivers for any number of real (or unreal) infractions. One of our neighboring towns is on the speed trap list, but locals have known it for years and always tiptoe through there on travels northward.

To my surprise, Destin is also on the list. But I disagree as to the physical location of the so-called “trap.” Here’s what the ONLY commenter on the site (in 2010) had to say about his experience as a tourist in Destin:

“The bridge is 35 mph. At the base of the bridge … the speed drops to 25. The cop sits on the other side of the street waiting for your car to accelerate in speed do (sic) to the affect (sic) created by the decent (sic) from the bridge, and the fact that you normally accellerate (sic) into a turn. Then, before you even get to the corner, your (sic) being pulled over. He said he was giving us a break by not giving us a $300 ticket; he gave us one for over $120. If you choose to contest the ticket, and the judge finds you guilty than you may have to pay up to $500 in court costs/fees. If you go there (which I don't recommend) include a budget for paying bogus tickets, from cops targeting tourists. I'll never go back if I can help it.”

Even overlooking the complainer’s bad grammar, his grievance is ill-founded. The bridge is a bad place to speed, even at a few miles over 35. A surprise backup of cars may be waiting at the bottom for a driver in a hurry, and rear end collusions result. Accidents and lost lives over the years are testimony to a reasonable speed limit in that location.

And, yes, I’m fully aware if you’re driving 35 mph over Destin bridge, most other drivers will display their hatred for you with honking horns and obscene gestures.

Let me digress and include a definition for the term “speed trap.” According to the National Motorist’s Association, most people envision police hiding behind billboards or waiting to pick off motorists right where the speed limit changes. But more accurately, “a speed trap exists wherever traffic enforcement is focused on extracting revenue from drivers instead of improving safety, made possible by speed limits posted below the prevailing flow of traffic.”

My idea for both safety and revenue for Destin involves Kelly Street, which has always been a speeder’s delight, but has become even more of a racetrack since the city’s Phase II improvements. A wider, smoother street with bicycle lanes which invite car drivers to “cheat” seems to have inspired motorists to accelerate their speed and “own” the road.

If I were Queen of Destin, I’d place a deputy at either end of Kelly Street and strictly enforce the speed limit. The tickets written should be expensive enough to make drivers reluctant to come tearing through the neighborhood. Since it’s my fantasy, I’d decree $33 for each mile over the limit, with the money split 50/50 (or maybe 60/40) between Destin and the county. The officer would also affix a large scarlet letter S for “speeder” to the back of the vehicle. The mark of shame would be removed if the ticket is paid in three days with no excuses and a written apology for being a jerk.

I’m just that irate about the dangerous situation on my street. So are two of my neighbors who stand out in their driveways screaming at drivers racing down the street. Often I hear one of them yelling, “Hey, slow down, you %&#@*moron!”

Language aside, they mean well.

Up and down the street are many small children and an elementary school with nearby duck pond where families gather to feed the birds, turtles, and ducks. And people walking or bicycling to the convenience store at the eastern end of Kelly. A careless speeder can quickly snuff out a life of one of these innocents, bringing preventable tragedy to himself and to those affected by his need for speed.

In my capacity as traffic control queen, I’d downplay the secretive “speed trap” accusation by posting large pink signs on Kelly Street which say: “ SLOW DOWN or pay dearly for endangering the nice folks of this neighborhood.”

Safety would be the optimum result, but collecting big bucks at speeders’ expense wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.