Sara Brooks couldn’t believe it when she saw the flashing red lights behind her on Interstate 265. Until that moment, she hadn’t even seen the police car.

But an officer sure saw Brooks, clocking her driving 73 mph in a 55-mph zone.

The Floyds Knobs resident — like many ticketed motorists — believes the police car should have been more visible.

“I thought it was a speed trap,” she said.

Absolutely not, insisted New Albany Police Cpl. Todd Bailey. Speed traps, he said, “do not exist.”

“That would suggest that someone is tricking or conning somebody, and the police do not do that,” Bailey added.

Instead, he said, New Albany has enforcement zones — locations where police increase patrols because of heavy traffic.

So is it just a matter of semantics?

Robert Brown, a criminal justice professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said that while people often use the term “speed traps” to refer to a spot where police officers hide and look for speeders, that’s actually a misnomer.

“If they’re not doing something to make drivers change their behavior, then they’re not ‘trapping’ anyone,” Brown said. “They’re actually catching people. … Officers are allowed to use cover and low visibility to survey areas.”

In Jeffersonville, drivers may mistake heavily patrolled traffic areas such as 10th Street and Ind. 62 — and officers parking to save fuel — as indicators of speed traps, Police Capt. Kevin Morlan said. However, he said, there are other explanations.

“If we’re trying to catch speeders, sometimes we’ll want them to see us and other times we won’t,” he said. “It just depends on the officer and the situation.”

For example, the stationary radar “guns” that many area police departments use require the vehicle be stopped while it’s operated.

“When we use hand-helds we’re going to be in a position where we’re safe and not interfering with the flow of traffic,” said Sgt. Jay Kistler of the Indiana State Police. “Sometimes (the police car) might be behind something because it’s the most convenient place to be.”

Although there are some handheld radars, Kistler said state troopers most commonly use a moving radar that allows them to drive and track speeds simultaneously.

The National Motorists Association, a grassroots group based in Waunakee, Wis., believes the real problem is that most speed limits are too low.

Eric Skrum, communications director for the association, said a speed trap is where the majority of traffic exceeds the speed limit, and rather than setting the limit based on the speed that 85 percent of drivers go, officers are sent out to write tickets.

“Essentially, you are taking advantage of poor engineering,” Skrum said. “That is a speed trap. It’s where the speed limits are obviously improperly posted.”

Skrum said if limits were increased, more people would obey the law and there would be fewer accidents. He said studies have shown the speed of drivers won’t increase just because the speed limit does.

“The whole idea that someone will purposefully put himself in danger is illogical,” he said.

Brandi Davis-Handy, of the Indiana Department of Transportation, said the agency may adjust a speed limit if it finds that more than 85 percent of drivers are going above the posted limit, though other factors, such as accident history at the site, are considered.

“One of the main things we do is look at the 85th percentile,” she said. “If we have a lot of calls from residents in a certain area saying ‘we really want our speed limit raised’ or decreased, we do a speed analysis in that area.”

While local jurisdictions can lower a speed limit officials feel is too high, they cannot exceed the state’s maximum speed limit law. Davis-Handy said speed limits are initially set when engineers look at safety factors while building the road.

“These speed limits are set for the safety of the individuals,” she said. “No one imagines that when you’re driving home, you’re not going to make it home that night.”

Not everyone wants to see fewer speeding tickets handed out. Don Jones, of New Albany, thinks police should strictly enforce speeding laws.

“It’s just like everything else — if you get caught, you’ve got to pay the price,” he said.

Melanie Gudgel, who drives from Louisville to New Albany for work, said she has seen police cars that appear to be hiding during her commute, but she doesn’t mind. In fact, she’d like to see police get even tougher on speeders.

“I’m not going to lie. I go over the speed limit,” she said. “But I see people flying by me, going 10 to 15 miles per hour faster, who don’t get pulled over.”

One idea many people have — an idea fueled by groups like the National Motorists Association — is that police issue tickets to generate revenue.

“I can’t believe they’re [giving tickets] for safety, especially because they give such a cushion. If the speed limit is 25, they won’t actually pull you over unless you’re going 35,” Skrum said, adding that the money goes to the state and city where police departments get funding.

Both the New Albany and Jeffersonville police denied that money is a factor in issuing speeding tickets. Kistler said the money generated doesn’t actually affect the police because it mostly goes to the court system to cover associated costs.

“We could care less about that,” Kistler said. “The state doesn’t get a lot of money off the traffic tickets. The arresting agency doesn’t get any money except for a $2 to $3 training fee that supports the Indiana (police) training academy. So there’s no reward for us issuing tickets.”

As for drivers who still wonder why they see so many motorists pulled over in certain areas if it’s not a speed trap, Brown reminds them, “Enforcing traffic laws is one of the easiest things to do because there are so many people violating them.”

Matt Thacker is a freelance writer living in Floyds Knobs.

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