After nearly 23 years, the cities of Waldo and Lawtey are no longer designated “Traffic Traps” by AAA.
AAA recently announced that it had approved a request from the cities to remove the designation after they “made significant improvements” to traffic enforcement, said Matt Nasworthy, AAA’s Florida public affairs director. The improvements, Nasworthy said, include increased warnings, officer training and participation in national traffic safety campaigns.
“It was just due from how far they’ve come,” he said. “They changed their practices and policies, and it’s gotten to the point where we just thought it was time to change it.
“We stay on top of it because it’s important to Florida travelers that we are giving accurate description of highways byways of all of the cities and towns in Florida.”
Waldo and Lawtey were first designated by AAA as Traffic Traps in August 1995, following a flurry of motorist complaints and investigation by AAA clearly demonstrating that profit, and not safety, was the primary motivation for issuing traffic citations, a AAA release says.
Waldo was long known as one of the most notorious speed traps in the country. Its police department was found to have been told to issue speeding tickets based on quotas, a practice which led to the disbanding of the force in 2014.
Traffic enforcement in the city is now handled by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.
In letters sent to Lawtey Police Chief Shane Bennett and Mayor Jimmie Scott, it appears Bennett formally requested AAA remove the speed trap designation.
Scott said he and others in Lawtey reached out to AAA to have the organization lift the speed trap designation because it cast a shadow on the small town, steering people away from driving through “a place with friendly people.”
“We’re just a small town with one traffic light right now. We’re looking for economic growth here in Lawtey and for businesses to locate here,” Scott said. “We thought that designation could have a negative effect on that happening.”
Scott said a couple of years ago, Lawtey officials sat down with AAA representatives who laid out areas of policing that needed improvement.
He said AAA looked at revenue generated from citations and believed Lawtey police might have been handing out too many citations for speeding.
Scott argued that the citations issued were generating enough revenue to fund the Lawtey Police Department but were not providing additional revenue to the city’s general fund.
During the meeting, he said, AAA called for police officers monitoring traffic speeds to be in marked police cars visible to drivers. AAA also suggested warnings could be issued more often.
“We did all those things. We’ve been giving out more warnings,” Scott said, adding that the city’s compliance with AAA was a part of an effort to clean up Lawtey’s image. “But I always tell people if they’re going over 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, they can expect a ticket.”
A letter sent to Waldo Mayor Louie Davis says AAA formally requested that the national AAA organization remove the designation, noting there had been fewer citations made under the Alachua County sheriff’s authority. Florida lawmakers ruling traffic citation quotas illegal in 2015 also played a role in AAA’s request, the letter says.
Waldo City Manager Kim Worley said she thinks the speed trap designation was a bad look for Waldo, but she didn’t think it had much of an effect on the number of people driving through Waldo.
She said the disbanding of the Waldo Police Department in 2014 may have led to fewer citations and happier drivers but she believed it caused more speeding.
“The first thing you saw on Facebook when they took away the police department was ‘Now you can speed through Waldo,”’ Worley said. “Now Waldo, the former speed trap, is now a speedway. They’re flying through here every day.
“I believed the citations (issued by the Waldo Police Department) were legitimate. The truth is we had a speeding problem and we still have a speeding problem. It’s dangerous out there.”
AAA’s release says it continues to encourage all drivers to observe speed limit signs and recognize that posted limits are considered the maximum safe speed under ideal traffic and weather conditions.
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