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What Is a Speed Trap? Are They Legal?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

Most drivers have probably heard the term "speed trap" and likely haven't heard very complimentary things about them.

But what exactly is a speed trap? And more importantly perhaps, are speed traps legal?

Here's what drivers need to know:

Different Types of 'Speed Traps'

A speed trap is the general term used by motorists to describe enforcement of speeding laws that involve some element of stealth or concealment.

Although many so-called "speed traps" are perfectly legal -- such as a police car parked behind tall bushes or a roadside billboard hidden from view of approaching motorists -- other types of speed traps are of questionable legality. For example:

  • A marked road trap is a section of road that has been marked or otherwise used to measure a vehicle's speed by the time it takes to travel that distance. Many states, such as California, have prohibited this.
  • An unjustified speed limit trap is a portion of a highway with a lower posted speed limit that isn't justified by a recent traffic survey or other rationale. These "unjustified" traps may be prohibited, depending on your state.
  • Speed cameras, a more recent variety of speed trap, are automated devices that record the speed of passing motorists and take photos of the ones who are speeding. The drivers are then mailed a ticket for the violation. The practice has come under fire and in many jurisdicitons, judges are dismissing speed-camera tickets or ordering the cameras to be unplugged,

What Can You Do If You're Caught?

Unfortunately, if you were clocked breaking the speed limit by an officer hidden behind a tree, you will probably be unsuccessful in beating the ticket by arguing you were caught in a speed trap.

If, however, you feel that your speeding ticket was the result of an illegal speed trap, an experienced traffic ticket lawyer can help you figure out the best way to contest your ticket in court.

Editor's Note, June 21, 2016: This post was first published in June 2014. It has since been updated.

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