Limiting ticketing in Waldo

Published: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 2:12 a.m.

I've read allegations for years that the Waldo Police Department goes out of its way to ticket transient motorists to raise money for the town's coffers.

AAA South has called ticketing transient motorists a "cash cow," not only for Waldo but also for Lawtey, where AAA South says there are fewer than 900 residents and 10 police officers, far above the 2.5 police officers per thousand residents recommended by the FBI.

The AAA has declared both towns speed traps. And an AAA official has opined that the Waldo Town Council was responsible for police ticketing policies there.

Incidentally, Waldo's official population is 821, but city leaders say it's closer to 1,200, according to The Sun.

For the good of the region, I would like to help sort out this controversy. So how do we resolve it?

A few thoughts came to mind recently when I read in The Sun that "Waldo's recently formed Chamber of Commerce announced it would award a $100 prize for the best photograph of a police officer hiding while clocking a passing car."

Apparently, the chamber worries that excess ticketing scares away potential customers to the detriment of the town's economy.

I understand why the chamber might want a photo contest. However, I have some additional ideas to give the "system" a chance to work.

First, we need some research.

Is there something about U.S. Highway 301 that causes drivers to speed up in Waldo and Lawtey? They apparently slow down in Starke and in many other places.

Well, perhaps this is the question: What is it about the Starke safety program that makes it so effective in getting motorists to slow down on U.S. 301? Or, do drivers reaching Starke focus more on safety after seeing tickets being given out in Waldo or Lawtey?

Or is it that the numerous restaurants and shops in Starke cause motorists to slow down or stop, thereby creating a natural slowdown in traffic? Do more traffic lights make a difference?

It's apparent we're not going to find the right answers overnight. Meanwhile, what can be done? Well, Waldo could:

  • Seek a special bill that would declare the town a toll plaza. This would produce a more equitable revenue assessment.

  • Greet transient motorists at the edge of town with a discreet invitation to become a Waldo Safety Booster with purchase of booster badge and car antenna pennant granting safe conduct through town. No Jolly Rogers please.

  • Hold public seminars and workshops for town employees and officials on themes like "Transient motorists are people, too!" and "There's no town limit to our good will!"

  • Reduce fines for drivers ticketed in Waldo and Lawtey on the same day. Or, at least award a Safety Booster Badge and antenna flag good for one return trip.

  • Clear the air by changing the name "traffic ticket" to traffic "tricket."

    Reportedly, Waldo and Lawtey are the only two remaining speed-trap designations in the nation. Thus, it is important to resolve this matter before it comes to the attention of Doonesbury or Homer Simpson's gag writers.

    A visit from Homer to our nearby friendly U.S. 301 corridor is about all this story lacks.

    John Corr is a retired foreign service worker who lives in Gainesville.

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