We have a rental property in Beaufort, South Carolina, and from time to time we have to pack up our tool kits and head to Beaufort to do a little work around the place. When we travel from Madison to Beaufort, we take the interstate to Augusta, grab the Bobby Jones Expressway, cross the Savannah River into South Carolina, and then take a series of back roads which eventually deposit us in Beaufort. This itinerary takes us through the Savannah River Site, which we affectionately call “The Bomb Plant”. We are not really sure what they do at this national laboratory, but given its proximity to a couple of nuclear power plants, we romantically assume it has something to do with radioactive elements and the bombs they produce.
I particularly enjoy the 18 mile trek through the Site because of the road signs. These warn me: not to stop (so why did you put a historical marker at the Barnwell County line, if I can’t stop to read it?); to beware of the wild hogs (since I drive through there at night, I hope they glow in the dark); not to stop; to stay in your car; to be careful of the dogs that are unleashed for the deer hunt; not to stop.
Wait a minute: a deer hunt? I’m confused. Do you shoot them from your car? Who gets to hunt deer on the property of a national laboratory?
Once we leave The Bomb Plant, we encounter a series of small towns: Allendale, Fairfax, Brunson, Hampton, Varnville, Cummings, Yemassee. The focus of this missive is the town of Hampton.
Some years ago, the AJC (Atlanta’s newspaper, know variously as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Al Jazeera Constitution, or The Atlanta Urinal and Constipation, depending upon your political perspective) ran an article about a fellow in DeKalb County who successfully challenged a speeding ticket in court. The basis of his defense was the radar license that the State Police issued to local law enforcement. In turns out that, in Georgia, the State Police issue licenses to local law enforcement that permit them to issue radar-based speeding tickets if, and only if, the speeder is doing 10 miles per hour or more above the speed limit. DeKalb County had nailed this fellow with radar at some speed less than 10 miles per hour above the speed limit. He won his case, and helped to wipe out a bunch of speeding tickets state wide. He is a hero.
(Before you get too excited, you should know there are some exceptions. The limit applies only to radar operated by local law enforcement. They can still nail you by following you and clocking your speed on their speedometer. The limit does not apply to State Police, who can get you for doing a half a mile per hour over the limit. And there is a very big exception for school zones, even during hours when the yellow lights are not flashing.)
Ever since, I have lived by the 9 miles per hour rule. When you see a posted speed limit, set your cruise control for a maximum of 9 miles per hour above the limit. When I have adhered to that rule, I have driven unmolested. When I have ignored that rule, I have invariably been ticketed. Although the AJC article addressed the state of Georgia only, I have assumed that a similar licensing arrangement must be true in other states.
Some time ago we were driving on a Friday night to Beaufort, for another fun-filled weekend of carpentry, plumbing, and yard work. We enjoyed our trek through the Bomb Plant, and through Allendale County. But then we entered Hampton County, and the trip lost its joy.
Our route did not take us through the heart of downtown Hampton, but on a road that might be considered a bypass. The speed limit signs are hard to see on that road at night, especially given that they do not do a good job of trimming the tree limbs that tend to cover the speed limit signs. Driving back through Hampton during the day, I was able to see the signs through the tree limbs reasonably well. That is not the case at night. (As an aside, Hampton is one of those towns that posts “Reduce Speed Ahead” signs about 20 feet in front of the new speed limit signs, both of which are covered with tree limbs.)
I slowed down to 44 miles per hour because there was a good bit of traffic on this strip. I assumed the speed limit was 45, given that it was a bypass of sorts, populated with gasoline stations and fast food joints. I discovered I was wrong when the blue lights came on behind me. I was doing 44 in a 30 miles per hour zone, and so I received a ticket. If you remember the movie “American Graffiti” you probably remember John’s reaction when he received a ticket: “File that under C.S.” he said, as he passed the ticket to Carol, who stuffed it into a door pouch full of tickets. I had a similar reaction, and filed the ticket in the truck’s C.S. filing cabinet.
I assumed the police officer was being nice: he said he would only charge me with going 39 miles per hour in a 30 miles per hour zone. Sometime during the night it hit me: if I was charged with doing 9 miles per hour over the limit, I could probably fight this in court. So, the next morning, I went out to the truck, opened up the C.S. file, and fished out the ticket. And there it was, printed clearly on the ticket: “39 mph in a 30 mph zone (44)” The 44 in parentheses was my actual speed, printed that way in order to remove that as a basis for fighting the ticket. I paid it online, and wrote it off as a bad experience.
That fall, when my auto insurance renewed, there was no increase in the premium. I assumed that the ticket information hadn’t had time to cross state lines. The next year, my premium was reduced, due to a good driver discount(!). The town of Hampton had plenty of time to notify the state of Georgia, but it didn’t. My premium has never increased on account of that ticket.
I have mixed feelings about this. One the plus side, the ticket did not affect my insurance, and that makes me happy. On the down side, there appears to be one reason only for failing to notify other states about tickets issued to their citizens. A town that does this tends to fly under the radar, if you will pardon the pun. It has a way of enhancing local revenues without generating massive protests from the affected population.
We have a description for towns like that. The proper term is Speed Trap.