Why do cops hate the term “speed trap” so much?

Written by Gregory Monte.

I recently came upon a website called Officer.com while doing research for an upcoming blog post.  I was looking for information about police operation of a radar gun on private property.  My initial thought was that this action might violate the 4th Amendment protection against an unreasonable search.  After all, the radar reading is a type of evidence, right?  So, wouldn’t this possibly be an illegal collection of evidence? 

My search led me to a post on that police website called Speed trap on private property.


Cops React to the Term “Speed Trap”

Here is the question that was asked in that particular thread:

“I was driving to work this morning and as I came around a bend in the road, there was a marked car sitting in a private driveway with his radar gun clocking passing cars. Is this legal? And NO I did not get a speeding ticket.  This was in NY, if that matters. Thanks in advance!!”

I was amazed how many of the police officers responding got offended by the questioner’s use of the term “speed trap” in the title of his question. 

Take a look at what they said:

  • “Unless he told you to go 50 in a 35, it’s not a trap.”
  • “Ok let me clarify for you not ‘speed trap’ it is speed enforcement.”
  • “No such thing as a speed trap.”
  • “Yes it’s legal and no it is not a speed trap.”
  • “Yes, it’s legal and no it’s NOT a speed trap. You’re either speeding or you’re not and getting caught is on you.”
  • “It’s legal and it’s not a trap.”

Cops Get a Bit Rude About the Term “Speed Trap”

You get the idea – cops don’t like to use this term to describe what they see as simply upholding traffic law.  But some of the answers given were downright rude, bordering on condescension:

  • “There are a few choice speed limit enforcement areas (notice I didn’t say speed trap, because those are Joe Blow’s words that he uses to signify that he was a victim when he was in fact breaking the law) that we use …
  • A rat trap is only a problem if you are a rat, if your [sic] not a rat you just walk right by …”

Cop Humor About “Speed Traps”

I will say that at least there was one cop with a decent sense of humor:

“[When] I hear speed trap; I always have visions of some wily police hiding behind a bush overlooking the road. In the middle of the road is an out of place canvas sheet that is in fact concealing a hole the officer has so cleverly dug. He then sits and waits for a car to come by that will drive over the canvas, and fall into the hole. Perhaps while the driver is down in the hole, the officer will feed the driver scraps of food …”


My Response to all of Those Police Officers

Whether these cops want to acknowledge it or not, there is a good reason why most citizens call it a trap.  We see it as a trap because it fits the very definition of that word.

Dictionary.com:

  • “any device, stratagem, trick, or the like for catching a person unawares.”

Merriam-Webster:

  • “something by which one is caught or stopped unawares”

As I said, it really isn’t all that complicated.

Yes, we all know what the speed limit is (as long as it is properly posted), but many of us choose not to abide by it because we feel that it is an arbitrary number that is often arbitrarily enforced.  We are not babies/morons that need the state to dictate our every move.  We are actually able to use our reason/judgement combined with an inspection of the traffic/weather conditions on a given day in order to determine how fast to travel.

Imagine that!  We care enough about our own lives not to drive recklessly. 

Who would have thought?


A Matter of Perspective?

I think that the most important word in the definition of trap is “unawares.” 

Police officers will (self-righteously) claim that most drivers are not unaware of the speed limit but are deliberately ignoring it.  Logically, therefore, drivers cannot claim that they are caught “unawares” even if the police are using a “device, stratagem, trick or the like for catching” them.  The fact that cops hide their cars behind embankments, for example, does not change the fact that the motorist was actually speeding.

Case closed!

I realize that I am getting a bit technical about this entire issue, but I want to make clear to these cops why most of us still claim it a speed trap.

Consider the following analogy.  Between October and February, Pennsylvania (like many states) has decreed that residents are legally allowed to trap foxes.  Likewise, all states have decreed that the police are legally allowed to issue speeding tickets.  So, now ask yourself this question:

“If a fox gets legally caught during this season, do you think that he just accepts it as OK or do you think that he probably would agree that he stepped into a trap?  He was minding his own business, going about life, not hurting anyone and then all of a sudden – SNAP – he’s caught.”

How is this much different from a typical driver going about his daily life (traveling to work, picking up the kids at school, going shopping)?  OK, he is exceeding the speed limit, but is not driving recklessly and is not harming anyone at all.  99.99% of the roads in the United States are not monitored for speed, but this unlucky motorist just happened to drive past one small section of that one tiny part of some obscure little town where a cop was lying in wait…

Sorry, officers – it is definitely a trap to us regular citizens.

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2 thoughts on “Why do cops hate the term “speed trap” so much?

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