AAA drops 'speed trap' label from Lawtey

Removal of 'Traffic Trap' designation is welcome news for drivers, police chief

By Jennifer Ready - Reporter, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

LAWTEY, Fla. - At the request of the police chief of Lawtey, the AAA has agreed to remove its designation of the small Bradford County city as a speed trap.

"All AAA travel products will no longer have the 'Traffic Trap' designation on them for the city of Lawtey," AAA Public Policy Manager Karen Morgan said.

Lawtey and Waldo, both on U.S. 301 between Jacksonville and Gainesville, were designated by the AAA as speed traps decades ago, and posted billboards on the highway warning motorists. 

They were the last two cities on AAA's "Traffic Trap" list, which was compiled based on member complaints and how cities reportedly conducted traffic stops.

Waldo’s six-man police force was disbanded in 2014, ending that speed trap.

Lawtey’s new chief, Shane Bennett, hired about that same time, requested last summer that the AAA lift the designation. He provided information that police there average 17 tickets a day, which is one for every 1,000 cars that pass on U.S. 301.

On Monday, an AAA letter to Lawtey Mayor Jimmie Scott announced the good news.

"We applaud the proactive traffic safety efforts Chief Bennett has employed such as increased warnings, a focus on officer training and participation in national traffic safety campaigns. AAA will continue to encourage all motorists to observe speed limit signs and recognize that posted limits are considered maximum safe speeds for ideal traffic and weather conditions. Likewise, AAA continues to urge all law enforcement agencies to practice visible and preventive traffic law enforcement exclusively for the purpose of improving traffic safety."

Bennett said adding visible speed limit and speed zone signs were among the steps that the Lawtey Police Department has taken in recent years to improve traffic safety.

The chief told News4Jax on Tuesday that he worked hard to get rid of the city's reputation as a speed trap, saying he wants drivers to be safe, but he didn't want them to be afraid to travel through the town.

"This was a long time coming," he said. "It was a different era, different circumstances, different realities."

Bennett said the removal of the "Traffic Trap" designation gets rid of a negative stigma.

"No one wants to be in a town, or especially the police chief of a town, that has a reputation -- a dubious reputation -- of motorists coming through, especially out of towners on a busy highway, and being targeted by police for revenue purposes," he said. "It's not what we do."

The mayor told News4Jax by phone that AAA's decision opens a lot of doors for the community, especially economically. He said he hopes it will bring more traffic and businesses to Lawtey.

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