Avoiding Small-Town Florida Speed Traps

In my Visiting Small-Town Florida, Third Edition (Pineapple Press 2011) Introduction I briefly mention three of Florida’s most notorious speed traps: Waldo, Starke, and Lawtey, all in a row along Highway 301 northeast of Gainesville. These three are so notorious that the American Automobile Association purchased billboards outside each town warning, “Speed Trap Ahead”. There are others, less infamous, but just as treacherous. It’s a long and lonely eighty-mile stretch along Highway 98 in the Panhandle, from Carrabelle to Perry. But don’t be lulled by the mostly sixty-mile-per-hour speed limit. Right where the road takes a little zigzag at Newport (just east of the turnoff to St. Marks) it drops precipitously to thirty-five-mile-per-hour. And the sign to that effect is posted (I’m not making this up) right behind a tree, so that travelers heading east cannot see it until they are directly alongside it. The local sheriff spends most of his day parked in the bushes just past the sign. Another trap town, Howey-In-The-Hills (just north of Clermont) takes advantage of this area’s undulating terrain with a speed limit drop from fifty-five to thirty-five miles-per-hour on State Road 19’s downhill slope into town. No wiggle room here—they will write you up for thirty-six.

Note that Visiting Small-Town Florida’s Table of Contents contains none of the above towns. That’s because none merited inclusion as visit-worthy. However, one town with a very strictly-enforced speed limit did: Big Pine Key. The speed limit along Highway 1 through town is mostly forty- and sometimes thirty-five-miles-per-hour and they too will write you up for one-over. But I don’t consider Big Pine Key a “speed trap”. Their enforcement is legitimate.

Big Pine Key, thirty-five miles northeast of Key West, is home to a number of rare and endangered birds, reptiles, and mammals. Their best-known endangered inhabitant is the petite Key, or toy, deer. Key deer are the smallest race of North American deer and are indigenous to the Lower Keys; nearly the entire population is found on Big Pine Key and neighbor No Name Key. A typical adult weighs between forty and seventy pounds and stands less than two-and-half feet tall at the shoulder. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Key Deer Refuge estimates their current population at about eight hundred, double what it was twenty years ago. Despite this improvement, they are still at great risk. More than half of those that die each year are killed by automobile strikes. Hand-feeding exacerbates the problem. These little guys are so cute that people get out of their cars to feed them. The deer are quick learners, and before long they start running out to cars, and invariably get hit. The fine for feeding a Key deer is $250.

Here again, local police will write speeding tickets for just one mile per hour over the limit, but for once it is for a worthwhile purpose.

Bruce Hunt

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