The tradition of Officer Obie is alive and well… and setting up a speed trap you may never believe unless you drive through it


A few years ago, Terry and I decided to break from the path of a trip we had made many times before to have lunch at a restaurant we loved.

Well… actually… truth be told, we had never been to this particular restaurant before. That’s why we would be breaking from the normal route of the journey. Instead, we had been to its sister location. Often. But that restaurant closed during quite a fascinating set of circumstances, and we knew there was a second place in another state, and it just so happened that by thinking of it in advance we had plenty of time to stop since restaurant number two wasn’t hideously far off the intended roads.

So… Mi Luv U was programmed to lead the way, and we prepared for a lunch of hush puppies, crab balls, tasty hamburgers and other treats.

One of the greatest things about trusting your GPS… and I am not suggesting to blindly go trusting a GPS and end up in the desert without water, or turn off a road and into a river, or depart on any extended journey into strange lands without a road atlas… is that often it will take you on funny twists and turns you wouldn’t have selected.

My Mi Luv U doesn’t seem to know that you can turn left near my house. Of course you can. At the light there is even a left-turn-only lane and a specific signal for the turn in the traffic pattern of the stoplight. But Mi Luv U guides you straight instead of turning, forcing this kind of funny u-turn extension of about half-mile to a mile and three more lights. We laugh about it, and never consider that she might be doing the same thing to us in other places. As long as we get there… what’s an extra three minutes between friends?

On this particular trip, I had looked at a map and thought of the path Mi Luv U would create.

She didn’t.

Instead she got me off of the highway much earlier than I expected, and brought us along a scenic drive of back roads.

I did check the atlas. Seemed like she was ok. Turned out… it was fabulous.

At least… it was until we were within about three miles of the restaurant.

I saw the lights in my mirror and pulled over to the side of the road. Terry asked me how fast I had been going. I wasn’t sure. I knew it was around 35, but with the turn coming up soon, watching for street names, and looking around at traffic and the town and such, I hadn’t been watching the speedometer.

Now… before we move along with this story, I want to point out how much I respect police officers. (And this disclaimer isn’t an attempt to look for special favors or considerations.) I just think in many cases it can be a thankless job. Speed limit is 65 and the driver was doing 80… the light was red but no one was coming… whatever the scenario, but in the end not only was the driver breaking the law, the driver also was completely aware of the law being broken… and amazingly, the driver gets four steps beyond barking mad at the police officer for the ticket.

It’s crazy.

Maybe the driver believes there is a justifiable reason. I have yet to be pulled over and be happy about it. I don’t believe the police officer deserves to face an avalanche of criticism when, if we are honestly evaluating the situation and saying the officer and/or location the officer is operating within has no hidden motives.

So to the police officer… thank you. I appreciate your hard work and dedication. I’m grateful for your protection and assistance.

That said…

Officer Obie… I don’t have the real name and for all intents and purposes, the legendary shoe fits… told me I was speeding. And friends Obie was, because he dropped my speed on the ticket to five miles over the limit and sent me on my way.

Thing is… respect or no… I couldn’t get over Officer Obie.


Number one, because the speed limit changed so fast. When I first turned onto the road, the speed limit had been 45 miles an hour. I was absolutely positive I had seen that sign. So when I told Terry I thought I was around 35, I figured there was a better chance that my bumper was dragging behind the car or that I hadn’t noticed I hit a cow than there was of my being guilty at that moment of speeding.

The first sign I saw saying the speed limit had changed to 25 was about a tenth of a mile down the road from the spot where my meet and greet with Officer Obie was held. He actually pointed it out to me when telling me the speed. Used it as a visual aid, with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of the ticket. “There’s one sign right there,” he said, and in the corner of my memory I can still see him gesturing toward it. To have him tell me I was way over the limit, and for him to point out the sign and explain how he was doing me a favor… well, it just didn’t ring true. (See above: “…if we are honestly evaluating the situation… no hidden motives…”)

And number two, because I had absolutely zero clue where the hell he came from. I mean… I never saw him, and neither had Terry. Both of us were watching the road and we were wide awake. New sights… just moments from the restaurant… looking for street names and parking and taking in all sorts of details… effectively hypersensitive to everything. And never saw even a hint of Officer Obie and his cruiser.

After lunch, we fired up Mi Luv U, set our course for getting back on the road to the main destination of our journey, and sure enough… we were headed right back along the roads that brought us to the restaurant.

This time, since I was cruise-control-locked-in to 25, I had plenty of time to look around.

And after assembling all of the little details I missed or didn’t register on the first drive along the scenic and beautiful road, I came to an interesting conclusion. I think Officer Obie is sneaky jerk.

Let’s start with item two and where he was parked. We spotted him and his cruiser on this return past the scene of the crime. He was parked on the grass off to the side of the road, quite less than a mile from where he stopped me. There was a group of six cars, parked in two rows of three, on the front lawn of a home. There were hedges around… those big ones that grow about three or four or five feet high and just as wide. If you were driving the other way along the road, the way I originally was when he stopped me, what you might have seen was a couple of bushes and then the first row of three side-by-side cars… two pick-ups and an SUV. What you probably would not have seen was the police car parked in row two, nestled between the two other cars in that row. It was a magical game of hide and seek that we only discovered because we were driving the other way and actually looking for him.

And the speed limit? Yeah… well… that 25 miles per hour sign he directed my attention to was the first 25 mph sign on the road. All of the others in that direction before it had said 45. That includes the one about 150-yards before his hide-and-go-seek location.

Amazing coincidence how the completely unseen police officer comes into your view exactly at a sign for a new speed limit. And when you’re from out of state, it’s often not even worth the money to travel and fight the ticket.

The thing is, I didn’t come here to talk to you about that.

Not specifically.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

At the side of the highway is a big, yellow sign. And when I say a big, yellow sign… I mean it’s you won’t miss it, really big. (It just so happens to be yellow. And there is more than one. But mainly… it’s big. Each one of them is big.)

I start with that description because the reality is very simple: this sign is not an accident… not a suggestion… and not a good idea. There was no mistake in the measurements. There was no inside joke in its creation or production. It is a sign that wants to pass along an absolutely direct, do not even think for a second that you will be able to challenge this in court, message.

And that message is that the speed limit is about to change.

Drive on the road long enough, and you’ll see the pattern several times. You might enter a zone where the limit it 55 mph as you begin, and then you’ll see them…

(Big yellow sign) Speed limit ahead 45 mph

(Big yellow sign) Speed limit ahead 35 mph

The drop of twenty to thirty miles per hour can happen over just some hundreds of feet. And you drive along (of course, at 35 mph) for a little bit, only to find the signs start to increase again. To 45. To 55. And the car feels right, and the pace is comfortable, and then… well… probably to the amazement of none of you, the area where I witnessed this phenomenon has been ranked as one of the worst in the country for “speed traps” and even has managed to become a discouraged use of travel for motorists by travel organizations.

I would imagine a courtroom nearby where a judge had repeatedly heard some form of this phrase (my words): “Honest your honor, it’s a major road and the speed limit had been 55 miles per hour, and just a mile later was 55 miles per hour again, and there were no intersections or businesses or changes in traffic patterns indicating something might be different, and I didn’t see the sign.” And, after hearing this repeatedly, day after day, over and over, a meeting was held and the decision was made. Folks, we need to put up a really huge friggin’ sign so no one can say they didn’t see it.

And… apparently… they did just that.

(Big yellow sign) Speed limit ahead 45 mph

(Big yellow sign) Speed limit ahead 35 mph

The thing is, I didn’t come here to talk to you about that.

Not specifically.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This time, I’ll be a bit more specific.

In Ridgeland, South Carolina, there is a van that takes pictures of speeding cars. It should be pointed out that Ridgeland is not even close to being the only place in America using cameras as part of enforcing violations and tickets for speeding. And even if you didn’t know about speed cameras, I’m sure you are aware of cameras patrolling intersections for red light violations and such.

As you would imagine, the idea of a camera catching a driving violation… whether for speed or a red light or whatever… comes with a fairly straightforward explanation. And the article I’ve linked to does a decent enough job of explaining the positions of those in favor of the van and those against it. And… if you would like more information, well, just select the search engine of your choice and type away…

Ridgeland South Carolina speed camera van

Those six words as a criteria are about as good a way of starting your research as any other combination. Modify it or look long enough and you’ll start reading about the other locations as well.

Inside the article I’ve linked to is a sentence that I had never really considered before about the subject of law enforcement cameras. Now, understand, I had considered the idea I’m about to present before this. I just hadn’t really given the same weight and significance to the thought floating around in my mind.

In reading this article I was coming across all sorts of interesting arguments against the camera van…

  • Tickets aren’t issued strictly for speeding, but only when a certain level of speeding has been crossed. Let’s say 10 mph over the limit.
  • People speeding aren’t pulled over or stopped in any way. The fine is sent by mail.
  • A private company is involved in running the service, and they get paid in part by a share of the monies generated through the fines.

All of these issues and more are debates worth having. For me, that’s especially true of the company getting a percentage of the monies collected. But none of them really tipped the scale for me to debating the potential justice and injustice of it all.

This time though, all of them were there in the same article, and one sentence connected when it read: “Police use driver’s license photos or physical descriptions from licenses such as a driver’s hair, eye color and weight to identify the motorist. No ticket is issued if there is any question about the driver’s identity.”

So if my wife is driving a car registered in my name, we all can arrive at the likely safe conclusion that Ridgeland officials can do the math. Same address on her license, my license, the registration, the insurance, and it all adds up once you start comparing the picture from the camera to the picture on her license. I might not be driving, but they can figure it out.

However, if I’m asleep in the back seat of the car and out of view, and my best friend is driving the car and he doesn’t remotely resemble me, then according to this the good folks of Ridgeland won’t send the ticket.

The thing is, I didn’t come here to talk to you about that.

Not specifically.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Do with this article what you will.

Some will argue that if people aren’t speeding, the roads are safer… and even if the situation allows for the cars to safely operate at faster speeds, it doesn’t matter because the slower speeds mean safer driving.

Some will argue in opposition about selective enforcement… actions driven by revenue… flawed statistics.

There aren’t two sides to the debate… the story… the situation. There are fifty. (Or more.)

And for every stand that speeds have been reduced, issued violations have dropped, and insurance statistics show safer sections of roads… well… there are stories like this where e-mails are found outlining the payrolls of staff manning the vans, how decisions were made about where to locate the cameras, and hours of camera operation being set up to maximize the number of tickets.

It’s not a case of right and wrong.

And you may recall from my earlier praise of the hard-working police officers across the land… the belief is that the actions of the officer are clear cut… are based on right and wrong.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The state of Texas is currently working on legislation that could raise the speed limit in some locations to…

(Take a deep breath. Get ready.)

…that could raise the speed limit in some locations to 85 miles per hour.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at