Which Small Towns in New Jersey are the Biggest Speed Traps? – Out-of-Town Drivers are Targeted by Small N.J. Town’s Cops
Enter the lovely hamlet of Medford Lakes in South Jersey. Upon driving past its border awaits a police car where, if you’ve failed to notice the speed limit sign as you enter, the awaiting constable will be only too happy to ticket you for speeding.
Same with the tiny historic borough of Englishtown – one that was founded by the English to escape the King’s men who were shaking them down for coin – only to be shaken down by the gleeful 8 man police force who will descend upon you like locusts if caught going a few miles over the posted speed limit.
It’s much easier to talk your way out of a ticket if you’re dealing with a large force, or if you happen to be a local. Try doing that in one of these smaller towns – and being from out of the area to boot.
Drive on a winding rural road in southern Middlesex County and you might eventually see a sign that says: "Helmetta Welcomes You."
Only a few yards after that sign, you'll see a second, smaller sign that foreshadows the kind of welcome you might get – if you're a visitor: "REDUCED SPEED AHEAD."
Hundreds of out-of-towners who didn't pay attention to that second sign over the past few years have received speeding tickets.
But very few of the borough's own residents have met the same fate.
Between September of 2011 and March of 2013, Helmetta police gave 222 speeding tickets in this square-mile borough in southern Middlesex County, according to police department records.
Of those, only two lived in Helmetta.
The borough gave more speeding tickets to Monroe Township residents (30) than to Helmetta residents. To put that in perspective, in that time period, the borough gave speeding tickets to two Florida residents and two Maryland residents.
The disparity in speeding tickets will fuel widely held suspicions that some small towns are inveterate speed traps, seeking to squeeze every penny out of the pockets of passing motorists to help cushion local coffers.
Issuing speeding tickets based on residency is a violation of equal protection and due process under the U.S. Constitution.
Professor Frank Askin, the director of the Constitutional Rights Clinic at the Rutgers Law School in Newark, said that he believes targeting out-of-town residents for speeding tickets while letting borough residents off the hook violates equal protection provisions in the U.S. Constitution. And out-of-town residents who have gotten tickets might have a case to have their tickets thrown out in a class-action suit.
Professor Thomas Healy of the Seton Hall Law School agreed that it would be unconstitutional, on different grounds – the dormant commerce clause and the privileges and immunities clause, which, in broad terms, require that people from other states be treated the same under the law.
"It would essentially create different speed limits for people depending on whether they live locally or out of state," Healy said.
Back roads with 25 mph speed limits and a Main Street with a 40 mph limit that eventually lowers to 35 mph make up the borough's road map. No major roads cut through Helmetta, although many drivers use Main Street, also known as County Road 615, as a shortcut to avoid traffic on Route 130 and Route 18.
Helmetta is just a few miles from Route 18, but the hustle and bustle of suburban New Jersey does not abide.
Brad Borghaus, who has lived in Helmetta his whole life, said that his town has a certain reputation when it comes to traffic tickets: Police strictly enforce the rules.
"It's a known fact – you don't speed through Helmetta," Borghaus said. "It's always been like that."
He got a speeding ticket 20 or 25 years ago, he said. He no longer drives because of a medical condition. He said that two Helmetta residents out of 222 speeding tickets sounded low to him, but whether it's fair would depend on context: how fast the car was going, for example.
And it doesn't surprise him that a town would lay off its own residents: Speeding tickets are a way to generate revenue, but you don't want to upset people in town.
The number of traffic tickets given by Helmetta police is on the decline, (according to the police director.) He has instituted a new order that all Helmetta police drive by every home and business in town twice during their shift to increase their visibility. And police officers are stationed outside all Helmetta businesses while business owners are closing up shop at night.
In the meantime, they can still run their radar guns and pull over speedsters, (according to the police director), but "That’s not all we do, and I need that to be clear."
He said he's worked since he took over the top civilian police job to make sure that the policies about ticketing residents and non-residents alike is "crystal clear": You can't target out-of-towners.
But that’s pretty much what we’ve come to expect of small town New Jersey. The veritable “speed trap”.
Helmetta, Medford Lakes, and Englishtown aren’t the only offenders. Give us a heads up on the ones you’ve become familiar with.
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