It's the sickening feeling every commuter or business traveler has experienced at one time or another: First the sound of the high-pitched siren, then those blue-and-red lights flashing in your rearview mirror. And finally, those dreaded four words: "License and registration, please."

Speeding tickets. They're inevitable­"”if you spend just part of your workday on the road­"”and sometimes undeserved. While there are absolutely no legitimate excuses for truly speeding, there's often no legitimate excuse for speed traps. On the Ohio side, especially, tiny municipalities can be found bolstering revenue by setting ticket quotas and prowling the pieces of interstate and other roadways that thread through their borders. Ohio, in fact, ranks No. 1 in the nation for issuing speeding tickets.

The simple, and absolutely unfair, fact is: You are more likely to get pulled over in certain parts of the Tristate than others. Not all alleged speeders are created equal. So if you're on your way to a client call via Interstate 75? Slow down as you pass Arlington Heights. Got a vital meeting in Kenwood? Don't hot-foot it through Fairfax. Heading home to Anderson? Better plan to do no more than a slow creep through Newtown, or avoid it all altogether.

Cincy Business magazine crunched the numbers, offering an enlightening roadmap of the speeding ticket business in the Tristate. Traffic officers will tell you that they're just enforcing the law, but it's a law that's obviously not applied equally everywhere. The fact of the matter is, nabbing shoplifters or hauling in hobos doesn't generate revenue for tiny government coffers. This unofficial "road tax" is guaranteed cash.
"We know some people don't believe in speed traps, though Ohio is so notorious that they should," says John Holevet, spokesperson for the National Motorists Association. "Some local governments set unrealistically low speed limits and then enforce them in a predatory manner. This is not a matter of drivers doing something dangerous. It's a matter of people being made to subsidize these towns' budgets."
Or, as drivers' rights advocate Eric Skrum puts it, "If [a police department's] only real job is to write tickets, and they need to write tickets to have a job, what is their real purpose?"

WELCOME TO MAYOR'S COURT

The unique wrinkle in Ohio is this: The state is almost alone in the country in allowing mayors of municipal corporations to conduct "mayor's court." These courts, which are not courts of record, hear only cases involving violations of local ordinances and, predominately, traffic laws. Ohio law does not require mayors or their designees that hear cases to be attorneys.

More than half of Ohi'™s 88 counties actually no longer use mayor's courts, or have just one or two left. But Hamilton County has more mayor's courts than any other county in the southern half of the state, and leads all of Ohio along with Cuyahoga and Franklin. Some 75 mayor's courts can be found in Greater Cincinnati, many­"”surprise, surprise­"”located in financially strapped communities along busy stretches of interstate or sandwiched between well-worn county routes and state highways.

Where are you most likely to get clipped in a mayor's court speed trap? The chief offenders, according to the Cincy Business analysis, are Arlington Heights, Addyston, Newtonsville, Owensville and Fairfax. Arlington Heights Mayor's Court, as it happens, nabs a stunning 419.6 cases for every one of its residents. (The state average? A more reasonable ratio of 22.7 per the 100 population.)

Arlington Heights' government, for its part, consists of six fulltime employees; five of them are police officers in a department with nearly a $200,000 annual payroll.

The other way to look at the list (and your odds of landing in a speed trap) is to look at purely raw numbers of tickets handed out. Then, the chief offenders are Reading (where the official city slogan is, no kidding, "Crossroads of Opportunity"), Sharonville, Arlington Heights, Springdale, Norwood and Blue Ash.

The clear majority of mayor's court cases­"”nearly 85 percent­"”are traffic tickets and 86 percent of the time, the defendant is found guilty.
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer has repeatedly condemned the very existence of mayor's courts, telling an audience of journalists at the Cincinnati Club Building that one person should never hold the executive power and serve as judge in the same city.

"(There's) the inherent conflict in a system that permits the person responsible for the fiscal well being of a community to use judicial powers to produce income that supports that well being."

Calls and emails seeking comment from June Allison, Southwest Ohio representative for the Association of Mayor's Court Clerks of Ohio, were not returned.

WHEN IN ROME ...

The use of mayor's courts in Ohio actually began in Cincinnati in 1812, dubbing the mayor a "conservator of the peace" and beginning a statewide movement to have mayor's courts assume the role that had traditionally been the realm of justices of the peace.

But the classic kangaroo court is the 60-person village of New Rome in Central Ohio, which raked in $400,000 in traffic fines and court costs annually, much more than towns 20 times its size, if they caught you doing 26 m.p.h. in their 25 m.p.h. zone. Some 14 police officers patrolled the three-block community, but only during the day; no one worked night shifts. The state auditor's office finally issued a report recommending that New Rome be dissolved, because the government served no purpose beyond making money for the police department.

"The fact is, radar and laser speed measurements are used to make it easier to give traffic tickets. They are often set up in areas where there are no traffic or safety problems, simply high traffic volume. Many times they are set up to monitor the speed of every vehicle that passes," notes Kim Schmidt of Escort Inc., the West Chester-based firm that is the world's leader manufacturer of radar detectors. "With almost all vehicles exceeding an often unreasonably low posted speed limit, only a few vehicles are stopped."

A sure indication of a speed trap is improperly set-up speed limit signs that are placed so you don't even have time to slow down, should you see the sign in the first place, adds Brian Wolk, author of Ohio Traffic Tickets Are for the Birds: A Practical Defense Manual, a 300-page guide to fighting unfair traffic tickets in Ohio courts.

The fines range widely. In Evendale's mayor's court, speeding tickets can run $70 to $174, depending on how fast you're caught going. In Sharonville, $90 to $150. In Montgomery, citations can run you $65 to $95. (Montgomery also reserves the right to tag on an extra $67 in court costs, subpoena fees and other incidentals.) There is no state standard. Just because.

This isn't chump change (unless, of course, the chump is you). Evendale Mayor's Court, for instance, took in $131,567 in 2005, and $171,710 the year before that. (Before you think the decrease was part of a scale-back on speeding efforts, the city reports the decline in revenue was only due to three officers out sick due to major surgery.)

POINTS, INSURANCE HIKES FOLLOW

Dropping a coupla hundred bucks is the least of your concerns. Once you're convicted of the traffic violation, the mayor's court notifies the BMV and the conviction becomes a part of your driving record. Moving violations carry two to six points in Ohio (the state recorded 1.9 million moving violations last year). In Kentucky, speeding is three to six points, with a possible 90-day suspension of driving privileges. In Kentucky, an accumulation of 12 points in two years can result in an immediate six-month suspension of license.

In Ohio last year, 191,121 six-point warning letters were issued along with 31,625 12-point suspensions. (These figures don't count the court-mandated DUI suspensions.)

Once the ticket or tickets are recorded on your BMV driving record, the penalties can also translate into higher auto insurance premiums.
Ninety-six percent of the time in Ohio, those ticketed opt not to fight it or spend extra time in court. After all, it's your word against the police officer's. Who is the mayor's court going to believe?

Can you appeal? Yes, but that will require a second appearance, a particular challenge for out-of-staters or even Northern Ohio residents. Should you decide to hire an attorney and fight your case, it costs lost work time and possibly additional court fees.

Do the village cops ever target interstate drivers who are unlikely to return to Cincinnati for a hearing? Put it this way: The village of Evendale's mayor's court has a highlighted note on its web site, pointing out that "Canadian currency must be converted to U.S. currency" when paying fines.

"They cherry pick by determining how likely you are to contest the ticket," writes one frustrated driver about Ohio on a national drivers' blog. "If you are from a long distance away, they write you up under the mayor's court. If you are local or likely to contest the ticket, they write you up under [the nearest] municipal court. That way they get all of the income from uncontested tickets but incur none of the costs of contested tickets."

A few years back, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that is was legal for Blue Ash, and any community in the state, to issue tickets even if only a sliver of the highway is located inside that neighborhood's borders. The Blue Ash stretch of I-275 is 880 yards, and the speed limit dips to 60 m.p.h. at that point.

Blue Ash's residential population is 13,000, but its daytime workforce population zooms to 70,000. Does this mean non-residents driving in by interstate are more likely speeding-ticket targets than residents? It's a reasonable inference.

THE OTHER SIDE OF SPEED

True speeding can cost lives, no question. Last year, in fatal collisions on public highways involving speeding vehicles, 61 drivers/passengers were killed in Hamilton County, 39 in Butler, 28 in Clermont, and 21 in Warren. The majority of fatals involving male drivers were drivers under the age of 40. The majority of female drivers involved were over the age of 41. Males led 3-1.

Kentucky reports 18 people were killed in Boone traffic collisions, 11 in Campbell, and 15 in Kenton. About 46 percent occurred in the dark and 20 percent in wet conditions. 33 percent were head-on, 48 percent were at an angle, and the rest involved rear-end or sideswipes. I-65, I-75 and I-71 lead the list of nine interstates in fatal collisions (22, 21 and 12, respectively). September is the worst month for fatal collisions in Kentucky, with weekends presenting the worst odds. Labor Day and Thanksgiving led holiday deaths, followed by July Fourth, Christmas, New Year's Day and Memorial Day. 73.6 percent of drivers involved in fatals were male, 26.4 were female. Almost half were under the age of 34. The most common reasons for crashes in Kentucky? No. 1 reason: Lost control of car, followed by alcohol involvement, inattention, failure to yield, over-correcting in steering and, at No. 6, speeding (11.5 percent).

PEDAL TO THE METAL

Certain speed traps are legendary. The Beechmont Levee in Mt. Washington, for instance, and Ohio 4 near the old drive-in theater in Fairfield. Likewise, southbound I-75 in Florence, the exit ramp off I-275 to CVG, Ohio 125 in Amelia, Erie Avenue near Madisonville Road in Hyde Park, and Cincy Business' No. 1 best place to live, Terrace Park ("Rating the 'Burbs," April issue). Hey, we said best place to live, not drive.

Some are famed for their history of ticketing, even if they don't place high on the list now. Cheviot comes to mind, as does U.S. 50 along North Bend.

A new list of specific speed trap roadways is emerging, however. The Cincy Business numbers suggest these are the roads you'd do best to avoid (see map on page 36 for locations):

"¢ Arlington Heights. The stretch of I-75 as it winds through the community, as well as Shepherd Lane.
"¢ Addyston. Shady Lane is particularly targeted.
"¢ Newtonsville. This Clermont County village, pop. 492, may be tiny, but comes in at No. 3 on our list.
"¢ Owensville. Another Clermont County village, same story. No. 4 on the list.
"¢ Fairfax. Along Red Bank Road.
"¢ Amelia. Ohio Route 125 at Jenny Lind (watch for a cruiser in the credit union parking lot).
"¢ Sharonville. I-275 at U.S. 42.
"¢ Blue Ash. Near I-275 and I-71.
"¢ Mariemont. U.S. 50 between Plainville and Miami roads.

The police monitoring of the roadways is often cited as an effort to find and capture drunk drivers. But the figures sometimes belie this effort. Fort Thomas police, for instance, report issuing 776 tickets for speeding, as opposed to 84 tickets for DUI. Evendale police issued 1,217, as opposed to 69 for DUI.

The mayor's courts are only the tip of things. Of course, the City of Cincinnati police, various county sheriff's offices and state highway police all ticket, too. Hamilton County Clerk of Courts office processes 50,000 traffic tickets annually, generating $13 million. (The Clerk of Courts, Greg Hartmann, proudly notes: "If the Clerk's office were a private business, it would be the 32nd largest business in the Cincinnati area.") Ka-ching!

In the City of Cincinnati proper, more tickets for speeding are issued than for any other traffic offense­"”by a wide margin. (30,055 tickets, as opposed to 12,992 for driving without a license, 10,408 for driving without a seat belt, and 10,270 for expired plates.)

The Ohio State Highway Patrol, for its part, issued 282,865 citations in the state.

ELEMENTS OF CHANGE
That's a whole lot of ticketing going on.

Many folksy small towns in the Tristate appear to be just like the fictional Mayberry. It's just that Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife don't live there anymore"”they've been replaced by mayor's courts and police departments more interested in the sales of justice than the scales of justice.

One solution proposed by drivers' rights advocates? Pass a state law that would either outlaw mayor's courts, or at the least, limit towns from collecting more than a third of their budgets from traffic fines.

And wouldn't that be just the ticket?

WEB EXCLUSIVE: See the complete list of speed-ticket crazy neighborhoods at www.cincybusinessmag.com.