Wednesday, January 22, 2014

When promoting traffic safety is against the law

Sure, the police set up speed traps in order to make the roads safer. Their goal is to encourage motorists not to exceed the speed limit. They accomplish this goal by making an example of some drivers in hopes that others are deterred.

But if that's the purpose, why is Ron Martin of Frisco, Texas, facing criminal charges?


It seems that back in October Mr. Martin stood in a median with a sign alerting oncoming motorists that there were police cars ahead. Naturally the first reaction of a driver in that situation is to slow down so he or she doesn't get tagged by radar or laser.

And if motorists approaching the speed trap are slowing down and not getting pulled over, shouldn't the police be happy because people are driving safer?

Apparently not.
"I observed a couple cars drive by traveling westbound waving at us,” the police officer wrote in Martin’s arrest report. “Mr. Martin was observed standing in the center median of the six-lane divided roadway ... holding a sign in his right hand up over his shoulders that read 'Police Ahead.'"
Mr. Martin was arrested last October and charged with holding a sign on public property. The Frisco sign ordinance says it's okay to hold a sign provided you're standing on private property.

According to the Frisco Code of Ordinances, the purpose of the sign ordinance is to provide
uniform standards for the erection and maintenance of signs. All signs in this chapter shall be erected and maintained in accordance with these standards. The general objectives of these standards are to promote health, safety, welfare, convenience and enjoyment of the public
Here are the provisions of the sign ordinance regarding human signs:
Human sign.
Time: No sign permit required. Human signs may be displayed from sunrise to sunset each and every continuing day.
Place: Human signs shall be located on private property or adjacent right-of-way where a sale, event, promotion, or the like is taking place. Human signs are not allowed in residential districts.
Manner: Human signs may not hold or carry wind devices, flags or balloons. Human signs shall only be persons who stand or walk on the ground on private property. Podiums, risers, stilts, vehicles, roofs, or other structures or devices shall not support a human sign. No more than one human sign per business location may be actively engaged per major thoroughfare. A person who wears or holds a human sign shall be over the age of 12 years old.

Here is the provision regarding so-called instructional or informational signs:
Instructional/informational sign.
Time: A sign permit is not required. No restrictions.
Place: No restrictions.
Manner: The maximum area of an instructional/informational sign is 16 square feet. (Refer to definition section for additional information.)

Based on the stated purpose of the ordinance and the types of signs referred to within the ordinance, Mr. Martin's argument that the ordinance doesn't apply to his sign because he isn't a business would appear to hold water. The provision under which he was charged even refers to signs promoting businesses.

The sign Mr. Martin was holding would seem to fall under the provision for instructional or informational signs which have no restrictions placed on them. His sign informed oncoming motorists that there was a speed trap ahead. By providing the warning, Mr. Martin was promoting safer driving which would benefit the community.

We all know the police didn't confront Mr. Martin because he was holding any old sign in the median. They came after him and handcuffed him because his sign warned oncoming motorists that they were down the road trying to make traffic stops. Those traffic stops generate ticket revenue. The tickets those stops produce is the only evidence that the officers have that they did anything during their shift.

1 comment:

Jeff Gamso said...

There are those traffic cops who sit in the medial on interstates where they are readily seen and by their presence encourage drivers to slow down (and where they're ready at a moment's notice to pull over anyone who's violating the law by carrying drugs which they just know because they drive safely or badly or look at the cop or don't or have two hands on the wheel or only one or . . . sorry, didn't mean to digress).

And then there are those traffic cops who hide around bends or behind hillocks or whatever in order to nail violators. You know who's doing more to promote safety and who's working on a quota.