7 Action News Investigators hit the streets to find out if one local town has unfair speed trap

DETROIT (WXYZ) - The 7 Action News Investigators are pushing for action following your complaints about speed traps.

Our investigation last week revealed how police in one local community are raking in millions writing speeding tickets where critics say the speed limits are far too low.

Now we're back in Hamtramck, doing what that city should have done long ago, and what other cities should be doing and aren't. We've uncovered new information the police don't want you to see.

The 7 Action News investigators returned to the I-75 service drive in Hamtramck where many viewers complained about an unfair speed trap.This time we were packing heat, not a real gun, a laser speed gun.

Jim Walker from the National Motorists Association was acting as our trigger man. Walker has conducted over 100 speed studies across the country.

We conducted a speed study on the I-75 service drive to find out with scientific evidence whether Hamtramck is, indeed, running an unfair speed trap.

Hamtramck posted the service drive, a wide stretch of road with very few access points, at 25 miles an hour and police are writing ticket after ticket. Under state law, all Michigan cities are supposed to justify their speed limits either with a speed study or counting access points along the road.

Hamtramck has done neither. So the 7 Action News Investigators decided to do a speed study to find out what the limit on the service drive should be.

Speed studies are quick and easy.  You go out with a speed gun in good driving conditions with normal traffic flow.  You clock the speed of at least 50 cars, average the speeds, and find the 85th percentile. If you clocked 100 drivers that would be the one who's speed is15 down from the top speed and 85 up from the bottom.

"The driver who is right at or very close to within a couple miles an hour to the 85th, one way or the other, is at a low point of a curve of risk versus speed," said Walker as he clocked cars going by our vantage point on the service drive.

State law says the speed limit should be set, at the 85th percentile, rounded to the nearest 5 mile per hour increment. But Hamtramck and nearly every other city in Michigan has ignored the law because there are no enforcement powers.

Walker says many cities are running speed traps, setting limits that are at least 10 miles an hour too low.

"So you are ticketing then, people who are right at the 85th percentile.  You are literally ticketing the safest people on the road," Walker said.

Why would a city do that?  Walker says it's not at all about safety. In fact, he says, and Michigan State Police agree, a speed limit that's too slow can be dangerous.

"It's lucrative though.  You can make a lot of money doing it," said Walker.

So what should the speed be Hamtramck's service drive based on our traffic study?  Walker clocked 51 cars with the laser gun and the 85th percentile came out to 38 miles per hour.  Rounding up to the nearest five mile increment that would put the proper speed limit at 40 miles per hour, 15 miles per hour faster than it's currently posted.

"This is revenue posting, not a safety posting," Walker said responding to the results of our speed study.

Out of 51 drivers we clocked, only three were at or below the posted 25.  That means 94 percent were driving over the limit.

"That's nonsense. We do not have 94 percent of our drivers anywhere in this state that should be considered violators in any particular spot," Walker told Action News.

Our investigation uncovered something else about Hamtramck's traffic enforcement.  The city manager admitted he'd cut a deal with the police union to avoid layoffs by working overtime to write more tickets.

When we reported that last week, it caught the attention of State Senator Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) who has been pushing for legislation to ban speed traps state-wide.

"I was shocked that anybody would admit that they had a deal, a sweetheart deal, with the union; write more tickets and you're going to keep your jobs.  Now that is outrageous.  There is no reason that should go on," said Jones.

Jones has introduced Senate Bill 795 that would force cities to justifying their speed limits with traffic studies.  The legislation is co-sponsored by Senator Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek), a former State Police lieutenant.

"We've got a Sheriff and a former Lieutenant in the State Police teaming to stop speed traps in Michigan. It's not right, it's abuse of the citizens," said Jones.

But Jones first attempt at banning speed traps, a bill introduced when he was in the State House of Representatives was shot down quickly, in large part by opposition from the Michigan Municipal League. They're also planning to fight the new bill, according to Jason Mancini, a lobbyist for the Michigan Municipal League.

"What you have right now is just taking away local control, and unfunded mandates. It takes time and money to do these. You know, a lot of our communities just don't feel that 'one size fits all' works in this type

of situation," said Mancini."

But Senator Jones says local control has led to abuses by cash-strapped municipalities looking to raise easy money.

"They say give us total local control.  We should be able to set the speed limits at 25 on every street if we want to.  I say nonsense," said Jones.

Jones' proposed legislation, Senate Bill 795, is expected to be taken up at a committee hearing in January.  If you feel strongly about this issue on either side, it's time to contact your state lawmakers.

Our 7 Action News cameras will be at the hearing and we're also looking into speed traps in other parts of Metro Detroit that viewers have told us about.

At this point, Hamtramck shows no signs of backing off on its 25 mile per hour limit on the freeway service drive or other areas in the city that our expert told us are under-posted. We asked City Manager Bill Cooper for a response to our speed study.  He didn't return our call.

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