Needing the speeding, long ago

February 2020

Dave Sweetman

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A few of us were discussing the “good ol’ days” of trucking. You know, back when we thought everything was better than it is today. My memory bank says some of it was, but some wasn’t.

Of course, pre-IFTA days had us wearing a half dozen license plates dangling off the front bumper, a dozen or more fuel tax stickers on each side of the cab and inside the windshield. Overlength tickets in New Jersey with a 42-foot trailer behind my R Model Mack. Good ol’ days, my foot.

Of course, the biggest thorn in our sides was the 55 mph speed limit. Due to a phony oil embargo, fuel shortages and a few politicians who thought a reduced speed limit would save fuel quickly turned trucking into a cat-and-mouse game between truckers and law enforcement. It didn’t take long for commonsense to show what a cash cow truckers had become.

Enter the entrepreneurs who would make millions in pursuit of stealthy trucking. Radar detectors that would search out Smokey Bear’s signals and allow you to correct your speed before being captured. At least that was the idea. Fuzzbuster made a little square box with a large jeweled light and a shrill whistle to alert you of the approaching “fuzz.” I owned several with mixed results. If you were running alone, the officer would wait until he was close and hit the switch and ZINGO. Busted. I had that happen north of Albany, N.Y.

I knew I was in for a roadside discussion, and it ticked me off so much I tossed the unit out the window into the river. The trooper saw it, and couldn’t stop laughing.

I didn’t get a ticket, but I did pay the price with the loss of my Fuzzbuster.

The electronics companies who manufactured the “bird dogs” also had a great plan. Several of the detector companies also built radar guns for the police. When they would advertise the latest radar sniffing technology in the detectors, it was right on the heels of the newest upgrades to police radar. I had a brother-in-law who was a Maryland state trooper and our dinner conversations were a great indicator of what an idiot I was. Maryland was also very creative about speed enforcement. They had officers dressed as construction workers on the roadside working a handheld radar gun. A car, van, even a Corvette on the shoulder often held an officer clocking your speed with a chase car a mile down the road doing the write up.

The ultimate Maryland speed enforcer was “Mother Goose.” Col. T.C. Smith drove a full-size 18 wheeler with Mother Goose painted on the side, and he would run from the D.C. area to up north of Baltimore and back. Mother Goose would join in with convoys of big rigs and radio ahead for the marked officers to make the speed bust. Another trick was Mother Goose would sit on the shoulder, as if he was disabled. The small vent door in the back of the trailer had a radar gun facing backward.

Virginia had then, and still has now, a law forbidding radar detectors. Tissue boxes with a hole cut out to hide the unit were common until the po-po figured that one out too. The old Overdrive Magazine of the 1970s offered a cardboard cutout of a Fuzzbuster that you folded into a decoy as a protest. But, as one Virginia trooper told me, it was probable cause for inspection and if they pulled you over, you were getting a ticket.

If it was a real detector, it got seized, and they would use them for target practice at the firing range.

Ohio had an efficient system of revenue collection. On the Ohio Turnpike, you could count on at least two troopers working about 5 miles on either side of each service plaza. If you got captured, you would get escorted to the plaza, hop in the officer’s car and through a back gate, be taken to a local magistrate. The officer would watch you drop the payment into the mailbox, and take you back to your truck. Some officers had a credit card machine in the patrol car to accept payment on the spot. I humbly admit to making several generous donations. The good news was that Ohio did not share the violation info with my home state, so I did not get points on my record. A small consolation.

So, roll forward all these many years, and what have I learned? We are still cash cows, but honestly I have not had a speeding ticket in more than 17 years for several reasons. Most states have raised their speed limits, and yes, I have slowed down a bit. But when you consider that the amount of time spent on the roadside with a police officer is about equal to the amount of time gained by rolling fast, it’s more cost and time efficient to stay low profile. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Check out Dave Sweetman’s December 2019 Dashboard Confidential. LL