The news is full of stories about the rising cost of gasoline in the summer travel season. But that extra $10 you spend on a tank of gas is small change compared to the cost of a ticket for speeding through some of the small towns around Memphis or operating a boat in violation of a bewildering array of regulations on area lakes.
From speed traps in Arkansas and Tennessee to "dry" lakes in Mississippi, your weekend getaway to Pickwick, Heber Springs, or Sardis Lake could easily cost you an extra $200 if you aren't careful. Or even if you are, for that matter.
Here's a guide to some summer specials you definitely want to avoid.
The Tiny Towns of Fayette County
Our neighbor to the east is home to some of Tennessee's most notorious speed traps, according to the web site www.speedtrap.org.
Back off on the accelerator when you go through Oakland and Rossville in particular. Both towns are gaining population from sprawling Memphis, and both get lots of traffic from people on their way to Pickwick Lake. Oakland has a dozen police officers who carefully watch the stretch of U.S. Highway 64 where the speed limit suddenly falls to 45 miles an hour. The ticket is one thing, but the vaguely defined "court costs" that come with it — not to mention the half a day it will take you to appear before the local judge if you so choose — will set you back more than $150 in all.
Oakland Mayor William Mullins makes no apologies for traffic policies. The town, he says, is "absolutely not a speed trap." In fact, his main problem is "residents complaining about cars flying through town." Mullins says it's "hard to find" a ticket written for less than 11 miles an hour over the speed limit, and he scoffs at claims that the city is padding its budget with fines.
Don't test him. And don't try taking U.S. Highway 57 to Pickwick instead because Rossville's reputation as a speed trap is just as bad if not worse. More and more drivers are learning that four-lane U.S. Highway 72 through North Mississippi is the fastest, safest, most scenic, and cheapest road to the lake. And be sure to have enough life jackets aboard your boat. The fine is $10, but the mandatory "court costs" bring the total to $160.50.
The Successors of Gilmore, Arkansas
Ten years ago, the tiny town of Gilmore just west of Memphis was such an outrageous speed trap that it was actually shut down. Arkansas state law now prohibits municipalities from getting more than 30 percent of their total revenue from tickets and court costs. It's called the "anti-speed trap law." But don't press your luck in towns such as Parkin, Earle, Cherry Valley, and Tyronza on the roads between Memphis and the Spring River or Greer's Ferry Lake. Once again, the combined cost of a speeding ticket and court costs can exceed $150. Things have gotten so bad that there is serious talk of a class-action lawsuit.
"No question the little towns are padding their traffic enforcement to pay their police officers," says attorney Robert M. Ford of Wynne, Arkansas.
The Arkansas State Patrol, which shares enforcement with local authorities, is noncommittal. "Define speed trap," said spokesman Bill Sadler when asked to comment.
The Dry Lakes of North Mississippi
"BUI" or boating under the influence is the maritime equivalent of DUI, except the standard is often lower — .08 percent blood alcohol instead of .10 percent. Needless to say, boating and drinking can be dangerous, but banning drinking on the water is as unrealistic as banning drinking in The Grove at Ole Miss, where enforcement is as discretionary as it is on nearby Sardis Lake.
Sardis is bordered by both "wet" and "dry" counties, but the entire lake is "dry" since the Corps of Engineers banned alcoholic beverages on it in 1994. Open or closed container, it makes no difference, according to resource manager Alton Pollan. The fine for possession is $75. "If we find someone with alcohol we seek compliance by having them remove it," says Pollan. "We allow them a chance to remove it." Ticket or no ticket? "That depends on how well you comply."
In other words, behave yourself, don't overindulge, give it up, and be polite.
"Most of the time our problems are solved by compliance," Pollan says.
Enid Lake, north of Sardis, is even more complicated. Most of the lake is "dry" for beer but "wet" for wine and hard liquor. In some campgrounds, there are parts where you can and cannot legally drink a beer. On top of that, enforcement is shared by the Corps, local sheriffs, and the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.
Consider yourself warned.