November 12, 2006
Speed traps and perp walks c. 1906

From the Nov. 11, 1906 NYT:

PEEKSKILL, N.Y. - A number of arrests were made here to-day for automobile speeding. Fourteen prisoners were held and all pleaded guilty when arraigned before Judge Travis. Fines ranging from $10 to $25 were imposed.

The prosecutions were the first of their kind here. The police marked a course of an eighth of a mile, and at either end men were stationed with signal flags and stop watches. It was expected that many automobiles would pass through the village to-day with parties bound for the Princeton-West Point football game at West Point, and in this the authorities were not disappointed. All those arrested were either going to or coming from the game.

If only Einstein's Theory of Relativity had been around, a good lawyer might have been able to get the speeders off the hook.

The folks at suggest that the range in fines was approximately $225 to $575 in 2005 CPI adjusted dollars. Ouch.

Why were speeders arrested rather than simply given a ticket and sent on their way? Perhaps the (marginal) cost of arresting a particular speeder was less because there were fewer cars on the road? On the other hand, perhaps the marginal benefit of arresting a particular speeder was greater. At the time, only the rather well-to-do drive cars, so perhaps there was a bit of scandal involved that would titillate the common man and "make an example" of someone?

Indeed, the article describes several of the people stopped:

Among those stopped for exceeding the speed limit was a man who said he was the ex-Gov. Robert L. Pattison of Pennsylvania....Another said he was George W. Morgan and persons in the court room said he was the Superintendent of Elections in New York....Elben Van Cott, who said he was the son-in-law of Isaac N. Mills, the newly elected supreme Court Justice.
The perp walk (whether on Court TV or in the columns of the NYT) might have held as much fascination in 1906 as it seems to today?

Posted by Craig Depken at 04:56 PM in Culture

The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it. -Adam Smith

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