Friday, January 24, 2014

When fines for ‘Fast Autoing’ (7 mph-plus) were equal to $588

“Speeding” hasn’t always been the term for driving over the lawful speed limit. In the early days of automobiles a century ago, “Fast Autoing” was the term, at least in Northern Utah.
A May 4, 1911 Standard-Examiner article stated: “For exceeding the speed limit in an automobile, T.S. Amussen of Salt Lake City was fined $20 in the (Ogden) police court this morning.
A $20 fine in 1911 was simply huge, equaling some $470 today, according to a government inflation calculator.
And what was the speed limit back then? It was a surprising 6 mph at the corner of Washington Boulevard and 21st Street, where this ticket was issued. (That’s jogging speed.)
The next ticket mentioned in that 1911 court story was issued to Harman Peery, who broke the speed limit at Grant Avenue and 24th Street.
(Peery, age 19, would go on to become Ogden’s “Cowboy Mayor,” from 1934-1939. At this time, he was the Hupmobile Auto Dealer for Weber and two other counties.)
The Standard report concluded by stating that both young men had reduced fines of only $20, instead of the standard $25 fine (equal to some $588 in today’s dollars), because it was it was their first offense and neither “was considered an aggravated case of ‘scorching.’”
“All violate the speed law” was a June 1, 1911 headline in the Standard.
“That every automobile owner in Ogden violates the speed ordinance every day was the contention of Judge J.D. Murphy,” the story stated. The Judge said he believed that if every violator of the speed ordinance were brought into court, then the courtroom would be filled with prisoners every day.
“He deplored the unavoidable impartiality of the law in that one man is arrested for an offense of which so many escape punishment,”  the story said.

Another drawback of the police a century ago was that, of course, there was no radar.
According to a May 30, 1911 Standard story, “officers do not always know how fast a machine, or other vehicle, is moving.”
Weber County Sheriff Harrison, in that story, warned the public not to speed in Ogden Canyon especially. He proposed having an officer on a motorcycle equipped with a speedometer in the canyon. An officer would tail an automobile, “so there can be no question as to how fast the pursued car travels.”
And, it wasn’t just cars that were speeding back then. A June 11, 1912 letter to the editor by Edward Walker in the Standard stated that motorcycles were breaking the law too and something needed to be done about these “speed fiends,” who are a danger to the public.
Walker stated that recently a buggy load of women were thrown from their carriage when their horse was frightened by a speeding motorcycle.
The first autos in Utah had arrived about 1906.
By 1909 Utah's 370,000 residents owned only 873 cars and trucks. Not until 1913 did Henry Ford perfect the assembly-line production of his famous Model T, making cars affordable for the average American.”
So, many, many more cars hit Utah’s roads a few years later.
 But, perhaps a $90 speeding ticket today isn’t so bad, considering the almost $600 equal cost of such tickets a century ago.

(-Originally published in the Ogden Standard-Examiner on Jan. 24, 2014, by Lynn Arave.)

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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