Two quick headlight flashes from the oncoming car passing through Sardine Canyon in Box Elder County means slow down. There's a speed trap ahead.
Of course, those who frequent the stretch of U.S. 89-91 past this town of 660 know not to go above the 60 mph speed limit. The area boasts a notorious speed trap.The road has made several World Wide Web sites dedicated to speed traps.
And although the American Automobile Association doesn't keep an official speed trap registry, the auto club's Salt Lake City spokeswoman said she knows the area. She nearly got a ticket there herself.
In 1997, 1,338 traffic tickets were issued by Mantua police, an average of 3.6 per day, according to the town's records. The vast majority were issued on the highway to out-of-town motorists and brought in more than $60,000 to the town's coffers.
The figure made up a third of the municipality's total revenue for the year and was the largest single revenue item.
But Mantua officials deny that they're using the police department's one full-time officer and one part-time officer to bring home the bacon to a financially strapped government.
"It's for drivers' safety, not to generate revenue," said Mayor Mike Wyatt. "The only ones complaining are those speeding."
The town's budget has remained relatively steady in past years, except in 1994. That was the year the police department got a new radar gun.
The town budgeted for $114,417 in speeding fines that year and actually received $94,274, which still constituted more than half of its total revenue.
Wyatt said the money raised through tickets is spent on the city's court and police equipment.
Mantua hired its only full-time officer in 1990 because of a rash of theft and vandalism and problems getting help from the Box Elder County Sheriff's department.
But several fatal accidents on the highway became a concern, so police coverage of the highway was enhanced, said former Mayor Cliff Allred.
"It became necessary to do something," Allred said. Now motorists know not to speed past Mantua, he said.
Mantua's police chief and sole full-time officer, Jim Jones, objects to the term speed trap, because he says he doesn't hide his truck. Since he's been patrolling U.S. 89-91, Jones said, the number of fatal accidents on the Box Elder side of the canyon has decreased.
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