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Archive for Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Buffer zone’ offers speeders no immunity

Police have news for leadfoots: Going 10 mph over limit is still illegal

July 6, 2005

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Roy Lashbrook speeds.

No, he's not a daredevil with a rocket engine strapped to his car, careening wildly down the highway.

But he doesn't strictly adhere to posted speed limits, either. Like a lot of his fellow drivers, Lashbrook says he cruises at just a few miles per hour over what's allowed.

"Well generally I call it the 'Plus-10 Club,'" said Lashbrook, a Bonner Springs resident, as he filled his car's gas tank last week in North Lawrence. "Most of us out there pretty much take the speed limit and add about 5 to 10 mph. We feel that's about the safest, as far as not getting a (speeding) ticket."

The perception of a "speed buffer" is so widespread that the Governors Highway Safety Assn. last month warned it poses a danger to drivers - and that the number of traffic deaths nationwide might be falling without that buffer.

"A buffer is a safety issue," said Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the organization in Washington, D.C., "because traffic laws aren't guidelines. They're laws, they're restrictions."


Lawrence police officer Matt Sarna operates a radar gun at a speed trap in Lawrence. Police say drivers shouldn't count on being able to exceed the speed limit by 5 or 10 mph without getting in trouble. The law is the law, they say, not a rough "guideline."

Lawrence police officer Matt Sarna operates a radar gun at a speed trap in Lawrence. Police say drivers shouldn't count on being able to exceed the speed limit by 5 or 10 mph without getting in trouble. The law is the law, they say, not a rough "guideline."

Police and other traffic officers say drivers can't count on a buffer.

"Officers a lot of times will give leeway, simply due to the fact that there are so many other vehicles going quite a bit excessive of the 5, 10 mph," said Lawrence Police Sgt. Dan Ward.

But he was quick to add: "Anytime you're out there driving, you need to obey the speed limit, and you can't count on a buffer zone."

There is a buffer of sorts written into Kansas law. The Kansas Highway Patrol, on its Web site, tells drivers that if you're caught speeding 10 mph or less in a 55- to 70-mph driving zone, you can still get a ticket - but it won't go on your driving record, and won't affect your insurance rates.

That doesn't make speeding OK, officers say.

"What generally we tell people when asked - and that's a common question - is that the speed limit is what's posted," said Lt. John Eichkorn of the KHP. "As a society we've grown to become accustomed to a buffer of sorts. Police officers, most generally, give some margin of error."

He added: "There is no magical number, and people want you to tell them that. I don't know any police officer that is exactly the same."

Traffic death tolls

In Kansas, speed-related traffic deaths have fluctuated in recent years - a low of 101 deaths in 1994 and a high of 142 in 2002. Such deaths dipped to 114 in 2004.

"The faster a vehicle's going," Eichkorn said, "when it crashes there's more property damage, more injury to human beings and a greater potential for death."

But the GHSA report quoted studies showing that states that have raised their highway speed limits in recent years have seen a corresponding rise in traffic deaths.

The "speed buffer" only exacerbates that problem, Adkins said.

Speed-related deaths in Kansas since 1993

  • Year: Number
  • 2004: 114
  • 2003: 127
  • 2002: 142
  • 2001: 134
  • 2000: 113
  • 1999: 129
  • 1998: 123
  • 1997: 109
  • 1996: 122
  • 1995: 116
  • 1994: 101
  • 1993: 105

Source: Kansas Department of Transportation

"You can't respond as quickly" to a threatening situation, Adkins said. "The impact is greater - even if you're wearing a seat belt, you're much more likely (not) to survive."

Michael Johnson, a Kansas City resident who was also at the North Lawrence gas station last week, was skeptical.

"I don't know that driving 5 over the speed limit is going to impair my ability to either stop or go faster - I mean, stop or avoid an accident," Johnson said.

Cracking down on speed

The GHSA calls speeding "highway safety's next big issue." Adkins said cracking down on speed buffers would be part of that debate.

But don't motorists like the buffer?

"They do, sure," Adkins said. "We have an uphill battle to convince people not to speed. But we also had an uphill battle 25 years ago with drunk driving."

Part of the solution, he said, might involve creating a network of automated "speed cameras," similar to the red-light cameras used in some states. Such cameras are not legal in Kansas.

"Very few states (use them)," Adkins said. "That's something we need to change."

Lashbrook prefers the status quo.

"I think the death rate is reflective of how people drive in the conditions that they're in, whether it be traffic or weather or whatever," he said. "If you're a smart driver, if you're reasonably defensive and not too offensive a driver, you can usually do pretty well out there. "

Comments

Hoots 8 years, 9 months ago

I have to agree with BrianR. Too many people try to do things that are in conflict with driving. I have seen people reading, shaving, as well as other task that should only be tried in a bathroom or easy chair...not at 75 mph on the highway. Germans drive much higher speeds compared to Americans yet they have a lower death rate per million miles travelled. I feel safer on the Autobahn at 130 mph than I do at 80 on our roads. It makes for a very safe environment when people actually follow rules such as staying right unless passing and maintaining a safe distance between vehicles. Germans do this well and pay the penalty if they don't. Over here they love to ticket for speed but choose to ignore true hazards in driving behavior. When was the last time you knew of someone that received a ticket for clogging up the left lane? This has a tendency to buch up traffic and interupt the normal flow.

One thing they never tell us in the data in these articles is that the number of miles travelled by motorist has risen quite a bit over the past several years. If you compare the death rate for miles travelled to past years instead of just deaths alone this gives a more clear picture or what has really happened. The safelty police always tell us half the truth. If they tell the whole story they have no story.

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gccs14r 8 years, 9 months ago

Smitty,

Two objects travelling in the same direction at the same velocity cannot hit one another, no matter what that velocity is. That's simple physics. The way to reduce accidents is to ensure that all the vehicles move in the same direction at the same velocity and one of the better ways to do that is to narrow the window of allowable speeds. Raising the minimum limit on Interstate-spec roads from 40 to 65 would help. Right now, with a minimum limit of 40 and an upper limit of 80 (accounting for the buffer), the potential velocity differential is 40 mph, high enough to cause a serious accident.

If your vehicle cannot maintain 65 mph, use secondary roads. Driving 40 mph on K-10 or I-70 is a death wish.

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blueblood 8 years, 9 months ago

i'd like to know where delta77 got the figure of $4,000/per day/per officer. Are you talking Lawrence? An average ticket is about $100, so that would mean each officer had to write 40 moving violation tickets in an 8 hour shift. Not likely. As for it being the revenue that motivates police to write tickets, think of two things. First, the police are not the direct beneficiary of ticket money. Second, the city commission is the one that has been saying the police need to write more tickets, becuase for some reason that's how they measure the effectiveness of this city's police force. Not the fact that there is a 100% clearance on homicides, or how many armed robbers are caught, etc., but how much money the police bring to the city. Nice. If you have an issue with speed traps, amount of fines, etc., don't blame the police, talk to your friendly neighborhood city commissioner. after all, they act as your voice.

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smitty 8 years, 9 months ago

I consider the KDOT information dangerous non-sense. The comment "speeding problem" on a road often indicates limits that are inappropriately low, rather than a problem with drivers" is absurd. And the Lawrence study is in co-operation with KDOT and gets no respect either. KDOT politics in motion is all that both reports represent.

I set my speed control at the speed limit and it never fails that a speeding problem occurs when someone in a hurry trys to pass on a curve or hill(2 lane hiway) putting everyone in the entire area at risk. Kill yourself if you must but leave me out of your plans.

As far as the remark on revenue...the police - who generate revenue through issuance of tickets ...SO WHAT. What's wrong with legitimate revenue? We aren't talking speed traps, we are talking dangerous behavior in a death machine being aimed at me and my family because you don't want a ticket for your irresponsible behavior. I say up the fines.

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delta77 8 years, 9 months ago

The Kansas Department of Transportation's own report on speed limits states:

"Contrary to popular belief, speed in itself is not a major cause of accidents. In fact, accidents appear to depend less on actual speed and more on the variation of speeds in the traffic stream."

Police may claim speed limits to be absolute, but in fact the limits are generally established at the 85th percentile speed of vehicles traveling on a roadway. That means drivers themselves determine what the speed limit for a road may be.

That means a "speeding problem" on a road often indicates limits that are inappropriately low, rather than a problem with drivers. Stretches of Kasold and McDonald Drive in Lawrence are good examples. You can request a copy of the engineering study used to determine limits on a specific road by calling the city at 832-3034.

So choose who you wish to believe - the police - who generate revenue through issuance of tickets (as much as $4000 per day per officer), or the engineers who designed the roads and determine the limits.

Read the report: http://www.ksdot.org/burTrafficSaf/brochures/pdf/speedlimitspb.pdf

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BrianR 8 years, 9 months ago

Inattentive driving may have caused many of the accidents they are attributing to speed.

I used to drive I-70 and/or K-10 daily, there were a lot of speeders but the drivers that scared me the most were the ones reading a newspaper, talking on the phone or putting on makeup.

These drivers probably thought they were driving ok but I'd see them in my rear view weaving and encroaching into the next lane or the shoulder. Often, they would blow by me like I was standing still.

Speed is something they can prove with empirical evidence in a court of law. It's certainly easier than testifying that the driver was reading a book they had propped on their steering wheel.

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BrianR 8 years, 9 months ago

We need to look to our leaders to set an example for us.

Phill Kline is setting a fine example, only obey the laws that you agree with.

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Richard Heckler 8 years, 9 months ago

This is interesting. There are several states going east that maintain a 55MPH speed for trucks and in some cases trucks are restricted to the right lane only. In these states it was obviously being enforced as truckers were obeying the law...quite unlike Kansas. Tailgating laws are no more enforced than speeding laws when it comes to large trucks.

In accidents truck drivers seem to walk away while the automobile drivers/passengers either die or sustain serious injury. Time to slow trucks down. State troopers need help and mandated orders to catch large trucks...them and their radar protectors. Perhaps it's time for a fleet of Ford Mustangs as trooper mobiles?

Many cars on K10 appear to be driving quite fast which in the case of SUV's I would think would not be smart due to the roll over factor.

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