This week, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) will tell us how many motorists were cited for speeding during a recent, statewide crackdown.
From July 10-27, the State Patrol and officers from more than 400 agencies parked their squads along highway shoulders, on freeway embankments and medians, and on city streets specifically to keep an eye out for leadfoot drivers.
Speeding is a major, contributing factor in fatal and serious injury crashes in Minnesota. Over the past three years, illegal and unsafe speed was blamed in 212 fatal crashes that killed 236 people and seriously injured another 666, according to the OTS. Nationwide, the number of speeding-related fatal crashes has ranged from 11,000 to 13,000 annually, high enough that the Federal Highway Administration called speeding “a significant safety issue warranting attention.”
Despite that admonition, there is no national campaign that addresses the dangers that come when motorists put the pedal to the metal.
Some states, such as Minnesota, conduct annual campaigns on their own and pay for them with grant money. But by and large, the problem of speeding has fallen off the radar, said Kara Macek, communications director for the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit that addresses highway safety issues.
“That is unfortunate,” she said. “Speeding is a tricky issue, and it’s wonderful that Minnesota is working on it. The main reason it’s a forgotten issue is that everyone does it. You engage in that behavior, get away with it and you continue with it. You become immune. We are used to the 5- to 10-miles per hour cushion. It has become culturally acceptable.”
More fatal crashes in summer
Speeding is pervasive, as witnessed by the 23,285 speeding tickets issued during a similar campaign in 2012 and the 17,415 written last year. But what about the rest of the year? Are police being lax on speed enforcement?
Not at all, said Lt. Eric Roeske, a spokesman for the State Patrol. Speeding is the most common citation handed out by the agency.
Law enforcement focuses on different, driving behaviors throughout the year. Earlier this spring, there were campaigns to encourage seat belts and reduce distracted driving. Upcoming campaigns include a sweep for impaired drivers from Aug. 16-Sept. 1, and a one-day campaign to highlight the state’s Move Over law on Aug. 31. Speeding was the focus in July because that is when speeds and fatal crashes on state highways peak, according to data.
“We talk about being careful in the winter with the snow and ice, but more people die in the summer due to excessive speed,” Roeske said. “Speeding is always a top priority. Compliance is our primary goal. [The campaign] is kind of a double-edged sword. We want to catch the speeders, but if people adjust their speeds then we accomplish our goal.”
Macek agreed. Campaign success can’t always be quantified.
“It’s impossible to know how many fatals or crashes you prevented,” she said. “We do know that people slow down when they see cops. The harder it hits them in the pocketbook, the more impact it has.”