Speeding tickets up in state as cops target aggressive drivers
BLUE MOUNDS — Police in this Dane County village wrote more tickets for speeding in a 65 mph zone than all but one municipal police agency in Wisconsin over a three-year period even though they patrol less than a mile of Highway 18-151.
Not bad, chief Andrew Rose said, for an agency that doesn’t even pull over speeders going less than 80 mph.
“It’s nutty out here,” Rose said. “The road wasn’t built for 65 because of all the cross traffic. Add how aggressive everybody drives and that’s what makes it scary. The number of crazy drivers out there is overwhelming.”
Memorial Day weekend is most likely time to get a speeding ticket in Wisconsin Summer holidays are prime times to get caught for speeding.
A Wisconsin State Journal analysis of about 450,000 state and municipal speeding convictions from 2013 to 2015, gives an idea of how many “crazy drivers” are out there.
Over that period, nearly 1,600 motorists were convicted of driving 100 mph or faster on state roads; some of them were ticketed in speed zones as low as 30 mph. Nearly 2,700 were convicted of speeding in a 15 mph or 20 mph school zone, a school crosswalk with children present, or by a bus as it loaded and unloaded students.
Speeding drivers share much in common with distracted and drunken drivers in the way they drive and create many of the same dangers on the road, said Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney. “We’re not looking for speeders,” he said, “as much as we’re looking for dangerous speeders.”
Drivers are often so oblivious to their surroundings they don’t even see patrols for speeders that are visible by design, State Patrol Sgt. Luke Yahn said.
“I can go out on the interstate and sit in a fully marked car at high noon in bright sunshine and nothing but mowed grass around me and I’ll pull the laser out and I won’t be there 10 minutes. Somebody will blow right by me. We don’t have to hide,” Yahn said. “I don’t even think we scratch the surface of the speed problem out there.”
A new speeding standard
Police are so busy chasing aggressive drivers that there’s more latitude for more mild speeders.
Just 1.2 percent of motorists convicted of speeding were pulled over for traveling up to 9 mph over the posted speed limit, and only 27 percent were convicted of traveling up to 14 mph over. Multiple law enforcement officials said most of those tickets, even, were probably amended from higher speeds by a sympathetic police officer or judge.
“The standard now is 15 over. We can’t concern ourselves with somebody going 12 over in a 65 when 97 percent are driving 80 mph or higher,” Rose said.
The strategy is appearing to work. Despite letting more low-level speeders go, citations increased nearly 7 percent to more than 172,000 in 2015 and were expected to surpass that total in 2016. Prior to 2015, speeding convictions had dropped 34.5 percent in eight years to just more than 161,000 in 2014.
At the same time, speed-related crashes reached nearly 22,000 in 2013 before dropping to 21,000 in 2014 and just over 17,000 in 2015. Speed-related crashes increased 7.8 percent to 19,208 in 2016, but deaths in those crashes dropped 8.4 percent to 152 after increasing in each of the previous two years.
State Department of Transportation officials credit most of the safety improvement to a stronger law enforcement presence on the roads, with help from an increase in federal grants in 2015 and 2016.
Sheriff’s departments in Dane, Racine, Fond du Lac and Shawano counties are among those that are using federal money to add personnel strictly dedicated to enforcing traffic laws. They’re also among the state’s top 10 counties in speeding citations per 500,000 miles of travel, according to the State Journal’s analysis.
The Dane County Sheriff’s Office trailed only the Madison Police Department among all law enforcement agencies in the state for speeding citations written that led to convictions from 2013 through 2015.
“Over the years, many departments have had to eliminate traffic enforcement when other needs have risen because of staff levels,” Mahoney said. “We have continued to make it a priority and continue to receive funding to make sure that we can maintain our traffic enforcement teams and keep our roads safer.”
‘Presence breeds compliance’
Fond du Lac County, which is located in drive zones between the state’s three biggest cities and includes the notorious village of Rosendale, led the state in citations issued per mile driven in the county. The data also showed a pattern: The county led the state in tickets issued on holidays and on days of Green Bay Packers home games.
“We have a motto: ‘Presence breeds compliance.’ I don’t know who started that motto but it definitely works,” said Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Capt. Ryan Waldschmidt, who also is the county’s highway safety coordinator.
Waldschmidt said grant money in 2017 will help law enforcement agencies in the county to patrol Highway 23 more closely.
The state has sought to expand the dangerous two-lane highway to four lanes, but the project has been bogged down in legal proceedings, he added.
Meantime, Racine County saw a 13.5 percent drop from 2015 in speed-related crashes to 524 in 2016, and deaths in those crashes dropped from 12 to three, according to the DOT.
Shawano County was the only county in the state where overall and speed-related crashes declined in each of the last three years. Sheriff Adam Bieber said he leads by example and writes the most tickets of anybody in his department.
“I do believe that enforcing speed limit laws does save lives,” Bieber said. “People slow down and are more aware of their surroundings when they see law enforcement officers along the roadway. When you show people you care about the speed limit, they care.”