Speeders beware: Trends aren’t in your favor.
A Dayton Daily News investigation found Ohio Highway Patrol troopers issued almost 363,000 speeding tickets last year, up 12.8 percent over 2011, and 11.8 percent more than the previous five-year average.
And the patrol, which writes the most tickets in the state, is staffing up, which could make it even harder on those who speed and commit other driving infractions. After a low of 1,441 sworn officers at the end of 2011, largely due to a rising tide of retirements, the agency is back to about 1,600 troopers, its highest staff total since 2006, according to patrol spokesperson Lt. Anne Ralston.
The new 70 mph speed limit on Ohio’s rural interstates, which took effect July 1, could bring some relief to lead-footed drivers. But not much.
The increase from 65 to 70 mph has happened before in the state – on the Ohio Turnpike in April 2011. Speeding tickets issued by the OHP on that highway decreased by just 4.2 percent during the 12 months after the increase, compared to the previous 12 months.
This newspaper analyzed 2 million speeding tickets written by the highway patrol from 2007 to 2012 to pinpoint the top hot spots, the levels of excessive speeds that tend to result in tickets and the characteristics of drivers who get the most speeding tickets.
The study found:
• Men get twice as many speeding tickets as women.
• If you speed and want to avoid a ticket, keep it to 9 mph over the limit. Whatever you do, keep it under 15, which is where ticket-writing spikes.
• And don’t speed on Interstate 71 in Clinton County. It’s home to the top speeding ticket hot spot in the state.
The OHP’s Ralston said the 2012 increase in speeding tickets is mirrored by an increase in public contact by troopers. (The patrol wrote 1.5 million citations of all types last year.) She attributed the surge to both increased staffing levels and new initiatives when Col. John Born became superintendent of the patrol in 2011.
“Our personnel have responded,” Ralston said. “As you can see from the data, we are stopping more cars than we have in the last several years.”
Ohio’s ticket hot spot
No single place in Ohio has sprouted more patrol speeding tickets in the past six years than mile-marker 48 on I-71, just north of Wilmington.
From 2007 to 2012, troopers from the Wilmington Post of the Ohio Highway Patrol have written more than 10,000 tickets at that spot. The ticketing at mile-marker 48 fell off slightly last year, the analysis found. It dropped to No. 5, with 1,302 tickets issued.
But that could be temporary, because the Wilmington Post is a microcosm of the force as a whole. It has been understaffed for about a year and currently is without a commander, according to Sgt. Chris Crisafi, the ranking officer.
The post, however, has three new troopers from the most recent academy classes and is back up to 14 officers. It will be getting a new commander in a matter of weeks.
“We’re kind of getting back up to where we should be,” Crisafi said.
The Wilmington troopers like mile-marker 48 for a number of reasons, Crisafi said.
First, it has a “cross-over” where officers can turn their patrol car around and sit in the median. The spot offers “a long view of the roadway,” Crisafi said, and it’s one of the first crossovers in Clinton County on northbound I-71.
It’s also an air speed zone with a mark beside the highway that a patrol airplane assigned to the five posts in southwest Ohio uses to time vehicles on the freeway.
Also, he said, there is a truck weigh station about a half-mile from the mile marker that can present a safety hazard.
“We concentrate on that area because trucks are continually ramping on there at slow speeds, so we’re trying to get vehicles to slow down,” Crisafi said.
The mile marker currently is in a construction zone, so the speed limit is 55 mph. But when the construction is finished, it will be in a 70 mph zone, like most of I-71 outside of Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.
Crisafi said he hasn’t noticed a change in driver behavior outside the construction zone. He also said he hasn’t noticed changes in ticket-writing since the speed limit was raised to 70.
“It’s really too early to tell,” he said. “We’re just trying to enforce the law.”
When the same speed limit change went into effect on the Ohio Turnpike in 2011, state troopers only tapped lightly on the brakes when it came to writing tickets. The monthly average slipped only by 132 tickets for the entire turnpike, dropping from 3,140 speeding tickets a month the year before the change to 3,008 for the year after.
Is 70 mph safe?
Studies on the effects of higher speed limits are, at best, inconclusive. A review of 19 studies by the Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, led to conflicted findings.
In the end, the study cautiously concluded that raising Wisconsin’s freeway speed limit from 65 to 70 mph “may result in an initial increase in speed-related traffic fatalities.”
“However, the extent of this increase cannot be precisely estimated based on historical data,” the report stated.
Andrea Bill, traffic safety research program manager for the laboratory, said there aren’t many widely accepted conclusions from the research into speed limits.
“It’s kind of all over the map,” Bill said.
People always want to compare speed-limit changes to what happened in 1987 and then in 1995 when Congress rescinded the national 55 mph speed limit, giving states the power to set their own limits, Bill said. But cars have changed too much, even from the 1990s, to make solid comparisons.
“We have vehicles that have such a lot higher standards in terms of their safety ratings,” Bill said “More people are wearing their seatbelts now.
“But on the other side of the coin, we also have more distraction. We don’t want to believe it’s there, but we do see a lot of driver distraction.”
And as people travel faster, the distances they cover while distracted grows.
Still, Bill said, there is consensus on one fact: Raising the speed limit by 5 mph doesn’t mean drivers will immediately speed up by the same amount.
“What we do see is that the 85th percentile speed — where 85 percent of the population are going at that speed or below — doesn’t go up as much as you think it would,” Bill said.
“If right now everybody is traveling at 73 mph, just because you raise the speed limit by 5 mph, doesn’t mean there is a direct relationship and it’s going to go up to 78 mph.”
Comfortable driving 70
A study of Indiana’s speed-limit hike from 65 to 70 in 2005 found no increase in traffic crash severity on rural interstates, but did find higher accident severity on the state’s rural non-interstate multi-lane highways, which also saw the increase.
The report’s author, Fred Mannerling, a professor of civil engineering at Purdue University, said the increased speed does create physics that could result in more fatal and severe accidents, but that the 5 mph increase also created conditions that caused vehicles to travel closer to the same speed.
Mannerling studied all the crashes in Indiana in 2004, the year before the state raised its speed limit, and in 2006, the year after.
It has long been known that higher speed variance (the degree to which vehicles are traveling at different speeds) on highways results in more crashes, said Mannerling, the co-author of a leading textbook on highway design and traffic analysis.
“We didn’t find that there was any increase in the severity of crashes,” Mannerling said. “What we also noticed that the speeds increased as you would expect, but the variance of speeds actually decreased.
“If everybody’s going the same speed, there tends to be fewer crashes, even if they’re going a bit faster. So with the Indiana experience, one of the reasons we didn’t see an increase in the severity of crashes was, even though you’re going faster and there’s more physics involved, having a smaller variance in speed tends to mitigate the higher speeds.”
The main reason people drive closer to the same speed with a speed limit of 70, he said, is because that’s the speed freeways are built to accommodate.
“You’re going to feel the most comfortable around 70,” Mannerling said, “because that’s what the road’s designed for.”
When drivers get tickets
Ohio Highway Patrol troopers say they don’t have specific trigger points handed down from Columbus on when to write a speeding ticket. Every stop is different, they say, and the decision whether to issue a warning or write a ticket is totally up to the officer.
But in the process of sifting through 2 million speeding tickets, certain trigger points seem to emerge:
1. For instance, 80 mph appears to be the speed that troopers least tolerate. Motorists driving 80 got 175,399 tickets in the six years studied – significantly more than the 119,751 drivers who were ticketed at 70 mph. More than 100,000 tickets also were issued for those going 81 and 82 mph.
2. Don’t drive 15 mph over the speed limit. It was by far the most ticketed speeding violation, getting troopers to reach for their citation pads almost 310,000 times in the years studied. That was more than twice as many as were written at 14 mph over. It was also almost 134,000 tickets more than the second-most ticketed speed violation, 16 mph over the limit.
3. Driving 10 mph over the speed limit is another red line for troopers. Troopers wrote more than 77,000 tickets to drivers going 10 mph over, compared to only 8,703 driving at 9 mph over the limit. Almost 60 percent of those tickets were written in a 55 mph speed zone.
4. The 65 mph speed zones yielded the most tickets, with more than 808,000. Second were the 55 mph zones with about 707,000. Together, those two speed limits accounted for more that three out of four speeding tickets written by state troopers.
‘Up to the officer’
Who gets the most tickets? No surprise here: young men.
Men of all ages got almost twice as many tickets as women. Of the 1.96 million tickets with a valid gender entered in the data, men got more than 1.2 million tickets, or 63.3 percent, while women got almost 718,000.
Twenty-year-olds were the most ticketed age, getting almost 80,000 tickets during the six years studied. Coming in second were 21-year-olds, with almost 76,000 speeding tickets, followed by 19-year-olds with 74,575.
Twenty-year-old women also got more tickets than women as a whole. They accounted for 42.5 percent of tickets to 20-year-olds.
Troopers say they are trained to be fair in every way when deciding whether to pull people over, or give them a warning or a ticket.
“Our guys are trained, and our policy is we can’t be biased in any way,” said Wilmington Post Sgt. Cristafi. “We don’t look at age or race or sex. It’s strictly based off of a speeding violation, moving violation or vehicle defect.
“We’re going to issue a citation or a warning. But it’s strictly up to the officer.”
And, Crisafi said, there are differences between troopers.
“It just comes down to officer discretion,” he said. “You’re trying to put yourself in their shoes. Is 10 over too fast? You’re getting there.
“Each officer is going to set their limit. We try to be reasonable. But I might write somebody for 10 over, and the officer right next to me may not.”