Do Md. speeders have it too easy?

GETTING THERE

December 25, 2006|By MICAHAEL DRESSER

It seems that speed is a sore spot with many readers.

Quite a few wrote in to support the suggestion in this space two weeks ago that folks who drive at triple-digit speeds on public roads deserve a more severe response than a traffic ticket. One was Steve Weigman of Baltimore.

"My daughter was hit and killed by someone speeding, and the woman wasn't [given] as much as a ticket. Maryland seems to only care if you kill someone if [you] are under the influence or holding a gun," Weigman writes.

Cheryl Coleman of Whiteford, a member of a women's motorcycle club, said she recently lost a friend to a careless truck driver.

"I am often embarrassed by fellow motorcyclists who often race down [Interstate] 95 while weaving in and out of traffic, who ride their bikes while impaired, and who operate motorcycles that are well beyond their skill levels. ... When people lose their license and vehicle when driving 100 miles an hour on 95, they won't do it. After all, higher insurance rates are no longer a deterrent but losing their vehicle might be," she writes.

Most of us, I suspect, have at one time or another been passed by motorcyclists traveling at extreme rates of speed. They come up on a driver maintaining a normal rate of speed with a suddenness and din that can leave you shaken for hours. Postings on Internet forums suggest that scaring other drivers is part of the appeal.

Dani Rice of Bradshaw had a similar fright.

"Several months ago," she writes, "my husband and I were waiting on Joppa Farm Road to cross Route 40. It's a long light, and I had leaned back and closed my eyes for a `few seconds,' when my husband said, `Hey, the light is green. Are you going to move?'

"I swear, the Good Lord Himself must have had His hand over my eyes to make me stay where I was, because just as I shifted into drive, a car went up Route 40 - through a light that had been red for some time - with a whoosh. I am willing to bet honest money the driver was going over 100 MPH.

"Fortunately, it was late at night so there were no other cars waiting to cross, but if I had pulled out, it would have simply been a fireball - no survivors."

What Rice experienced was no less an assault than a gunshot aimed at her that missed. When a vehicle is being used as a weapon rather than as a means of transportation, why shouldn't the law treat it as a weapon?

Art Cohen of Baltimore writes that he likes the idea of car confiscation as a deterrent.

"I have a nephew who was killed on his 18th birthday four years ago as a back-seat passenger because of extreme speeding on a small country road in Essex - the driver had been drinking and decided to just have some fun trying to scare his passengers - before he lost control of his car at 85 mph.

"My nephew's cousin (who had been sitting next to him) was mentally and physically impaired for life. Of course, the driver walked away from the crash without a scratch, and the legal system saw fit to sentence him to a two-year term for having taken one person's life and ruined another's," Cohen writes.

The problem with the charge of vehicular manslaughter is that it addresses the outcome - which is in part a matter of bad luck - rather than the behavior that caused it. How many drivers get caught tearing down the road at 85 mph and get nothing more than a fine? In fact, many drivers routinely go 85 mph and don't even consider it extreme.

It's doubtful that legislators would crack down on that level of speeding because so many of their constituents enjoy it. But 100? Maybe. It's a nice, round number.

"What about the manufacturers and advertisers?" writes Dan Swegon of Fallston. "Except in law enforcement, is there any purpose in cars being able to go 100-plus mph? It doesn't help when addle-headed yo-yos see TV ads with cars racing down the road and coming to skidding stops."

Dan, I keep reading the Bill of Rights looking for the amendment that guarantees the right to drive the highways at whatever speed the vehicle can muster. My vision must be impaired, because Congress and the auto industry seem certain it's there.

Elliot Deutsch of Bel Air writes: "Unfortunately neither our laws or our courts seem to have enough teeth, or maybe enough guts, to sufficiently punish these scofflaw killers or at least to protect our citizens by permanently banning them from our roads."

Somebody in law enforcement agrees with Mr. Deutsch. An e-mail signed "Frustrated Police Officer" recounts one person's experiences:

"According to traffic court judges in Maryland, traveling at speeds greater than 100 mph ... doesn't constitute negligent or reckless driving. If you get caught in Virginia with a speed greater than 100 mph, you'll be in jail. That's guaranteed.

"My top speeder: 152 mph. The knucklehead came to court and got the judge to dismiss all the other related tickets (reckless being one of them) except for speeding. He paid his fine and walked out of the courtroom with a smile.

"Matter of fact, I had one of these young speed demons tell me that everyone knows to come to Maryland and race because they know they won't get arrested for speeding."

Is that so? Does Maryland have a reputation? And are there District Court judges who consistently excuse extreme speeding and throw out reckless driving charges? Traffic police officers, let's hear from you.

gettingthere@baltsun.com

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