Extreme speeders and other buffoons

GETTING THERE

December 31, 2007|By MICHAEL DRESSER

What percentage of the 389,031 speeding tickets issued in Maryland last year went to folks charged with driving more than 30 mph over the speed limit?

Go on, take a guess. How many of your fellow drivers were in such a hurry, or were so into the thrill of speed, or were so stinking drunk that they were willing to put your life and their own in such extreme jeopardy during calendar year 2006? How many people not only violated Transportation Article 21.801.1 - exceeding the speed limit - but stomped all over it?

The answer: 4.2 percent. That amounts to 16,272 ticking time bombs - all of whom were let go with a ticket unless they were arrested on other charges. Of those, 13,049 qualified for a $290 fine and five points for going 30-39 mph over the speed limit (that's up to 104 mph in a 65-mph zone). Another 3,223 model citizens were cited for going more than 40 mph over the limit, a transgression that calls for a $530 fine and five points.

These are some of the fun facts that can be extracted from a ponderous database compiled by Maryland's District Court system and requested by The Sun. It doesn't shed much light on the outcomes of the cases that went to court, but it does give a glimpse of what's happening on the state's roads. As the General Assembly prepares to convene, legislators might find it interesting to scrutinize the same statistics.

(Disclaimer: The writer of this column will show up in the 2007 statistics for alleged violations of Transportation Articles 13.411d and 13.411f - one for driving with expired tags, the other for simply having them. He intends to go to court and present his pathetic excuses to a judge - just as any other miserable wretch would - in hopes of avoiding a cumulative $120 fine.)

Last year's statistics show that for the most part, police are writing tickets for reasonably flagrant speed offenses - not nitpicking over minor violations.

Roughly three-quarters of speeding tickets were given out for going more than 10 mph over the limit. The statistics don't show how many of the 26 percent of tickets that fell into the 1-9 mph violation range were acts of mercy on the part of the officer.

The biggest group - 41 percent - was made up of those charged with exceeding the speed limit by 10-19 mph. They qualified for a $90 fine and two points. (Give 'em a break if it's just once, judge.)

Another 28 percent were tickets for going 20-29 mph over the limit, richly earning a $160 fine and 2 points. (Show no mercy, your honor.)

Police were apparently reluctant to write tickets for one of the most common causes of traffic-tangling crashes in Maryland. You see it in virtually every rainstorm, ice storm or snowstorm in Maryland - failure to reduce speed in dangerous weather or highway conditions. Only 529 drivers received citations under this sensible law. Perhaps officers were choosing to employ the "reasonable and prudent" test instead. That article accounted for 11,399 tickets.

Work zone speed violations, the subject of an O'Malley administration speed camera proposal, brought only 446 tickets last year. Is that a sign that: (a) Maryland drivers are behaving themselves in work zones? Or (b): The law is difficult for police to enforce without cameras? Those who chose (a) should send $1,000 to claim their share of my inheritance from a Nigerian oil baron.

And for those who are curious, there were 307 tickets handed out under the articles covering driving a vehicle too slowly.

Of course, speeding was far from the only driving offense popular in Maryland.

New Year's revelers might want to keep in mind the number 25,508. That's how many tickets were issued in the state last year under TA 21.902a - driving or attempting to drive under the influence of alcohol. Fortunately, only 72 motorists were charged with having a minor in the car while committing the offense.

Driving on the wrong side of the road - a violation that is often associated with the previous offense - was up by more than 400 cases from the previous year at 8,983. And red-light running remained in contention for Maryland's unofficial state sport as 39,487 daring drivers were charged with failure to obey a traffic control device.

Several of the charges in Maryland's voluminous list of traffic laws deal with subjects covered in this column.

Motorcyclists: Many bikers might have been grumbling under their helmets but they apparently were wearing them. Police wrote only 313 tickets for riding without helmets and 68 for no windscreens.

"Hoons" (an Australian term for aggressive and antisocial drivers who ought to have their cars confiscated and their sorry behinds thrown in jail): 474 tickets for racing on public highways, 2,586 for spinning wheels, 5,693 for reckless driving.

Pedestrian safety: Of the 727 tickets issued for driver failure to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, 42 of them required a court appearance because an "accident" ensued. Pedestrians, meanwhile, received 92 tickets for unsafely crossing in front of a vehicle.

Horns, as in the beep-beep kind: Under what must be the most underused traffic statute on the books, only 239 tickets were issued for using a horn on a highway when not reasonably necessary for safety.

Amid all the evidence of moronic motoring in Maryland, there is good news: Only four tickets were written statewide for violating TA 22.401.1 - improper use of bells on an ice cream vehicle.

Yup. I guess we just about have that problem licked.

gettingthere@baltsun.com

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