As speeders become more brazen, police seek to analyze habits

Posted Oct. 10, 2011, at 5:39 p.m.
Brunswick Police Lt. Tom Garrepy uses a radar gun to check vehicle speeds on Route 1 in July 2011.
Times Record photo by Troy R. Bennett
Brunswick Police Lt. Tom Garrepy uses a radar gun to check vehicle speeds on Route 1 in July 2011.

AUGUSTA, Maine — In recent weeks, a 16-year-old high school student was clocked at 103 mph on the Maine Turnpike in York, a 38-year-old mother with three children in her car was stopped for going 93 mph in a 45 mph zone in Aroostook County, and an 82-year-old man was clocked at 108 mph on Interstate 95 in Carmel.

“Speeding is the biggest complaint we get and I think it’s true for all of law enforcement,“ said Col. Robert Williams, chief of the Maine State Police. “Most of what you hear about is on the interstate but it is also a major problem in the urban areas.”

He said someone going 55 mph in a 25 mph zone is as much a danger to others as those speeding on the interstate. He said going that fast in a residential area is very dangerous, with children often playing along the road and the ability to brake a vehicle when a child darts into the street chasing a ball decreases with speed.

“Nobody wants somebody speeding by their home,” he said. “It is one of the highest number of complaints we get.”

South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins, president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, agreed that the public gets upset at speeding in their neighborhoods, although he also recognizes the issue of high speeds on the interstate and turnpike.

“We don’t patrol there,” he said, “but we hear from local neighborhoods about speeders all the time.”

Googins said a major problem is that cars today have a “very smooth ride” and it is easy for a driver to go faster than they realize. He said it is common for his officers to stop drivers going 20 miles per hour over the 25 mph speed limit in residential areas.

“That issue for us is a big one,” he said. “We do run traffic enforcement details because the beat officer has difficulty responding to calls and doing these things, so we run traffic enforcement details all the time.”

Googins said police in cities and towns are dealing with an increased number of cars and trucks, as well as those vehicles having the ability to go faster. He said Maine police are hampered by a state law that bans the use of technology such as red light cameras, which record those going through red lights, and cameras tied to radar devices that measure speed and record the vehicle.

“They want officers doing that, not big brother, if you will,” Googins said. But law enforcement is using technology to combat speeders.

“You can’t outrun a radio,” said Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross, president of the Maine Sheriffs Association. He said sheriffs across the state have a mix of patrol duties and have their share of speeders to deal with.

“We rely on the radio to call ahead and catch a speeder and we use the spike mats like other agencies use,” he said. “We use technology where we can.”

Williams said the State Police is using the data it collects to analyze the best approach to reduce highway fatalities and injuries. He said police have found that where they receive complaints does not match where there are accidents.

“Over the last year or so, we have been focusing our efforts on where we see the most accidents and the most serious accidents, and not where we have been getting complaints,” he said. “The whole purpose of enforcing the traffic laws is to make the roads safe. If you have an area with a high crash location, we have been focusing on that.”

Williams said it is too early to draw a conclusion, but highway fatalities and accidents causing personal injuries are down from a year ago since the State Police focused on crash data and not complaint data.

“I know that it’s tough when it is your house, and it is real to you,” he said, “but we have been focusing on the data and there appears to be some impact on speed.”

Williams said the recent speed increase on the interstate north of Old Town to 75 mph is an example of an area where the data indicated that an increase is not likely to cause a problem with increased crashes.

“We have a lot more congestion in Bangor and Portland where the speed limit is 55 mph and it probably should not be that high because of the traffic volume and the accident data,” he said.

Williams also agreed with Googins that as vehicles are improved and provide a smoother ride, drivers often do not realize the speed they are going. He said law enforcement is always looking for better ways to enforce traffic laws.

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