WASHINGTON – Authorities patrolling U.S. highways tend to give motorists a cushion of up to 10 miles per hour above the speed limit before pulling them over, says a survey by a group of state traffic safety officials.
This practice creates an unsafe comfort level at high speeds and is a potential safety hazard, according to the report being released Monday by the Governors Highway Safety Association (search). The group found that 42 states allow drivers to regularly exceed the speed limit before they are stopped.
"This cushion truly exists across this country and in some cases is more than 10 mph above posted limits," said Jim Champagne, the association's chairman.
"Law enforcement needs to be given the political will to enforce speed limits and the public must get the message that speeding will not be tolerated," said Champagne, who also is executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission.
Since 1994, 38 states have increased their speed limit, the report said. Congress in 1995 allowed states to raise limits above 55 mph in urban areas and 65 mph on rural roads.
A study released in 1999 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (search) estimated an increase in deaths on interstates and freeways of about 15 percent in the 24 states that had raised their speed limit in late 1995 and 1996.
The survey's release comes ahead of the association's forum this week on ways to address speeding. The goal is to make recommendations for states to consider.
"As a country, if we are going to reduce the carnage on our roadways, speeding must be given the same level of attention that has been given to occupant protection and impaired driving," Champagne said.
States reported that highway patrol officers and other authorities said enforcing traffic laws has become difficult because of uncertainty in highway safety budgets, the focus on homeland security and a shortage of officers due to retirements.
Nineteen states lack a statewide database to log speed-related citation data, the survey found. That makes it hard for policy-makers to reach conclusions about the effectiveness of their enforcement efforts.
The survey said 10 states have some kind of aggressive driving law: Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Nevada, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Utah and Virginia.