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Speed Limits Get Real

April 1, 2010 – 4:00 pm

I recently came across an article published on the USA Today website reporting that motorists in the United States might soon see far stricter enforcement of speed limits than they have been used to in the past.  The driving force behind this pending clampdown isn’t related to safety or a perceived need to reduce national fuel consumption by keeping cruising speeds low – no, it’s actually tied in to the still tepid economy.

It seems that there are several states and municipalities that have taken it upon themselves to reduce or completely eliminate what USA Today calls the ‘5-10-mph cushion’ – that is to say the acceptable amount by which motorists can currently exceed the speed limit before attracting police attention.

Anyone who has ever traveled anywhere with speed limits in the 60 to 65-mph range is undoubtedly familiar with the phenomenon of cars moving past a speed trap at a rate of 70-mph without so much as a second look from the officer on duty.  This tolerance of low-level speeding is often called ‘flow of traffic,’ and as long as drivers do not weave or perform otherwise dangerous maneuvers most law enforcement agencies have been content to let them get away with this type of minor infraction.  In fact, 42 states have been noted as adopting this relaxed attitude towards speeding.

Unfortunately for those who enjoy personal rapid transit, it would seem that the crackdown on casual speeding has already begun in earnest across the country.  Motorists in areas as diverse as Missouri, Massachusetts and Wisconsin have reported an increase in ticketing that would appear to be directly related to the need to fill government coffers.  Several studies have also shown that declines in municipal or state revenues are often followed by an increase in ticketed offenses the following year.

What can drivers do about the coming surge in speed limit enforcement?  Other than drive more slowly, not much.  Anyone who spends much time out on the highway or even on the smaller roads around their home will most likely need to be that much more careful over the coming year in terms of keeping their speed within the boundaries of the law.

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