Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tennessee considers extra fines for 'super speeders'

By Erik Schelzig • ASSOCIATED PRESS • March 18, 2010 Tennessee lawmakers are considering ways to add new monetary penalties for speeding drivers as a way to boost funding for the state's trauma centers, where speeders often wind up needing treatment. As introduced, the "super speeders" bill would fine drivers $200 for traveling 15 mph above the speed limit. Republican Sen. Jack Johnson of Franklin said he plans to rewrite the bill to target drivers going more than 25 mph above the posted speed limit. A vote was rescheduled Tuesday for the next Senate Transportation Committee meeting on March 23. The move to add penalties comes amid dwindling tickets issued by the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Troopers wrote half as many speeding tickets in 2008 as in 2001. During the same period, the number of ticketed drivers who would have met the original "super speeder" criteria proposed in the bill rose from 21 percent to 27 percent. Statistical analysts at the Safety Department say there isn't any single factor that explains the decrease in traffic citations, spokesman Mike Browning said. Possible reasons include decreased travel speeds, higher gas prices and the number of troopers assigned around the state. The super speeders proposal mirrors a law that went into effect in Georgia this year. Johnson said the bill is needed because Tennessee court rulings have found that excessive speed alone is not enough reason to charge motorists with reckless driving. But Sen. Doug Jackson argued that many judges don't read the law that way and can sentence offenders to jail time and set fines up to $500. "What you're doing here, I think, is going to become the de facto alternative to reckless driving," said Johnson, D-Dickson. "And the argument could be presented that you're tying the hands of the judge." 'Just another fee grab' Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville and the main sponsor of 1998 legislation that increased the state's maximum speed limit to 70 mph, said he considers the proposal "just another fee grab." "It probably sounds good for the voters and the folks back home," Burchett said, "But in reality, I don't think it would generate all that much money." The Tennessee Department of Transportation's most recent annual traffic study found that 70.5 percent of drivers exceeded the speed limit on freeways with a 55 mph limit, while nearly 44 percent drove faster than a posted 70 mph limit. The sensors monitored traffic on 323 miles of Tennessee freeways with a 55 mph limit and 709 miles with a 70 mph limit.

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