It’s a good first step, but recently passed "Super Speeder" legislation which imposes larger fines on those caught running wide open on Georgia’s highways and byways is only that -- a first step toward making our roads safer for all of us.
It certainly makes it more costly for those with more horsepower than brains, since the legislation adds an additional $200 to tickets for motorists caught running 75 mph or faster on a two-lane road or 85 mph anywhere in the state.
The heftier fines and costs to reinstate licenses for repeat offenders will go to help fund the state’s trauma centers, and officials estimate it will generate some $23 million during the 2010 fiscal year. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s still just a drop in the bucket since overall the financial cost of accidents in the Peach State total about $7.8 billion a year.
Worse, accidents in Georgia claimed more than 1,600 lives in 2007 and, according to a 2008 traffic safety study conducted by a Georgia Association of Police Chiefs committee, the No. 1 cause of death for Georgians between the age of 1 and 34 is motor vehicle accidents.
From the white paper announcing the study’s findings came this sobering sentence: "In that (1-34) age group, more Georgians die from motor vehicle accidents than from any other cause of death, including homicide, suicide, congenital anomalies, cancer and heart problems. Changing that statistic requires more focused and aggressive traffic enforcement and a coordinated effort among all levels of law enforcement."
And therein lies a big part of the problem.
The study notes that while Georgia’s population has grown rapidly, the manpower to enforce traffic laws hasn’t kept pace.
In 2008 there were reportedly only slots for 953 troopers in the Georgia State Patrol, a number that seems small enough for a state with more than 9 million people, but at that time 200 of those slots were vacant.
For years, Georgia has tended to look the other way when it comes to speeding and in many ways still does. The use of slick-topped patrol cars among local law enforcement agencies is restricted by state law, which also provides motorists a 10 mph cushion over the posted speed limit when police are using radar, though there are exceptions such as hospital and school zones and the Georgia State Patrol can write a ticket for 1 mph over.
Some of Georgia’s angst about enacting and providing for the enforcement of tougher speed laws may date back to the national notoriety that came when Ludowici ran a world-famous speed trap in 1970 -- so much so that then-Gov. Lester Maddox had billboards put up at the city limits warning travelers of the risk.
If that’s the case, it’s time to put it behind us.
Many believe speeding is the No. 1 cause for serious crashes (DUI is No. 2), since it shortens reaction time and makes impact that much harder. What’s more, Georgia’s roads are as deadly as any in the country, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2007, Georgia’s 1,641 traffic fatalities trailed only California (3,974), Texas (3,363), Florida (3,214) and North Carolina (1,675).
We should do better than that. It’s really a case of life or death.