Fort Mill Times

North Carolina revving up to stop speeding

North Carolina wants its drivers to slow down. But law enforcement won’t get carried away writing tickets.

On Thursday, the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program began a new enforcement campaign, “Obey the Sign or Pay the Fine.” The program emphasizes travel at or below the posted speed limit.

The goal is to get rid of the “buffer zone” mentality drivers may have, that a certain speed above the posted limit won’t result in a traffic stop.

Yet the group had to clarify the campaign Thursday after earlier information announcing it led to confusion. Frank Perry, public safety secretary, said in a statement law enforcement “remains committed to keeping our highways and roads safe.”

“The N.C. State Highway Patrol does not intend to change its tactics when it comes to enforcing the speed limit,” Perry said. “Our troopers still have reasonable discretion when it comes to enforcing our traffic laws.”

Taking that discretion from officers isn’t part of the campaign.

“Earlier reports that we would begin ticketing drivers going one or two miles over the speed limit were based on a misinterpretation of the initiative,” Perry said. “Troopers and local law enforcement officers will continue to enforce the speed limit.”

Also, the campaign is an annual emphasis running March 24-April 3. Unlike other programs related to better enforcing existing rules, which remain ongoing. The state has initiatives on drunk driving, seat belt usage, motorcycle safety, child seat restraints and pedestrian awareness.

Even with the clarification, speeding remains a concern in North Carolina.

“Speeding translates to death on our roadways,” said Don Nail, director of the highway safety program. “It greatly reduces a driver’s ability to steer safely around another vehicle, a hazardous object, or an unexpected curve.”

Speeding is a safety issue for North Carolina law enforcement. Last year, the state had 322 speed-related fatalities and 10,658 injuries. Speeding contributed to 23 percent of all fatal crashes in North Carolina.

Studies show fatalities are twice as likely in a speeding crash where the posted limit is 65 mph or higher, than on roads with 45 or 50 mph limits. And almost five times as likely than on roads posted at 40 mph or lower.

Yet, most fatalities occur on roads like those common to the Steele Creek area. Last year 88 percent of all speed-related traffic fatalities happened on non-interstate roads with posted limits of 55 mph or lower. Speeding also was part of 27 percent of fatal wrecks in construction zones.

Sgt. Bob Beres with the South Carolina Highway Patrol understands why speed would be a concern in North Carolina, as it is in his state.

“Speed is one of the top causations of fatalities,” he said.

His state takes the same approach to speeding, which is to stop it but with common sense.

“South Carolina has what’s called an absolute speed limit,” Beres said. “That means you can be stopped if you’re traveling one mile over the speed limit. We ask our officers to use discretion and judgment.”

In South Carolina, ongoing or coming campaigns focus on seat belt usage and safety during the 100 days of summer when travel is high and fatalities peak. Beres said areas like Lake Wylie, where several highways cross state lines, should see only a minimal impact since speed limits in North Carolina aren’t being lowered, just more heavily enforced.

“Nothing has changed except they’re promoting it more,” Beres said.

South Carolina had more than 950 highway fatalities last year. A new Target Zero safety campaign aims to prevent any such deaths, and looks at contributing factors. Data from 2008 to 2012 found speed to be the fourth most common factor in traffic fatalities, behind vehicles leaving their lanes, not wearing seat belts and age, meaning drivers 15-29 or 65 and older.

In that time, 35 percent of fatalities involved speeding. Speeding resulted in 1,684 fatalities and 5,775 severe injuries.

John Marks: 803-831-8166