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Monday, August 23, 2010

Speed Kills

On several occasions in the past, I've blogged about my frustration at budget woes and failures to fix them when easy solutions are readily available, particularly at the state level.

Most particularly here in California.

This blog is the result of a study I commissioned to look at traffic violations. More on that a little later...

It is well known that here in California, traffic laws, especially speed limits, are enforced in a rather lackadaisical manner. Take a drive on any freeway in the state and you'll see this happening. You may even see such speeders passing CHP cars with impunity and no reaction from the officer. This happens all of the time.

I needed data on how fast cars are going on the state's freeways, so...

I went to the CHP to get information about the speeds of cars on the state's freeways, but I was told that data the CHP has relates to particular cars and drivers—that is, those caught speeding—and therefore the information was not available to the public since it involved private personal data. The CHP referred me to CalTrans...

That seemed reasonable, at least at the time.

I spoke to CalTrans and was told that they do not keep such records. They record the speed of traffic for specific areas for a specific time period in order to evaluate the need for road repairs and improvements. Once that is done, the data is tossed. CalTrans referred me to the CHP.

After a few more trips back and forth circling the runaround tree, I decided to commission my own study. This is where things got really interesting...

I called CalTrans to find out the names and such for some of the contractors that do traffic surveys and studies for the state, and I was told I needed to get the info from the State Treasury people. I contacted the State Treasury and was told I couldn't have that information because it " not something the public needs to know about...". Yeah, this was getting to be a lot of fun.

After a few calls to some politicians who owe me favors, I finally got a list of the contractors I was interested in. I had to promise the politicians that I would not mention their name or other things that might identify them. So don't ask.

What I wanted to do was to monitor a section of one or more freeways, recording the speed of the vehicles and the type of vehicles (car or truck) that went through the section over a period of time. That's all. No license plate data not even the color of the car...just the speed and type.

Next, I started to contact some of the contractors, and that got interesting in a hurry, too. I was told by the companies, unanimously, that such studies by private citizens are illegal. Only CalTrans can do such studies. Not even the CHP can do them unless they are writing tickets at the same time.

I talked to a bunch of folks, and the only excuse I could get was that "...the citizens of California have a right to expect privacy as they are traveling the state's freeways..." I won't even abbreviate this. What the fuck does that mean?

It soon became clear that the real reason is that the State of California does not want the public to know just how inept they actually are.

So, never being one to care too much about breaking nonsensical laws, I pressed on...

I contacted one the contractors and made a deal. No one will know who the company is. I claim protection under freedom of the press. Besides, all records have been destroyed and the money to pay them—not a trivial amount, by the way—went through more front companies and offshore banks than most drug cartels use. So, don't ask.

What the firm did for me was to set up three radar and traffic camera systems around the state. All were set up on private properties, off of the freeway right-of-way, and along sections of Interstate highways. One was in northern California, another in the central part of the state, and the third not far from where I live in southern California. The systems ran for sixty days, seven days a week, and twenty-four hours a day using night-vision systems. All of the sites were on fairly level, straight sections of road.

What I got from them were a bunch of pictures of vehicles with the license plates fuzzed out and the date, time, and speed superimposed on the photos. Honestly, the photos were very low quality, and that's just fine. What I wanted to know was what type of vehicle it was and how fast it was going. They were good enough for that.

Notice that I am speaking of the pictures in the past tense. That's deliberate. They too have been destroyed. They were provided to me on a series of memory cards and after statistical analysis, the cards were erased, crushed, and finally burned. No chance of recovering that data.


For the analysis, I threw out any vehicles that looked like some kind of an emergency vehicle. That included police cars, fire equipment, ambulances, and vehicles that looked like one of those. Yes, I probably tossed out some tow trucks and the like, but I would rather error on the side of missing a few than including a CHP officer on a call doing 90 MPH.

I used the definition of "truck" as used by the State of California for traffic laws. In a nutshell, a "truck" is any vehicle with three or more axles. Notice that includes cars pulling a trailer. In California, vehicles with only two axles can drive 70 MPH on the sections of freeway we monitored. Those vehicles with three or more axles have a maximum speed limit of 55 MPH.

Here are the numbers for the three areas...

Area          Cars         Under       Over        Trucks    Under    Over
1                 67,592    39,490     28,102     25,008   11,439   13,569
2               155,167    80,478     74,689     64,391   26,779   37,612
3                 89,731    43,441     46,290     35,433   14,381   21,052

TOTALS  312,490   163,409  149,081   124,832    52,599   72,233

You can study the numbers all day if you like, but the fact is that nearly 48% of the cars were exceeding the posted speed limits and almost 58% of the trucks were doing the same.

Is there anyone who thinks this is safe? I sure don't, but there is another, perhaps more important, facet to the deal...

We're losing money.

Traffic fines in California, as in other states, vary wildly based on a number of factors. The biggest one of concern here is that there are not only state fines but county and local fines as well. For the purpose of this example, I'm going to use the general idea that a speeding ticket will cost the driver about $400. That is about the accepted average for the state.

Now, let's do the math...using the numbers from the study, there were 221,314 vehicles speeding over the sixty days we looked at. That comes to an income to the state for that period of $88,525,600. And remember that this is for only three small areas for two months.

If we extrapolate the data to cover the entire state, we come up with about 15-million vehicles and around $5.9-billion in fines. Yes, that's BILLIONS of dollars.

The argument for not enforcing the speed limit always takes one of two forms...

(1) We Can't Afford To Enforce The Law: Sorry, but we can't afford not to enforce it. If we use the actual numbers—as opposed to the extrapolated figures—we find that we could hire at least 7,500 CHP officers at the top of the pay scale in the three locations we looked at. What? We don't need that many CHP officers in those three counties? How about we hire another 3,000 officers (1,000 in each county) and a bunch of court people to deal with the new caseload? Oh...still too many people? OK, try this on for size...we hire 150 more officers, a bunch of court and DMV people, and put the rest of the money into the general revenue fund? I figure that these three locations could put better than $50-million into the state's coffers each year, after we hire the extra people.

(2) It's Not Fair To Enforce Speeding Laws: What the fuck does that mean? Yeah, I skipped the abbreviation again. Is it fair to enforce, say, shoplifting laws? What about child abuse laws? How about domestic violence? What about murder? See my point here? The law is the law. It must be enforced. Speeding laws are there to protect everyone. As the old saying goes, speed kills. Some nutcase doing 90 on the freeway, weaving back and forth to pass cars driving the speed limit, is endangering us all. I can promise you that a few tickets will slow his ass WAY down.

Oh, by the way...

None of the above even addresses how many other violations the increased enforcement of speed limits would turn up. Things like DUI (anyone doubt that's dangerous?), suspended licenses, non-registered vehicles, uninsured cars, and many more would all be brought to the attention of officers who could then take appropriate actions to protect everyone, even the violators.

Right now, California has a hole in the state budget that gives us better than $25-billion in deficits. Statewide enforcement of the speed limits alone could pay off that deficit in less than five years, even after expanding law enforcement agencies and courts to deal with the increased load.

This is a win-win-win deal, folks...

The law-abiding public wins because we are safer on the roads and our state has the income needed to survive.

The state wins because the deficit can be paid off quickly.

The violators even win because their risky behaviors are intercepted and they are forced to live a little longer.

Keep Loving!

Melodee Aaron, Erotica Romance Author
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