By on March 22, 2010

Enforcing laws against victimless crimes is never easy. Limited resources force local governments to constantly assess their law-enforcement priorities, assigning the squad cars and jail beds to the most pressing problems facing their jurisdiction. The problems that don’t make the cut? Unless there’s a revenue motive at play (see: red light cameras, speed cameras), local law enforcement often has little choice but to tolerate the breaking, or under-enforcement of certain laws. Which begs the question: on a scale of, say, murder to marijuana possession, just how bad is speeding?

It’s a question that the fair city of Chicago is grappling with right now, following an investigative report by the Tribune that shows:

For hundreds of motorists caught driving that fast every year, court supervision helps keep their insurance rates low while stopping officials from using the tickets as a reason to suspend their licenses… A Tribune analysis of state police tickets, license data and court records shows that since 2006, Chicagoland courts have given supervision to nearly two-thirds of those found guilty of driving 100 mph or faster.

The implication: citizens of Chicago can speed with impunity. But then, what motorist sees speed limits as being as important as, say, laws against theft or assault? Luckily, the Trib’s exposé isn’t about legal theory, or even the devastating effects of unpunished speeding… it’s pure political gotcha.

Judges across the area defended supervision as a helpful alternative to conviction, but some were surprised at how often their peers handed it out. Also surprised was the state’s keeper of driving records: Secretary of State Jesse White. Citing the Tribune’s findings, White now wants to ban supervision for extreme speeders.

Not because the state doesn’t have bigger law-enforcement priorities, or because road deaths are disproportionately due to speeders (winter conditions and drunk drivers are the big killers on area roads). Or because serial supervision-receivers aren’t being targeted (a 2005 law forbids more than two supervisions per driver per year). The IIHS’s Russ Rader does bring up a good point when he argues that “a lot of what these (supervision) programs effectively do is hide the records of careless, reckless drivers.” But what neither he, nor the now on-the-warpath White want to face are the real reasons for the popularity of the court supervision program for speeders. A local judge explains:

Some judges do 7,000 cases a month, and you have municipalities who are as interested in revenue as they are in a conviction.

Ah, the old “R” word. In addition to community service and a probationary period, court supervision usually involves a larger fine than might otherwise be levied. In essence, it’s a plea deal that pays for itself (if you speed often enough) by keeping a conviction from running up your insurance premium. The court brings in revenue, and drivers caught breaking a law that every citizen breaks at least once if they drive often enough, get to move on with their lives. Where’s the problem?

White will try to change that. Based on the Tribune’s findings, his office helped draft a bill last week to ban supervision for people going at least 40 mph over the speed limit. Because most area interstates have 55 mph limits, it would cover the vast majority of the area’s triple-digit speeders.

“No driver has any business driving that rate of speed,” said White spokesman Henry Haupt.

Note that he didn’t say “no driver is capable of safely driving at that rate of speed.” This is acutally important, considering that the Tribune caps off its politician-riling muckraking with a fittingly inapplicable example:

In July 2008, Johnson’s Lexus sped past a trooper at 110 mph while weaving along I-57 near Dixmoor, before exiting and hitting 105 mph on a side street. Police said his blood-alcohol level was 0.120, which is 50 percent higher than the legal limit.

In the eight previous years, Johnson had received five supervisions on six speeding tickets.

Still, a judge waived the state-mandated six-month driver suspension for the DUI arrest. Then another judge gave the Bourbonnais man supervision for two years. Illinois law allows supervision for a first-time DUI. In exchange, Johnson agreed to pay $1,035 in fines and promised to follow the law.

But in June 2009, while on supervision, Johnson was clocked at 100 mph on I-57 in Markham. He never showed up in court and remains missing. To date, no judge has revoked the court-approved supervision for his high-speed DUI.

You see, the problem isn’t the non-enforcement of DUI laws, it’s the non-enforcement of speeding laws. Johnson shouldn’t have received supervision because he was driving over 100 mph, not because he was drunk off his face. Good thing we have newspapers like the Chicago Tribune to set our law-enforcement priorities straight. And good thing we have politicians as spineless as White to be cowed into embarrassed, unthinking knee-jerk reactions. Otherwise the good people of Chicago might think that speeding isn’t always necessarily an endangerment of others, and is therefore a less urgent law enforcement priority than, say, driving drunk. And God help us if that ever happens.

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27 Comments on “Chicago Tribune: No Probation For “Extreme Speeders”...”


  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    “No driver has any business driving that rate of speed,” said White spokesman Henry Haupt.

    It’s pretty hard to disagree with that.

    Note that he didn’t say “no driver is capable of safely driving at that rate of speed.” This is acutally important,

    No, it actually isn’t important, because few drivers are capable of driving safely at that speed in traffic conditions. Some are, but the vast majority, no.

    If you’re going to channel Car and Driver, circa 1973 at least try to justify speeding at double digits, rather than triple.

  • avatar
    imag

    Dynamic88: People drive over 100 mph in traffic conditions all the time on the autobahn without mass death. And who’s to say every speeder in court was doing it “in traffic conditions”? They could have been speeding in an open road at 5 am on a Sunday.

    On an open road, driving over 100 mph in just about any well-maintained modern luxury or sports car is much safer than driving 55 was in 1950’s era death traps.

    The problem with these mandates is that they can’t take road conditions into account. People get passes for violent crimes all the time. Should they be treated worse for driving 102 in the middle of the night in farmland? I think that was the point behind TTAC’s original phrasing.

  • avatar
    DanM

    If traffic is moving at 65mph and you’re driving at 100, then you’re driving unsafe. Regardless of your personal skills on a track, I have to agree that “no driver has any business driving at that rate of speed”.

    Here in SoCal, it’s common to have freeways run at 75mph average withthe fast-lane at 80+ …. but the folks who bob & weave through traffic at tripple-digits deserve the tickets they get. If “supervision” is no longer an allowed punishment, may I suggest forced lawn-mowing with steel 1960’s era lawnmowers as a suitable deterrent.

    • 0 avatar
      Disaster

      Agreed. I recall a report that showed difference in speed was a much bigger factor in accidents than just speed.

      I am also embarrassed to admit I contributed to that statistic when I was younger and dumber. I was driving to work at around 90mph when a person moved over, right in front of me…at about 50mph. It wasn’t his fault. I’m sure it was clear when he looked back there…but at our speed difference…it quickly wasn’t.

      I slammed the brakes but had no where to go (was in the left lane and all other lanes were full.) I tried to squeeze by left of the car…but there wasn’t enough room and I scrapped into the wall and began a series of spins and bounces off that same wall till I came to a stop…having deformed every single side of the car and left both bumpers on the road. One thing that stuck with me, from that incident was how well the other drivers handled it. Not one single other person hit anyone or the parts of my car that were strewn all over the freeway.

      The funniest part was what happened afterwards. I collected all my parts (threw them in the hatch) and crawled over to the right side of the road (yeah, it was driveable…barely.) As I was sitting in the car, pondering my next move, a police car pulled up behind me with the lights on. I thought for sure I’d get a ticket for reckless driving or at least have some serious explaining to do. He walked up to my car and asked, “Son, were you just in an accident.” I looked him straight in the eye and instinctively lied, “No officer, I’m taking the car to get repaired.” He looked me and the car over and said, “OK”…and drove off. He probably was thankful not to have to do the paperwork.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    imag

    The autobahn comparison is beside the point, as we do not have anything like it. I assume we are talking about the real USA, not some fictional German-ized version.

    The Autobahn is well maintained. That makes it different than 90% of US roads. Germans pass only on the left (at least on the autobahn). Americans are unaware that lane position has anything at all to do with speed, or passing.

    The bit about ’50s era death traps is also beside the point because, though true, few people are driving ’50s cars on any regular basis. It’s also beside the point because the fact that driving fast in a modern car is safer than some other activities doesn’t justify anything.

    As for driving at triple digits at night, that seems like a bad idea to me. Unless you have some really really good driving lights. I be more persuaded to allow driving at 100 during daylight hours.

    The comparison with serious crime is also unpersuasive, at least to me. Even if your claim that “people get passes for violent crime all the time” is true, how does that justify endangering others by driving at triple digit speeds?

    If you want to say people should be able to run 100 on I-80 in Nebraska on a Sunday morning after daybreak, I can go along with that. Somehow, I don’t really think that’s what we’re talking about.

    • 0 avatar
      CC_Stadt

      >>The Autobahn is well maintained. That makes it different than 90% of US roads.<<

      As someone who has driven for several years both on the German Autobahn and on cratered Chicago-area roads, I think your point is extremely well-taken. Speed disparity of 40 mph+ when you have drivers swerving to avoid potholes is not a pretty picture.

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      Dynamics,

      The autobahn comparison is not beside the point. It says that vehicles can be operated over 100 mph safely, under certain circumstances.

      Likewise, the ’50s automobile is also not beside the point. Many people would see nothing wrong with driving a ’50’s automobile on a crowded highway at 65 miles per hour. Those same people will cry bloody murder at someone driving “triple digits” on an empty highway in a modern sports car. The truth is that the first one, the acceptable activity, is much less safe, but we don’t put people in jail for it. That makes it relevant.

      And we’re totally agreed: driving 100 mph in traffic is exceedingly dangerous.

      However, the point of this whole article is that people want to take away judicial oversight. They want to take away the ability of the judge to judge when the high speed was equivalent to a violent crime deserving of a prison sentence (like, say, when someone is weaving through rush-hour traffic at 110), or when it is a more minor infraction (like when someone is cruising along an open highway on an early Sunday morning on their way to Wisconsin). Judges are there exactly for that kind of sentencing decision. People want to take their oversight away. So that is exactly what we’re talking about. And I, for one, think that we should give judges the ability to decide the punishment for a given crime, depending upon the severity of the crime. Knee-jerk “triple digit speeds are always death!” reactions are what take away our freedom of discernment.

      Dan M – if you think that 100 mph is always dangerous, all the time, you simply cannot have ever been on a 20 mile long, dead-straight highway in the Southwest in any modern sports or luxury car. You can go that fast in any modern BMW, Porsche, Lexus (car, not SUV), Infiniti, Audi, Merc, on that kind of road and be driving very very safely, as long as there are no other cars around. In fact, my guess is that it’s safer than driving 40 mph in bumper-to-bumper traffic in a crowded city. If you’re saying that triple-digit speeds are only an issue in traffic, then see my response above.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    In July 2008, Johnson’s Lexus sped past a trooper at 110 mph while weaving along I-57 near Dixmoor, before exiting and hitting 105 mph on a side street. Police said his blood-alcohol level was 0.120, which is 50 percent higher than the legal limit.

    Welcome to Chicago. That this POS got a $1k fine and probation for what is effectively reckless endangerment speaks for itself.

    It seems like even common sense laws regarding driver behavior have morphed into just another revenue stream – those who can buy their way out do.

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      If the judge made a bad judgement, and it sounds like he did, then by all means, GO AFTER THAT JUDGE!

      A single, or multiple, bad judgments doe not mean that we should just get rid of every single judge’s ability to judge in all cases. That is the point here.

      I swear, it’s like people want to give up their freedoms…

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      Judicial discretion, as practiced in many states, is a way for those who “know someone” to get off easy. It needs to be limited by a strong legislature – which, obviously, The Land of Blagovitch lacks…

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      I learned that America valued protecting the innocent over punishing the guilty. That’s why we got away from that whole, “guilty until proven innocent” thing.

      Sure, an “innocent until proven guilty” policy means that some guilty people get away, scot-free. But it also means you are less likely to put innocent people away.

      In this case, your desire to punish the well-connected could put people in prison don’t really deserve a prison sentence. I think we’re better off erring on the side of freedom and, if we have effort to spend, trying to limit corruption. That seems better to me than taking away everyone’s right to just punishment in order to prevent corruption.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    I know that my comment is going to get moderated but I can’t help myself.

    @Dynamic88
    I realize that your v@gina starts seeping so heavily at 66 mph that you can no longer maintain control of your vehicle, but some of us are actually capable of reaching the rev limiter/governor without randomly crashing into things for no reason.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      LOL. I’m not offended. I hope the mods let you slide.

      I’ve driven at 100 (105 according to the speedo) but rarely, and only where there is no traffic. I doubt anyone gets through their teenage years w/o doing that.

      I’m 53 now, and I no longer drive tiple digits. I don’t need to prove anything.

      Most of the people I see speeding -and I’m talking about people who are going 30+ above the posted limit- do not appear to be above average drivers, nor driving above average cars, nor driving where there is no traffic – otherwise I wouldn’t see them.

      I’ve seen too many high speed crashes to believe everyone is above average – even in Lake Woebegone.

  • avatar
    imag

    Okay, since we have the scare tactic example from one side, perhaps a few from other side will make the case for why mandatory sentencing is bad:

    1. A guy is driving his wife to the hospital. She’s bleeding after a home birth that went bad. He’s on an empty highway in an M3. He touches 102. Cop pulls him over. He is now going to prison for multiple years for trying to get his wife to the hospital.

    2. A woman is coming home from work. A guy made a comment about her as she got into her car, then began following her in his F150. She heads onto the highway and he keeps pulling up next to her, trying to make her pull over. She again speeds up to escape. Result: prison for her.

    3. A couple of 18-year-olds are out driving at night. One of them convinces the other to go over 100 mph on a straight road in the farmland. They do. They get caught. I’m sorry, but the kid should not be going to prison for something we all have done once.

    In all of the above cases, eliminating the ability to judge results in a sentence harsher than what is called for. Prison for multiple years is life-ruining. It is a big. Freaking. Deal. We should understand that the 18 year old kid probably doesn’t need to go to jail for years to learn his lesson. We should probably realize that there are extenuating circumstances.

    As soon as we get into that law-and-order “put ‘em in jail!” mode, we end up with more people in prison per capita than any other non-totalitarian state on earth (and more than even most of them). It’s not reasonable, and as the article brings up, there are many worse crimes which are not prosecuted to the fullest extent. We should probably worry about those first.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      Good job. But for full Oprah-grade emotionalism, you should have referenced Singapore’s execution of minor drug peddlers.

      Did anyone write anything about putting people in jail for multiple years for speeding or DUI???

      How about giving a DUI offender on probation ONE weekend in jail a month. They could make room in the state budget by dropping Viagra for Medicaid… But that’s not gonna effin happen.

  • avatar
    Facebook User

    I drive regularly in the Chicago area (mostly north of, but still..) as I work in a suburb touching the northern border of Chicago.

    I go from 15 minutes south of the wisconsin line at 5:15am via 94 down to where 94/294 split & follow 94 to route 41 & take green bay road to work. This ENTIRE section of road had a lane added like 6 months ago. Potholes are few & far between. NOBODY & I mean NOBODY goes under 65 (65 = limit + 10). Most people go 75-80. Very few people go over 85….. A lot of this is fairly well lit as well (not counting the spur). There is no reason that this road shouldn’t have a limit of at least 75 outside of revenue. On top of this, at 5:15, I see a cop car maybe 3 times per month. On the way home at 4:30pm or so, people drive slower (more traffic) but drive 55-65 one car length apart, which IMHO is 10x more dangerous and should be ticketed.

    What I don’t understand is that with modern technology, why aren’t speed signs dynamic? Use traffic sensors, make the limit signs digital & adjust the speed limit accordingly due to traffic flow & time of day. It would be pretty easy to write the changes to say flash memory inside the sign or to a central server so when tickets are issued you can match them against the speed at that time of day.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    I drive regularly in the Chicago area (mostly north of, but still..) as I work in a suburb touching the northern border of Chicago.

    I go from 15 minutes south of the wisconsin line at 5:15am via 94 down to where 94/294 split & follow 94 to route 41 & take green bay road to work. This ENTIRE section of road had a lane added like 6 months ago. Potholes are few & far between. NOBODY & I mean NOBODY goes under 65 (65 = limit + 10). Most people go 75-80. Very few people go over 85….. A lot of this is fairly well lit as well (not counting the spur). There is no reason that this road shouldn’t have a limit of at least 75 outside of revenue. On top of this, at 5:15, I see a cop car maybe 3 times per month. On the way home at 4:30pm or so, people drive slower (more traffic) but drive 55-65 one car length apart, which IMHO is 10x more dangerous and should be ticketed.

    What I don’t understand is that with modern technology, why aren’t speed signs dynamic? Use traffic sensors, make the limit signs digital & adjust the speed limit accordingly due to traffic flow & time of day. It would be pretty easy to write the changes to say flash memory inside the sign or to a central server so when tickets are issued you can match them against the speed at that time of day.

    • 0 avatar
      Joshua Johnson

      I completely agree. But that would only make too much sense, and we can’t have that now can we.

    • 0 avatar
      Martin Schwoerer

      We got those dynamic speed signs here in Europe; they’re all over the place on the local autobahns I often drive on. They say traffic and accidents have been greatly reduced since their introduction, but it all feels the same to me.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Congratulations for brightening my morning with some (unintended) humor — with the aid of certain posters.

    Folks, we are talking about Chicago here, not the Nevada desert! For all of you Jackie Stewart/Dannica Patrick wannabes who boast that you “can control your car” at 100 miles an hour, what about the guy you’re closing from the rear 35 – 40 miles an hour? You expect him to see you in his mirrors (maybe when you’re behind him on a curve) as he pulls out to pass a slow truck doing 55? Doesn’t he have the right NOT to expect some boy racer to be closing him at the rate of 40 miles an hour when he checks his mirror before pulling into the passing lane?

    Really, all of you guys should be sentenced to five years driving a 1982 Mercedes 240D (observed top speed 68 mph).

    Yeah, your point about the drunk is well-taken. He should be stripped of his license and, if he keeps driving, put in the cooler. But I have a tough time working up any sympathy for folks who hit the triple digits in metropolitan areas.

    And, let’s face it, American boy and girl racers, unless you’re a real race car driver, if it were water, the amount of experience you have driving at triple digit speeds wouldn’t fill a thimble. That you are able to keep your car on the road and in your lane at 100 mph isn’t the point. Something gets goofy at those speeds — a tire failure, some debris in the road — and you have no conception of the magnitude of the forces you’re dealing with. Finally, I might add, from having driven some of them and read road tests of others — there are quite a number of US and Japanese made cars whose brakes don’t come close to being adequate to the cars’ speed capabilities, and that’s assuming they’ve been maintained correctly and don’t have warped rotors or worn pads.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @DC Bruce: +1.

      I think after a certain age you realize just how much havoc you can wreak with speeding of this magnitude, or just maybe certain self-preservation instincts kick in and you realize this behavior is a very bad idea.

      On top of your comment about the brakes of many cars not being up to Autobahn standards, I’m reminded of the accidents I had witnessed on the Autobahn. At high speeds, only the best constructed cars survive, along with their drivers. But, the accidents leave one hell of a mess and you wonder how anyone comes out of those things. They are a potent visual reminder that one little screw up at those speeds can have a high cost.

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      Do you like inventing straw men. You seem very good at it.

      First, you “quoted” something no one said.

      Second, you implied that people were saying it was okay to speed in traffic, something no one implied, and some (including me) actively decried.

      Third, you bring up the fact that many cars are unsafe at those speeds as some kind of revelation. Your discussion of warped rotors does not change the fact that every current *sports* or *luxury* (not economy) car sold in this country will be able to go from 100 to 0 in a panic stop without warped rotors. Seriously – name one case where that’s not true. Maybe a Lincoln MKZ?

      You bring up points to be offended by, but no one actually made the points you find so offensive. Maybe that’s why you’re laughing.

      And meanwhile, you never address the actual issue, which is the dispensation of judicial oversight.

  • avatar
    wellsnj26

    As someone who drives in Chicago pretty much every day, I feel like I should point out that the times and places where you could even dream of hitting 100mph here are few and far between. Our roads are so crammed full of stop signs, traffic lights (and associated cameras), pedestrians, bicycles, and potholes, it’s like a living drivers’ ed video. Michigan Ave. (pictured above) is a parking lot for taxis. I say if we can find a spot of open road, during the two and a half months where the expressways are warm, clean, and dry, we should be allowed to go for it.

  • avatar

    Speed doesn’t kill, speed variance kills. If everyone was going 100 it might work, but they aren’t.

    And what the hell is “supervision” anyway/ Does the judge ride along with them when they drive?

    John

  • avatar
    res

    In my own experience (having done both), it takes more cohones to drive the posted speed limit than to do triple-digits…

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    I’ll stop taking my well-maintained, safely designed high performance European performance sedan into triple-digit speedland on wide open, well-designed roads (where I can find them) on clear-weather days with no traffic….when they pry the keys from my cold, dead hands.

  • avatar
    thecavanaughs

    Right On! A hundred miles an hour, baby, howling at the moon, top down, beer in one hand, stick shift in the other, and a hitchhiker tied up in the trunk- good times! That’s all fine and good if you live in Chicago, where you can’t get a license revoked for trying. But the rest of us need an alternative for those manly urges. So, when I feel the devil-may-care alcohol, hell-raising, and motorsport urges all at once, I have a solution. I get completely lacquered and watch Top Gear with my son’s Nintendo steering wheel clamped to the coffee table in front of me, screaming “Now I’m the Stig, suckers!”
    Works like a charm- no speeding tickets so far. Try it- you’ll thank me.


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