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Published March 25, 2016

North Carolina To Drivers: Obey The Sign Or Pay The Fine

Have you paid your Speeding Tax yet? What, never heard of it? That’s because it went by another name in the NCDOT’s press release Thursday morning, “Obey The Sign Or Pay The Fine.” This initiative is an annual speed enforcement blitz that seeks to crack down on unsafe driving.

The original press release included a quote spokesman Jonathan Bandy pulled verbatim from the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration’s (NTHSA) website, claiming the blitz “zeros in on drivers traveling over the posted speed limit. Many Americans believe they won’t be ticketed if they drive within a ‘buffer zone’ above the posted speed limit.”

Many North Carolina drivers, if not the majority, habitually drive in this “buffer zone,” or 1-9 MPH above the posted limit without consequence or injury.

Hearing that specific quote certainly sounds like police will start pulling over drivers drivers in the “buffer zone.” ABC 11 saw this language and reported it with the headline “Speeders Beware, Law Enforcement Is Cracking Down.” In the short article, ABC 11 told us to watch out, police officers will no longer ignore drivers going 67 MPH on I-440. Social media flipped out, reasoning that it would flood the courts with inconsequential tickets, slow traffic to crawling speeds, and increase frustration and road rage. Others claimed the 1-9 blitz was an easy revenue stream. A Speeder Tax. Later Thursday afternoon, an NCDOT spokesperson reached out and clarified the intent of the annual blitz.

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“The intention of this campaign was to never have a story that ABC 11 ran that people will get pulled for going one to nine miles over the speed limit,” Bandy said. “But the speed limit is the law, and people should abide by it.”

Translation: “Whoops, we didn’t mean to say that out loud. Our bad. You guys keep doing what you’re doing.”

In the updated press release, an NCDOT spokesperson backtracked and focused on its original message of “speeding kills.” NCDOT insisted that officers would not be changing tactics, despite the language of their original press release specifically mentioning the 1-9 MPH “buffer zone.”

Regardless, the annual enforcement blitz will be out in full force. Officers will be keeping a closer eye on the roads for “clear-cut” speeders during Easter weekend, when a lot of folks travel to visit family. It seems unlikely that a zero-tolerance policy is in effect, and more likely that news and media organizations misinterpreted the language.

Still, this raises a question. Why does this unspoken contract between drivers and police officers even exist? Surely if we wanted our drivers to go slower, we would just adjust the posted limits to match our concerns. Conversely, if we really wanted to acknowledge that driving 70 MPH in a 65 zone can be safe, we would raise the limit instead. Why do we allow ambiguity if the goal is safety?

In a European study, researchers found that the largest factor that led to speeding was the belief that speeding was safe because other drivers sped, too. This NTHSA report found similar motivations, which were linked highly to local attitudes and situational factors. These factors include things like having other people in the car, road hazards, the visibility of police– or in other words, the common distractions of the environment in which we drive.

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The weird thing is, accidents happen more often when vehicles pass each other, no matter what speed they’re going. In fact, according to that study, accidents happen more when the passing vehicles are moving at a lower average speed. In a way, this makes sense. Most accidents don’t happen from one vehicle losing control at insanely fast speeds on the highway; they happen in cluttered, moderate-speed traffic, where there are more vehicles, signs, pedestrians, road hazards, and other things to keep track of. No one can track everything, and those of us who are bad at paying attention are at a higher risk in these locations. If there’s a higher percentage of drivers in a given area, there’s a higher percentage of drivers who are less skilled at paying attention. Speed has little to do with it.

North Carolina To Drivers - Obey The Sign Or Pay The Fine - 1

So maybe that’s why there’s ambiguity around the “buffer zone.” Maybe deep down, we all know that reducing speeding is not the be-all, end-all in road safety. Instead, we need to know our routes, avoid using phones, use our signals, and keep an wise eye on our surroundings.

Safe driving, everyone. Don’t speed too much getting to Grandma’s house.

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  • Greg Trombley

    Greg

  • I'm an RDU-based novelist and passionate champion of scientific progression. Nature and science live side-by-side in my heart. I clean dinosaur bones in my spare time, and love reading about local history. All my articles.

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