Slow; outrage ahead

Staff WriterMay 25, 2007 

The 14 Triangle residents seated in a room in a Glenwood Avenue office building in Raleigh on Saturday didn't realize it at the time, but the group was probably making history.

After the recent News & Observer series showing in human and statistical detail how speeders often get off with a wink and a nod, the 14 of us -- yes, I was in that number -- may have been the last group of Tar Heel leadfoots able to escape jail or at least insurance points and a hefty fine simply by taking a defensive-driving course.

Legislators who read the week of stories on serial speeders have vowed to close the loopholes through which they drove. And drove. And drove.

A Senate committee has already proposed limiting "improper equipment" pleas to twice within five years and not at all for drivers going 30 mph over the posted speed limit.

Not Draconian measures, but a good first step toward making our roads safer.

Even that was unnecessary, though. I would've bet my autographed Richard Petty campaign sticker that judges were already planning to drop the hammer on speeders.

Black-robed jurists must've been embarrassed by revelations that motorists who pose an undeniable danger to society -- drag racers and booze hounds among them -- were often able to retain their licenses with no points well past the point of prudence.

A judge in Greensboro handed out prayers for judgment continued -- the judicial equivalent of "get on out of my courtroom and sin no more, dude" -- like a heavy-handed pastor handing out wafers during communion. Some recipients of his benevolence were caught going more than 100 mph. Oy.

No more endless "improper equipment" or "prayer for judgment," and finally, no more defensive-driving classes in lieu of recorded speeding tickets.

That's the four-hour, court-mandated National Safety Council class we sat through on an otherwise beautiful Saturday.

Compared with going to jail or hearing your insurance agent say, "This won't hurt a bit," the class was painless. Painless, that is, if you discount the hit to your pocketbook -- you had to pay a lawyer to get the class and $50 to take it -- or to your pride. Some of us were ashamed that we'd disobeyed the law, while others expressed shame that they didn't notice the cop in time to ease up on the gas.

Despite our unanimous lack of enthusiasm when the class began, we learned things that could save lives. For instance, we learned that the risk of death in a wreck doubles for each 10 mph you drive over 50 mph. Many drivers on I-40 obviously don't know that you should maintain a three-second distance, since they often look as though they're in your back seat when you check your mirror.

We also learned, Speed Racer, that before you make a pass, ask yourself, "Why am I passing?"

Do that, and chances are you won't.

You know how the state police like to come up with catchy slogans like "Booze It & Lose It" or "Click It or Ticket"?

After the N&O series on speeding, the new slogan could be something like "Hey! We're Not Playing Anymore." Or, better yet, "Slow Down, Clown, or Go Downtown."

Reach Barry at 836-2811 or

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