Jenkins: Yes, people in Raleigh really are speeding

January 16, 2013 

People. Not worth a hoot. This was the conclusion your correspondent reached after the holidays, when the route to work through a business and then a residential section of Raleigh, including two school zones, provided clear and undeniable evidence that people ... are not worth a hoot.

We speak of speeders. The horn-honking, tailgating, finger-wagging jerks we encountered for 10 days in a row who were merrily doing 45 miles an hour through streets with school limits of 25 and regular limits of 35. We decided that, lacking a James Bond-style Aston Martin sports car with those little swords on the wheels to shred tires and an oil slick dispenser out the back, we would call Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen to alert him to this problem or to see whether he had a spare Aston Martin sitting around.

“Funny you should mention this,” Allen said before reporting that, this very week, the council was to receive a report on speeding done by a public relations executive, Scott Misner, who also teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Misner used the issue as a project for his students and on Tuesday presented the results to the council.

It would not be accurate to say that Misner, a soft-spoken fellow, and his students, who did a terrific job, came to the same not-worth-a-hoot conclusion, but their findings and suggestions for a public awareness campaign are sound and should be adopted by the council forthwith.

Consider some results: Of all ages, 64 percent admit to speeding. Of those over 60, the number drops to 40 percent. Half of the respondents said they believed speeding was justified. Over 70 percent of those 60 and over said it was not justified. About half overall thought concern about speeding was very relevant or extremely relevant. Of those over 60, again more than 70 percent thought the issue was relevant or very relevant.

So there you have it. No Aston Martin needed. The solution to Raleigh’s speeding problem has never been more clear:

No licenses for those under 60!

Unfortunately, when we presented this to a group of distinguished community leaders, it failed to draw much support.

“I need younger folks to buy my guitars and basses,” said a musical instrument dealer.

“Most of my bar customers are 30 and under,” said a pub owner.

“My son is 35 and my grandson is 5. I would miss them,” offered a grandfather.

“Are you going to come over and help me move Saturday?” asked another.

In a spirit of forgiveness and understanding common in those of us who are 60 and older, we decided that a public campaign as suggested by Misner and his group might be a better alternative.

“In Your Hands” would be the “brand” as it’s called in the public relations and marketing business, and it would attempt to raise public awareness through all forms of media and by using it on speed limit signs. One hoped-for result would be to make people aware that they can do something about speeding and the danger that (yes, you aggressive drivers) comes with it.

That speed is a factor in fatalities is a simple fact. That it puts pedestrians at a far greater risk than they might find in a situation in which people really are obeying the limit is true.

Lt. Tim Tomczak of the Raleigh Police Department thinks most people don’t consider that speed can turn an ordinary fender-bender into a dangerous crash. He adds that another misconception about speeding is that law officers are “squishy on 10 miles over the limit or below. That’s not true. We give tickets for less than that all the time.”

Tomczak also notes that the penalty for speeding in a school zone is a $250 fine plus court costs. And the Raleigh P.D. has motorcycle officers all over school neighborhoods, especially those where lots of kids are walking to and from school.

The notions expressed in response to some of the UNC-CH group’s leg work were simply silly: People speed because they think the people behind them are pushing them to go faster; they speed because they think 5 or 10 miles an hour over the limit is no big deal; they’re just trying to go with the flow of traffic; they think they won’t get caught.

Ah, but understand: Speeding is against the law. And laws are not multiple choice, with citizens getting to pick and choose which ones they’ll obey and which they’ll ignore. (“Sure, I robbed the pizza joint, but I was hungry. Pleading not guilty due to hunger, your honor!”)

In Your Hands might make a difference. If it doesn’t, there’s always extradition for all you whippersnappers 59 and under.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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