Catching up with speeders

Being the editor has its advantages: I got to have the speeding-and-safety debate with my husband ahead of time, while our series "Speed Unlimited" was still taking shape.

Pat Stith and David Raynor helped me prove to my skeptical home audience that speeders do indeed have more wrecks than law-abiders -- and then some.

That's not all you'll learn from the series running today, Tuesday, Thursday and next Sunday in The N&O. Stith, Raynor and Mandy Locke will show you how few consequences there are for people who go really fast, often, as well as for those who go really fast once in a while.

You might expect people who play race driver multiple times to suffer higher insurance costs, lose their licenses or be forced to slow down. The series shows otherwise and pinpoints the policies and the people accountable.

Stith and Raynor analyzed state Highway Patrol speeding tickets back to the mid-1990s and looked at court cases over five years using a second set of data. They got going on the investigation after hearing anecdotes that speeding wasn't being prosecuted in North Carolina.

Stith estimates he talked with about 115 people -- traffic engineers, bureaucrats, insurance experts, Highway Patrol officials, safety experts and others. Locke interviewed speeders, including one in prison, and relatives of people killed by speeders.

Raynor analyzed data, working with Stith to understand what was happening in North Carolina with speeding. They learned that troopers are writing tickets faster than ever and that courts are knocking down charges just as fast.

Steve Riley, a deputy managing editor who directs our investigative reporting, led a team of reporters, researchers, visual journalists and copy editors on the speeding project.

Last week, as Riley's team fact-checked its work line by line, Deputy Managing Editor Dan Barkin was busy helping another set of contributors: readers who responded to notes in The N&O asking what they knew about speeding on our highways.

Phil Revis of North Wilkesboro, N.C., described his trips between the Triangle and Winston-Salem on Interstate 40/85: "It's not at all uncommon to see drivers going 80 to 90 mph. If you don't move for them they shake their fists, flash their lights and so on."

Barkin says we asked people to share their speeding stories to expand the information in "Speed Unlimited." We received more than 140 responses, he said, some from people who had learned to beat the enforcement system, others "from motorists who are afraid to drive the highways because they have turned into high-speed racetracks."

With The N&O team's reporting and our readers' contributions, "Speed Unlimited" blows away any argument over whether North Carolina has a highway speeding problem.

What next? Read on and weigh in -- or just wave to that next fellow going by at 110.