More than a year after Maine lowered speeding fines out of concern over the cost of tickets, it’s time to consider the cost of the lives that are lost and permanently damaged by speeding drivers.

On July 23, 2018, the fines for speeding infractions of 1 to 19 mph over the posted speed limit were lowered approximately 15 percent. A Maine Judicial Branch Violations Bureau study had shown that Maine’s fines were higher than penalties in other states in New England. The Maine Chiefs of Police Association told the Press Herald that the high fines were probably the reason officers gave more warnings than tickets. In the reasoning behind the reduction, it was stated that the lower fine would probably result in more tickets being issued by the police.

A year has now passed with reduced fines, and there has been no increase in the number of tickets issued. In fact, according to the Violations Bureau, aggregate traffic violation citations are down by “a pronounced level.”  The bureau stated that it is difficult to identify a single cause for the decrease in tickets; however, there has been no corresponding decrease in road crashes and no fewer miles traveled. Therefore, there is no correlation between fewer tickets and safer roads.

In January, QuoteWizard, an online insurance adviser, claimed that Maine had the worst drivers in the country, citing a drastic rise in traffic citations and fatalities. There was an increase of more than 1,500 car crashes in Maine from 2016 to 2017. With few consequences for speeding and other dangerous driving, people will continue bad driving habits. Perhaps the lower fines indicated to drivers and police that speeding is not a serious matter.

Speeding has been normalized. Getting passed on Interstate 295 and the Maine Turnpike by drivers going 80 mph is a regular occurrence. The bleaker reality, however, is the speeding on two-lane rural roads, past homes and driveways, making residents on those roads feel unsafe walking or crossing the road to their mailboxes. Thirteen pedestrians have been killed in Maine so far this year, and a man hit while checking his mailbox was one of those fatalities, which happen all too often on rural roads in Maine.

The impact of speeding goes beyond the crashes that result in fatalities and injuries. Driving at high speeds burns more gas, creating more carbon emissions and noise pollution. Speeding also discourages walking and bicycling.  Climate change is a growing concern, yet there is a disconnect between actions that contribute to environmental degradation like speeding, and a healthy, safe environment where people feel comfortable walking and bicycling.

If one of the reasons for not enforcing the speed limit is that there are not enough police officers in Maine, then one solution is to remove the current ban on some automated law enforcement. Red light and speed cameras are highly effective in reducing the running of red lights and speeding. Maine already uses cameras to enforce toll payment. If someone goes through a toll without paying, they will receive a ticket in the mail. And that is done to collect money, not save lives, as cameras would at intersections and on rural roads. Cameras are also allowed on school buses to crack down on the illegal passing of stopped school buses because children are being hit by speeding cars while trying to get on and off buses.

Today, cars and trucks drive so smoothly that it is easy to speed without realizing it. The smooth ride and increased size and encasement of vehicles make people feel comfortable driving 80 to 100 mph. That is, until a crash. Maine Department of Transportation crash data for this year as of Oct. 18 report 25,570 crashes, resulting in 121 fatalities and 6,110 injuries. In July alone, 24 people were killed and 801 people were injured on Maine roads.

Most drivers are unaware of how fast they are going and need to be reminded. Speeding tickets are an effective tool. They have the potential to save lives, prevent injuries and make the environment safer and healthier for everyone.  Maine should use all available tools to enforce speed limits, educate the public about the dangers of speeding and create road designs that slow down traffic.

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