Special Report: Speeding Hot Spots

By Jason Dennis - bio | email

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -  In today's world, we all get in a hurry and drive too fast, but Columbus police say you'd be surprised how many people are going 20 or 25 miles over the speed limit. They say, that can be dangerous, potentially fatal for other drivers on the road.

We wanted to see what roads in our area have speeding problems, also known as "speed traps" or Speeding Hot Spots.

In a recent traffic detail, it took Columbus police just one day to write more than 300 citations.

"A little over 180 were going to be speeding violations. Every one of them was 15 or more above the posted speed limit," said Lt. Mark Starling, head of the Columbus police motor squad.

Columbus police admit they're lenient about sending speeders to court, but get strict in school zones and for drivers going 15-25 over the speed limit.

Driver Loretta Cobb likes police targeting speeders, saying, "I hope they start arresting them more and giving them tickets, especially young drivers."

"Because we have the 100 additional officers, we have more eyes, and because we have more eyes, we can see more violations," Lt. Starling told us.

Here's proof of more violations: Columbus police wrote 3,139 speeding tickets in 2008, then 4,710 speeding citations the next year.  That number more than doubled last year, with Columbus police issuing 10,494 speeding tickets in 2010.

East Alabama too has its share of speeders. We took a ride with Phenix City police Sgt. Jeff Freeman, as he looked for speeders. His goal is to slow people down to reduce the number of accidents.

"I don't try to hide anywhere. I'd rather be seen and them slow down than be hiding and having to chase them down," Sgt. Freeman said.

But most officers have to be visible, from at least 500 feet, when using speed detection devices. Only state troopers can hide behind bushes, according to Columbus police, who say setting up on bridges is a very effective spot to scope out speeders.

On those bridges and in other areas, Columbus officers also use the Infrared Lidar system - it's laser and much more accurate than radar.

"That Lidar (system) has a range of over 4,000 feet and you can get up on that bridge and reach out and touch someone," Lt. Starling said, as he showed us how it works.

"Oh yeah, I've seen several cases where they look they're entrapping folks," one driver told us.

So, do police really use speed traps?

Lt. Starling answered, "There's no such thing (speed traps) in the jurisdiction of Columbus, Georgia. We have speed limits and they are enforced rigorously."

"We don't set up and say, OK we're going to get this many number stops a day or speeders," Sgt. Freeman said.

"There's going to be a percentage of the general public that look at it as, we're doing it for revenue and that's not what it's about...it's about saving lives," Lt. Starling added.

Police find many speeders in high-volume areas.

Sgt. Freeman gave one example: "I know that Crawford Road is one with a lot of speeders."

He says other hot spots for speeding in East Alabama include the 280 bypass and 431 South. Phenix City police say they wrote a number of last year's 822 speeding tickets on Explorer Drive.

"We get complaints, on a daily basis, through the citizens of Columbus of areas where they're complaining about excessive speed," Lt. Starling explained.

Police target those complaint areas, from Veterans Parkway to Victory Drive - a couple of the Fountain City's 8 main arteries - like Macon Road and 2nd Avenue.  Police say speed is enforced diligently in downtown Columbus.

"That's the complaint, people doing 70-80 miles an hour in a 50 mph zone," Starling added.

Daily complaints, he says, about Manchester Expressway. Interstate-185, even with the speed limit increased to 65, is another hot spot, along with J.R. Allen Parkway and Beaver Run Road.

We took a radar gun ourselves to some of the high-traffic speeding spots, catching a few drivers going over 60 in a 45 mile per hour zone - that kind of speeding being part of the reason for rear-end collisions, the number one type of crash in Columbus last year.

"I've been in 3 wrecks and all the times, it was their fault for speeding," Driver Wayne Tisdale said.

New numbers show a decrease in wrecks from 2009 to 2010 in Columbus - 400 fewer overall. And there were 17 fatalities last year, a drop from 19 the year before. Catching more speeders will also help with safety.

"If they're speeding today, they're going to be speeding again. They'll be caught eventually,' Sgt. Freeman said.

Columbus police tell us, about 90 percent of the speeding tickets they write are for drivers going 15 or more over the speed limit.

Along with radar and newer technology like Lidar, another speed detection tool officers can use is their own speedometers to match your speed and pull you over.

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