If speeders on South Bay freeways haven't gotten the message to ease off the accelerator, this should do it.

The California Highway Patrol's newly created five-officer enforcement team issued 3,923 speeding tickets in the San Jose area during the first four months of this year, almost as many as the 4,155 speeding citations dished out by the entire 66-trooper South Bay division all of last year. One of the five even has a blister on his writing hand, his bosses say. At this pace, the anti-speeding unit will issue nearly three times more tickets in 2007 than were issued in 2006.

Still, not enough drivers are slowing down, and the pickings have been easy.

"There are so many people out there who think that they no longer will see the Highway Patrol that all bets are off, and they're speeding again," CHP spokesman Steve Perea said. "People still haven't learned."

Overall, the CHP team issued 4,429 tickets from Jan. 1 to April 30, including 180 for carpool cheaters, 172 for seat-belt scofflaws and 154 for drivers who had expired tags or were guilty of other misdeeds.

The total could have been even higher, considering that the entire unit was off the road for 2 1/2 weeks to attend training sessions, one officer has been sidelined with an injured wrist and the team - usually, mind you - doesn't go out on rainy days.

The five officers swarm a different stretch of road every weekday, sometimes working in the morning and sometimes
in the afternoon. The goal is to keep drivers guessing and ease what CHP commanders describe as a freeway "free-for-all" mentality. They say they are determined to change a sobering fact: Speeding is the main cause in two of every three highway deaths in the state.

For years, motorists have lamented the absence of patrols on state highways and expressways, for good reason. The CHP's staffing level of 66 patrol officers in its San Jose branch is down from 85 three years ago and from 119 in 1969.

Statewide, counting those troopers who are assigned to special duties, from homeland security to organized crime units, there are 1,000 fewer cops cruising freeways than in 1970. Since then, San Jose's population has nearly doubled to nearly 1 million residents, and Santa Clara County has added nearly 400 more lane miles on its freeways and expressways.

Most of the San Jose unit's tickets are given to drivers going 80 mph or faster. Several have been clocked at 105 mph. So many are being written that it's taken a toll on officer Jason Morton, who has issued more than 1,000 citations since Jan. 1.

"He has a big fat blister on his finger from writing so many tickets," Perea said. "No kidding."

One road that the CHP has largely avoided has been Highway 87, where construction to widen the freeway to six lanes has been under way. Yet complaints have been loud and frequent about drivers ignoring the 55 mph speed limit and a huge number of carpool cheaters.

"Please, please I beg you ... please," said motorist Keith Lyall of San Jose, steamed over the number of cheaters on Highway 87 whom he blames for his sometimes one-hour, 12-mile commute on 87. "I don't blame them too much as I've never seen the CHP on 87 and there is very little risk of getting stopped.

"Can you ask the CHP, just once, to put a little fear and intimidation in these blatant cheaters?"

Perea admitted the CHP has avoided Highway 87, saying that adding traffic cops while construction is under way could make the situation worse. But once widening is completed in a few weeks, officers will be out, thick ticket books in tow.

"Folks are distracted by construction," Perea said. "If they see an officer on top of that, it's not only dangerous for them but for the officers as well."

Police have scoped out this freeway and know that the straightaways from Almaden Expressway past the Interstate 280 split and north of Taylor Street to Highway 101 could lead to some fast driving.

"We'll be out there," Perea promised. "Absolutely."