Police may target speeding in 2008
Home News Tribune Online 07/8/07
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By GINA VERGEL
Police in seven northern New Jersey counties are cracking down on speeding via the "Obey the signs or pay the fines" initiative, a speed-limit enforcement put in place by the state Attorney General's Office on July 4.
Throughout the month-long initiative, 68 police departments will put officers on overtime to ticket lead-footed motorists who may be speeding in residential areas.
Will cops in Middlesex County ever partake in such a high visibility crackdown?
Maybe, said Bob Gaydosh, a spokesman with the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety.
"We started it as a pilot program in four counties (in 2006), and we liked it, so this year we expanded it to seven counties," Gaydosh said, referring to police departments in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Passaic, Sussex, and Warren counties that were awarded $4,000 each from the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety to cover overtime.
"If it were to come to Middlesex, and certainly there's a possibility we'll take it elsewhere, it will be during the same July time frame in 2008," Gaydosh said, "but its still very much a pilot program."
That doesn't mean Central Jersey drivers are off the hook.
Local police who weren't privy to the $4,000 grants for the "Obey the Signs or Pay the Fines" program have their own methods to try and rein in lead-footed drivers in their municipalities.
North Brunswick police Lt. Joseph Battaglia said five officers and one lieutenant in the department's Traffic Enforcement Division devote their entire shifts to enforcing traffic in the township.
"If we get citizens that call up and have a problem in their specific neighborhood with traffic or speeding or people passing school buses, these five guys are out there," Battaglia said. "We try to spend some time on the side streets in the residential neighborhoods. And if we get complaints about speeders, we have two radar signs — the ones that say "your speed is . . ." — we'll put those out there first because a lot of times its residents that are speeding. We'll let them know that we're watching that area give them a few days to adjust. Then we'll send the enforcement out there."
Though its likely every department in Middlesex County has a traffic-enforcement division, police can't patrol all streets at all times, which means speeding is still a problem in New Jersey, according to a recent poll conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind and the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety.
The poll found:
# 49 percent of New Jersey drivers exceed 65 mph on the highway often or most of the time, with 73 percent of those who commute more than 20 miles and 71 percent ages 17 to 30 saying they exceed 65 mph often or most of the time.
# 81 percent of drivers think they can go 70 mph and not have to worry about getting a ticket, with 33 percent saying they can go 75 mph and not worry.
# 3 percent of New Jersey drivers never wear a seat belt.
The poll was conducted shortly after Gov. Jon S. Corzine was in an accident that occurred largely because his driver, a New Jersey State Trooper, was speeding.
"Speed limits are critical," said Gaydosh, spokesman for the Division of Highway Traffic Safety, the department that commissioned the poll. "People do need to realize speed limits are set for a reason — they're based on engineering considerations."
"The survey shed a lot of light on that — A, people speed and B, they think there's a 10 mile-per-hour over-the-speed-limit cushion they can drive before they think they'll get pulled over," Gaydosh said. "We need to get away from that. Speed limits need to be abided for safety reasons and because police will be out there, like they are in our current campaign, enforcing those speed limits."
A spokesman for AAA said although programs like "Obey the Signs or Pay the Fines" help to curb speeding by threatening drivers with the possibility of tickets, motorists need to consider other factors when driving through residential areas.
"We're talking about the increased likelihood of kids playing, of pedestrians and of bike riders, so any excessive speed is incredibly dangerous," said David Weinstein, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Weinstein said the summer months, often referred to as the "driving season'" because there are more people on the road, are a key time for police to crackdown on speeding.
"As the FDU poll shows, there's a feeling among the majority of drivers that speeding is OK. If there are more drivers on the road, that means, if you take the survey data to heart — and I do — that there are more speeders on the road," Weinstein said. "Overall, speed enforcement is an important aspect to traffic safety. Does that mean that enforcement of the limit on a 65 mph highway should be the same as in a school zone? No, and I think you see law enforcement respect that difference. The flow of traffic in rush hour, at 70 or slightly more mph, is different than 30 mph in a school zone.
"That said, the poll results are disturbing because they show a disconnect in drivers about what causes many crashes: Excessive speed," Weinstein said.