Law seeks to put brakes on 'extreme speeding'
By: TOM SHAW, Midlands News Service
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OMAHA - Jodeen Durham has seen sports cars use West Dodge Road as a racetrack.
They've blown by her at what seemed like 100 mph or more.
"There's definitely Porsches and Corvettes that test the limit," said Durham, who drives the road every day to and from work near 132nd Street.
The drivers may have highperformance cars, she said, but "it doesn't give you the right to be an idiot and put lives in danger."
Gov. Dave Heineman signed a bill into law Wednesday to address the problem of extreme speeding in Omaha and across the state. The measure, which was passed overwhelmingly by Nebraska lawmakers last week, will take effect in mid-July.
Speed demons race down rural highways, as well as urban freeways, said Fred Zwonechek, administrator of the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety. The faster a driver goes, he said, the more likely it is that he or she will lose control of the vehicle and injure or kill somebody.
"There are some folks who unfortunately want to take a chance and you hope it doesn't end up with any fatalities, but unfortunately it does," he said.
The new law increases penalties for those who drive more than 35 mph over posted speed limits. Those drivers will be fined $300 and have four points deducted from their driver's licenses. The current penalty is $200 and three points. Twelve points in any two year period can result in license revocation.
The stiffer penalties would kick in for someone driving more than 110 mph on the stretches of Interstate 80 where the speed limit is 75 mph. Violators would have to drive more than 60 mph in a residential area where the speed limit is 25 mph.
In Omaha, Nebraska State Patrol troopers and police have seen extreme speeders on the Interstates and major thorough
fares such as West Dodge Road.
That's been especially true since the West Dodge Expressway opened in mid-2006. The speed limit on the expressway is 55 mph, meaning the new law will more severely penalize drivers going more than 90 mph.
"Anyone who has driven that stretch has had someone go by them at warp speed," said Omaha City Prosecutor Marty Conboy.
Last May, a motorcyclist was ticketed by troopers after being clocked at 151 mph on West Dodge from 156th to 180th Streets, west of the expressway. Conboy said police had ticketed the man's brother about a week before for speeding on a motorcycle, too.
Conboy said no matter where drivers choose to speed, they put everyone in danger. They whiz by law-abiding motorists. And other drivers may not be able to react quickly enough to someone coming up that fast behind them.
The new law increasing the penalties for extreme speeding was championed by State Sen. Pete Pirsch of Omaha. Pirsch said he introduced the measure to deal with people who are "detached from reality, see a movie like 'The Fast and the Furious' and have a hard time understanding that this is just Hollywood."
He has much of the West Dodge Expressway in his district, but Pirsch said he's also heard from residents concerned about speeders on neighborhood streets. Pirsch's District 4 runs from 114th to 156th Streets, north and south of West Dodge.
Gary Gotsdiner's fifth-floor law office is level with the westbound lanes of the expressway at 114th Street.
He said the traffic is usually calm and quiet, but a speeder occasionally breaks the calm.
"Every now and then there's a motorcycle that just screams by," he said. "They must be doing 100 miles an hour."
From his office window in the First National Bank building it seems like motorcycles are speeding more than cars, Gotsdiner said.
Despite the speeding, there have been no fatal crashes on the expressway since it opened.
Nebraska State Patrol Capt. Tom Schwarten said the patrol performs special enforcement on the expressway and other areas with high numbers of speeders.
Extreme speeding has been a problem on Interstate 80 and the two shorter stretches of Interstate in Omaha. State figures show that the number of Nebraskans convicted of driving well above the posted speed limit has been on the rise the past several years.
Rural highways tempt speeders, as well, Schwarten said, but have their own hazards.
Schwarten remembers driving on U.S. Highway 20 when he was traveling from Chadron State College to his family's home in northeast Nebraska in 1980s. Every once in a while, a driver would come by at a good clip.
The problem with speeding in rural areas, he said, is that it can seem like conditions are fine, but wild animals or livestock can pop out onto the road.
State Patrol Capt. Brad Rice, troop commander for northeast and north-central Nebraska, said excessive speeding is "a fairly common practice."
He said a trooper ticketed a driver earlier this month going more than 100 mph on U.S. Highway 275 near West Point. The speed limit in the area is 60 mph.
Troopers also recently performed a special enforcement operation on U.S. Highway 81 south of Norfolk and caught more than 10 drivers going 90 mph or more at 5 a.m.
"In the summer time, with vacation traffic on (Highways) 275 and 81, we will see this more," Rice said of speeding.
Zwonechek said some drivers in places such as the Panhandle also have been caught at extremely high speeds.
With the wide open spaces and smaller police and sheriff's forces, tips from farmers and ranchers are needed to crack down on the activity, Zwonechek said.
"Once a road becomes a speedway, it isn't long before they contact the State Patrol or the local sheriff," he said.