Illinois State Police fight speeding 'epidemic'
July 2, 2006
BY ART GOLAB Staff Reporter
Illinois State Police got a lot busier on Chicago area roadways in 2005, issuing nearly 8,000 more speeding tickets than they did in the previous year. It was a 25 percent increase.
But despite the increased enforcement, more drivers are pushing the pedal to the metal, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of State Police speeding data.
Over just one year, the number of drivers ticketed by State Police for going more than 100 mph in the Chicago area more than tripled, from 266 to 833. The number of tickets written for drivers going 90 or more jumped 25 percent, from 3,715 to 4,628.
It's not just a local trend. USA Today analyzed more than a million speeding tickets written in 18 states and found that just one in 300 tickets in 1991 was for 100 mph or more. By 2002, the ratio had increased to one in 100.
In 2005, in the four Chicago area State Police districts checked by the Sun-Times, the ratio of drivers getting ticketed for blowing past the century mark was two out of every 100.
"I think speeding has kind of become an epidemic, and we're trying to turn that trend around," said State Police Capt. Tami Haukedahl, commander of District 15, which patrols tollways.
The faster speeds are of special concern because Federal Highway Administration research shows vehicles going significantly faster than the flow of traffic are up to 10 times more likely to be involved in crashes. And the faster the speed in a crash, the greater the likelihood of fatalities.
Interstate deaths rise
And while State Police, who have the primary responsibility for patrolling interstates, wrote far more tickets in 2005, the number of deaths on interstates still increased slightly.
State Police say they are doing their best to combine education and enforcement to deter speeders.
And on the tollways, concentrated enforcement efforts led to 204 fewer serious injury accidents in 2005, according to Haukedahl.
"It's not a coincidence; it's hard work," Haukedahl said.
State Police attribute the 25 percent boost in local speeding tickets and a 13 percent jump in statewide speeding tickets to greater efficiencies and smarter police work because the increases occurred without a significant increase in manpower.
"Instead of assigning officers to patrols without any specific purpose, we target problem areas to get more bang for the buck," said Lt. Jeff Hedrich, commander of District 3 in the southwestern suburbs.
Hedrich and other district commanders pore over crash statistics, fatalities and even complaints from the public to identify hot spots.
Fastest: 145 mph
Technology may also be a factor in boosting police productivity. In 2005, use of laser guns by State Police became widespread.
The handheld devices make it extremely easy to pick out individual speeders from the crowd, a task more difficult with standard radar.
The laser gun also frees officers from their cars, allowing them to stand on or under overpasses and radio descriptions of speeders to colleagues. Troopers even dress in hard hats, orange vests and construction clothes to pick off speeders in work zones.
While triple digit speeders are increasing, the number of tickets written on the slower end of the speed spectrum held steady from year to year. In fact, drivers going 10 mph or less over the limit are the least likely to get stopped and tickets in that range accounted for only 1.4 percent of all tickets written in 2004 and 2005.
State Police spokesman Master Sgt. Rick Hector doesn't argue with those numbers, but he said that a new motorcycle unit to be deployed this summer will focus on slower speeders.
"Bottom line, you can still get cited for going even one mile per hour over the limit," he said.
Slowest: 36 mph in 35 mph zone
Indeed, four vehicles in the Chicago area did get busted for that very offense. The slowest was a car doing 36 in a 35 mph zone on a municipal road in Cook County.
The fastest speeder nabbed in 2005 was charged with going 145 mph on Interstate 57.
Most speeders, nearly 75 percent, were charged with going 16 to 30 mph over the limit. On most area interstates, that means going 71 to 85 mph.
And if you think that dropping money in the toll basket buys a certain amount of immunity from a speeding ticket, think again. Three of the top four area interstates in numbers of speeding tickets written were tollways: the Tri-State (I-294), 5,633 tickets; the Reagan Memorial (I-88) 5,379 tickets, and I-90 (mostly the Northwest Tollway), 4,764 tickets.
More than half the triple-digit speeders in the Chicago area were busted on tollways.
Haukedahl's district often targets the entire length of a tollway, such as I-90 from Cumberland to the Wisconsin state line.
"When people see us out there in a wolf pack, they think 'Boy, if I can hold my breath for the next five miles, I'll get by these guys.' We know that, so we flood the entire length of the interstate."
Top ticket writer will get you before you know he's there
BY ART GOLAB Staff Reporter
Illinois State Trooper Doug Raiser is a master of multi-tasking.
He listens to two police radios and a citizens' band radio while monitoring a laptop computer that flashes messages.
At the same time, he squints through a LIDAR laser gun while answering questions from a reporter sitting in the back seat.
His window is down, the better to gauge the rhythm of the Friday night bound-for-partying-in-the-city traffic passing by on the Stevenson Expressway.
All this, while a regular radio plays Kid Rock at low volume.
"I've gotten a couple of DUIs off the CB," Raiser says, squeezing off bursts of light.
'I like to get a jump on them'
The light bounces off his driver-side rearview mirror, travels 3,000 feet backwards toward a set of headlights, then bounces back to the mirror and the laser gun. The gun knows the speed of light. It's also fast enough to time it and is smart enough to calculate how far it traveled and how fast the target is going.
"Beeeep," the gun blurts every time it fixes on a target and flashes the speed readout.
Even a reporter can operate it.
It's one reason Raiser wrote 507 speeding tickets in 2005, more than any other officer in the state.
Sometimes he gets some help.
"They say, 'Smokey, look at this car.' Sure enough I chase it down, and sure enough it's a DUI. You know those truckers don't want cars crashing into --"
"Beeeep," the gun blurts and Raiser steps on the gas. "I got a late start on that one," he says, swerving through traffic to catch up.
The silver Pontiac GTO was only 312 feet behind when the laser gun clocked it going 85 mph.
Raiser prefers to clock them farther back so he can accelerate along the shoulder while his target is still behind him. "I like to get a jump on them so when they come up right next to me I turn the lights on and boom, they can't hide anything."
Despite the late start it takes only 60 seconds to stop the GTO. "Guy and wife. He said was in a hurry to go home because his kid was sick. Could be legit; you never know."
Raiser writes the ticket anyway.
Sometimes he'll give a driver a break, but not as often ever since he busted one guy three times in two weeks. "I helped him out the first time and the second time. The third time, I said 'What's the matter with you?' "
The next car is a red Pontiac G6 going 82. Two girls and a guy all dressed up. They tell Raiser they're on their way to visit Mom in the hospital. It's 11:38 p.m., but Raiser doesn't argue. He just writes the second ticket of the night.
Raiser, 32, has been a trooper for four years. Before that he was an Orland Park police officer.
He likes working nights because traffic is better, and there's more opportunity to catch speeders.
"I like to hit it pretty hard. . . . I just come out and do my job."
One day he wrote 24 tickets, a personal record. Some days it's as few as four. Like all state cops, he handles accidents, gives directions.
Last year, Raiser was No. 1 in his district for open alcohol container citations, No. 2 for child-seat restraint tickets and No. 3 for DUIs.
He knows the seven-mile stretch of the Stevenson between County Line Road and I-355 as well as his own driveway. He likes to hit the northbound side early. "People going downtown, they might have open beer in the car or they're just speeding to get down there."
After lunch about 3 a.m., he'll switch to the southbound side and wait for people coming back from the city after being out all night.
While he's driving and listening to the radios and monitoring his radars, he's scrutinizing every car, looking for an unsteady hand at the wheel or equipment violations, occasionally tapping plate numbers into his laptop. It tells how many times other cops have run the same plate.
A hapless 30-something, driving a beater with a duct-taped taillight, had a lot of inquiries. He gets a ticket for going 87 mph. It's insult to injury. The computer shows the guy's license is due to be suspended in a few days for previous violations.
A black BMW clocks in at 100 mph from 978 feet back. This time Raiser gets the jump on him. Right behind him and lights flashing within 15 seconds. This guy likes to talk. "Is there any way you can give me a warning or something? Doesn't my past record count for anything?"
"You mean the 11 syndicated gambling charges," Raiser responds, courtesy of the laptop. "That shouldn't count; it has nothing to do with this," the driver replies.
He's right. But going 100 mph earns him a ticket.