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Status Report, Vol. 38, No. 10 | SPECIAL ISSUE: SPEEDING | November 22, 2003 Subscribe

No stigma attached to speeding

Times have changed. Drunk driving isn't tolerated anymore. Most motorists buckle their safety belts. But speeding is another story. The perception is that everybody does it, at least sometimes, and that most motorists speed by a few miles per hour or so.

In fact, motorists seem increasingly willing to go much faster than speed limits.

With little or no stigma attached to this particular brand of law-breaking, even image-conscious politicians joke about their lead-footed tendencies. In the United States the most notorious of these in recent years is Congressman Bill Janklow, who collected 12 speeding tickets during a 4-year period in the 1990s and, more recently, boasted to an audience about trying to drive 1,100 miles during a weekend to attend events in multiple states. When Janklow got off with a warning instead of a ticket for speeding in June 2003, he thanked the "polite gentlemen who cut me a little bit of slack."

Two months later Janklow was charged with running a stop sign and killing a motorcyclist. Janklow reportedly told a trooper he saw the sign but was going too fast to stop.

Other politicians haven't gotten the message. A reporter accompanying New Mexico governor Bill Richardson on a campaign swing took note as the governor urged his driver to "'hurry up' .... Within seconds the two-car caravan hits 95 miles per hour, then 100, then 110, weaving in and out of traffic, tailgaiting." Later that night Richardson was "back in his SUV, contemplating dinner at the leisurely pace of 90 mph."

A general tolerance of speeding isn't confined to the United States. Under the news headline, "Speeding Not a Stigma," the BBC reported last month that almost half of the male motorists questioned for a survey said they wouldn't be embarrassed to have points added to their driver's licenses for exceeding speed limits. Speeding offenses in the United Kingdom nearly doubled from 1995 to 2001, the BBC also reported.

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