‘Is it time we start electronic surveillance?’ When ticketing has little impact on Utah’s super speeders, what’s left?

Even with stiffer penalties, too many drivers are pushing 100 mph or more, Utah Highway Patrol tells lawmakers.

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

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Despite facing higher fines and misdemeanors on their records, Utahns aren’t putting their feet on the brakes.

In multiple cases, Utah Highway Patrol officers ticketed drivers pushing 100 mph only to catch and ticket the speeders again, just further down the road, UHP Colonel Mike Rapich told the Utah Legislature’s Transportation Interim Committee at the state Capitol this week during a safety update.

It could be a cultural attitude problem, Rapich said. The data he presented revealed the number of speeding citations issued continued to climb after May 4, when the new penalties went into effect, raising questions about what might actually slow drivers in the Beehive State.

“Is it time that we start the electronic surveillance of this?” asked Republican state Sen. David Buxton, who represents Davis and Weber counties. “Or would doubling the fine help? It seems like some of these kids getting caught in these high speed vehicles just thumb their nose at you.”

What has been tried?

In 2022, the Legislature passed driver speeding amendments which increased the minimum fines for driving over 100 mph and turned speeding over 105 mph into a class B misdemeanor.

“I think we made a big change last year,” Rapich said. “And we’re excited about that.”

He said the increases were due, in part, to the UHP doubling down on efforts to address speeding. “I think that’s representing itself in increased enforcement and them being more successful in identifying these,” Rapich told the committee.

However, “the problem is obviously still there,” Rapich said.

From Jan. 1 through May 3, 2022, Utah Highway Patrol issued 2,058 citations to drivers exceeding 100 mph, Rapich said. There were nearly 800 more citations issued in the six-month period after the harsher penalties went into place.

Citations for speeding over 105 miles per hour also increased from 720 issued during the first part of the year to 967 after May 4.

Utah isn’t the only state where tickets haven’t deterred speeding.

One 2007 study examining violators in Maryland found drivers who received speeding citations were more likely to receive speeding citations in the future. Researchers wrote the results probably meant “that speeding citations have limited effects on deterrence.”

Digital surveillance, other solutions

Lawmakers wondered whether further statutory changes were needed to truly slow drivers.

“If I had my choice,” said Carlos Braceras, Utah Department of Transportation Executive Director, “we’d put a trooper every mile on the highway at every intersection, because the visibility of a trooper helps people do the right thing.”

Instead, he floated the idea of electronic speed enforcements in work and school zones. “At some point,” Braceras said, “I think this conversation will take place and I know we have to put in place the protections for privacy that are so important to us as a state.”

One review of speed cameras’ efficacy found that across 35 different studies, fatal and serious injury crashes were reduced between 11% and 44%. The authors ultimately concluded “speed cameras are a worthwhile intervention for reducing the number of road traffic injuries and deaths.”

Even in the face of such data, Utah lawmakers haven’t taken kindly to mandating digital traffic surveillance. Legislation sponsored by Sen. Jerry Stevenson repealing a ban on the use of photo radar for speed limit enforcement failed in 2022, making certain kinds of digital surveillance unlikely in the near future.

“I work closely with the Highway Patrol,” Buxton told the Tribune. “They don’t seem to think that’s the right thing to do at this time, but times change and when the time is right we’ll approach that.”