Texas has a reputation as a law-and-order state, but when it comes to speeding and reckless driving it’s more of a hands-off place.
That’s according to a new data project by WalletHub, a social media company that often analyzes consumer financial and government matters.
The company’s study found that Texas is the most lenient among all 50 states and the District of Columbia when it comes to passing laws against speeding and reckless driving, and punishing violators.
“If you’re concerned about safety, this is a concerning ranking,” WalletHub spokeswoman Jill Gonzalez said. “If you’re a speeder, you might be happy about it.”
For the study, a group of safety experts looked at a variety of criteria, created a point system to quantify their analysis and then ranked the states.
Texas finished last in the study for a variety of specific reasons. For example, Texas doesn’t:
▪ Define reckless driving by miles per hour. In Arkansas and Louisiana, for example, a motorist traveling 15 mph over the posted speed limit is considered a reckless driver.
▪ Have a state law prohibiting racing on the roads (although many cities have ordinances against this).
▪ Deploy speed cameras for automatic enforcement.
▪ Require minimum jail time or license suspension for first-time reckless drivers.
▪ Fine motorists as much as other states. In Texas, the minimum fine for first and second reckless driving offenses is $200 — but other states hand out penalties of $500, $1,000, even $5,000. (The last is Washington state.) Texas also has some of the highest speed limits in the country, with 85 mph posted on Texas 130 between Austin and Seguin, and 80 mph posted on several hundred miles of Interstates 10 and 20 in the western reaches of the state.
But the study doesn’t take into account efforts by many cities to crack down on speeders.
In Bedford, for example, police heavily patrol the Texas 121/183 “Airport Freeway” corridor, said Sgt. Mike Hager, who oversees the city’s traffic operations. In that corridor, which according to the North Central Texas Council of Governments is traveled by an estimated 200,000 or more vehicles each weekday, the speed limit is 65 mph on the freeway main lanes and 75 on the adjacent toll managed lanes.
The Police Department in the city of roughly 48,600 residents has a small force but dedicates seven officers to daily traffic duty, Hager said. Five officers are typically on motorcycles, and two more ride in Dodge police cruisers with Hemi engines for fast acceleration so they can catch up to speeders.
The officers focus mainly on the freeway, but they also patrol heavily in the city’s nine school zones when classes are in session, he said.
Hager said he understands why motorists feel that Texas police officers allow a buffer of 3 to 10 mph over the posted speed limit before they pull someone over. Hager said the buffer isn’t an official policy, but officers do feel it’s better to spend their limited resources pulling over only the most egregious speeders, rather than those who are slightly over the limit.
“On average the typical speed we stop and issue tickets for are 80 mph on the main lanes and 85 to 90 on the toll lanes, and that’s just where it starts,” Hager said, adding that it’s not uncommon to stop motorists traveling 100 mph or more.
“The speeds that we’re seeing are higher than they used to be, without a doubt,” he said.
In the past, Bedford has qualified for state Selective Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) grants to pay officers overtime to increase speeding patrols on streets. But currently the city is just using the department’s daily operational budget to pay the costs of patrols, Hager said.
Hager agreed that reckless driving can be difficult to prove in court.
“To prove reckless driving, you almost have to have something happen, like a motorcycle riding a wheelie and they crash,” he said. “Or, if we have witnesses who can show someone was weaving in and out of traffic, that could be considered reckless driving. Other than that, typically, speeding is usually the core of what our officers are looking for.”
WalletHub mainly conducts data analysis to provide consumers with information to make better financial decisions, Gonzalez said. But the speeding and reckless driving analysis shows that more attention needs to be paid to the cost of such road behaviors, she said.
“We saw the annual economic cost to society because of speed limit crashes is over $40 billion,” she said, adding that the cost includes property damage and the bills for treating people injured in wrecks. “For every five miles above 60 mph the cost is 7 percent more gasoline,” she added.
So, Gonzales said, if motorists need a reason to slow down, “Do it for your wallet.”
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796