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Police see steep drop in speeding tickets

10/25/2013  Chicago Illinois State Trooper Chris Patrick monitors southbound traffic Dan Ryan expressway Friday October 25 2013.

10/25/2013 Chicago Illinois State Trooper Chris Patrick monitors southbound traffic on the Dan Ryan expressway on Friday, October 25, 2013. | Michael Jarecki/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 28, 2013 6:41AM

The top speeder in Cook County last year treated the Tri-State Tollway like a racetrack, buzzing by at 150 mph at 2 a.m. before being stopped by an Illinois State Police trooper.

A Sun-Times analysis of more than 120,000 speeding tickets issued in 2011 and 2012 in the city and parts of 13 counties surrounding the Chicago area found 25 percent fewer tickets were issued to drivers from 2010 to 2012.

So why the big drop?

Illinois State Police Cmdr. Patrick Murphy, who oversees training of troopers at the ISP Academy in Springfield, says fewer drivers are on the roads and they’re not willing to risk paying a $120 speeding ticket.

From 2007 to 2011, there was a 3.8 percent decrease in the number of vehicle miles driven, and a 1.7 percent decrease in the number of registered motor vehicles, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Having to pay hefty fines may also be slowing down the number of speed-loving drivers.

Drivers are shelling out $120, plus court costs, if caught speeding less than 20 mph over the limit, and $140 for traveling 20-30 mph over the limit.

The fine jumps to $160 for speeding more than 30 mph over the posted limit, and $375 plus court costs for speeding in a construction zone.

Those fines are scheduled to increase Jan. 1, though amounts have not yet been finalized, state police said.

“People are starting to pay more attention to their wallets,” ISP spokeswoman Monique Bond said. “They’re thinking that if I’m speeding and I got a ticket, I’m going to be paying a hefty fine.”

‘Yeah, you got me’

Some motorcyclists fly down Chicago-area interstates so fast that troopers have to decide whether it’s worth risking their lives — and the lives of surrounding motorists — to stop them.

“Motorcyclists are capable, in some cases, of ridiculously high speeds,” Murphy said. “But the urban legend is it’s hard to outrun the radio, and that’s a definite tool that we use to our advantage.”

Murphy said he’s had some “light-hearted” experiences pulling over groups of motorcyclists. During one group stop, “One of them said ‘OK, yeah, you got me,’ while handing over his license and registration,” Murphy said.

But troopers face many dangers stopping speeders, whether of the two- or four-wheeled variety, and must assess whether pulling over alongside a busy interstate is safe.

“They might not all get stopped,” Murphy said. “I would certainly have to balance out the risk versus the benefit. And you have to balance out the safety of other drivers that are present. You have to have common sense. . . . [Speeding] is not a forcible felony, and we’ve got to be mindful of what the cost versus the risk versus the benefit is every time we try to stop someone.”

The most reckless motorcyclist of 2012 was clocked going 139 mph in a 55 mph zone on Interstate 55 in Will County, according to state police.

Extra enforcement efforts

State police are increasing their methods to get speeders, including an air detail that hovers above vehicles — most frequently during holiday weekends.

And there’s good reason for that.

In 2012, Labor Day was the top ticket day, with 391 issued. Thanksgiving weekend, which was Nov. 24-25 last year, was close behind with 325 tickets written on Saturday and 326 on Sunday, according to the analysis.

“The speed air details can basically capture a vehicle speed, and then call it in to a squad car,” Bond said. “There very well may be one waiting, and they are given the description of the vehicle and the license plate.”

The Sun-Times analysis found the majority of speeding tickets issued in 2011 and 2012 occurred in the early morning hours.

“Traffic is much lighter. It’s much easier to merge onto the roadway, to accelerate and overtake the violator’s vehicle,” Murphy said. “Beyond that, with the lesser number of cars, it’s much, much easier to maintain a positive visual lookout on the vehicle until you can catch them. I think people push speed late at night when there are less people on the roads. But there’s a good chance they’ll get caught.”

Another tool in authorities’ speed reduction plan: parked vans. State troopers in vans record speeds, and these vans often are used to catch speeders in construction zones, especially when workers are present. Those tickets are issued in the mail.

“We’re going to see a lot more of photo speed vans,” Bond said.

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