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Data journalism busts speeding cops, wins Pulitzer (sun-sentinel.com)
306 points by auctiontheory on Apr 16, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 153 comments

>The reporters found nearly 800 officers who reached speeds of 90-130 mph, many of them while off duty. The accidents caused by officers driving at high speeds had caused at least 320 crashes since 2004, killing or maiming 21 people.

That's such a horrifying statistic if true. Even at their peak, homicide offending rates in the US were at around 20 per 100,000; assault rates about 10 times as high: http://bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/htus8008.pdf

Maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way, but in my mind I'm comparing 20 homicides per 100,000 citizens to to 21 people killed/maimed by a group that is orders of magnitude smaller: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miami_Police_Department

I think this is just another reminder that Bruce Schneier is right when he says we should be more worried about car accidents than terrorism.

Frustrating? Yes. Shocking? No.

Did anyone really believe that taking a job as a police officer somehow suppressed these people's natural desire to drive fast? Hell, that's probably what make them join the force in the first place. Sure, it's irresponsible and illegal for off-duty officers to speed, but it's also irresponsible and illegal for regular citizens to speed, and yet that doesn't seem to stop them from doing it. Why would you expect the cops to be any different? Do you hold them to a higher level of moral responsibility during their off time because of what they do for a living?

Being a police officer is a job. Unless you wanna have robots do it instead, people are going to do what people are going to do.

>Sure, it's irresponsible and illegal for off-duty officers to speed, but it's also irresponsible and illegal for regular citizens to speed, and yet that doesn't seem to stop them from doing it. Why would you expect the cops to be any different? Do you hold them to a higher level of moral responsibility during their off time because of what they do for a living?

a) A higher standard? Sure. I suppose I'm extremely naive, but if you spend your day punishing people for doing X, I think you should have an appreciation for why you shouldn't be doing X or at least be a role model for not doing X.

b) I actually wouldn't guess that, among the general populace, the majority of people regularly speed at 90-130. Again, that's probably naive. I drive like an elderly person, so I may be biased.

Regarding a (at least in the US) I think a big part of the problem is a system of laws that people generally agree is unjust (i.e. the drug laws)

I find it strange that the US has laws that many people break and the law is only enforced sporadically. Some examples in California are speeding, missing front license plate, age of consent laws, use tax on out-of-state/internet purchases, and illegal immigration. Having a bunch of laws that people break with impunity has a "broken window" effect, leading to less respect for the law overall. (Whether or not these laws are just is an orthogonal issue, which I won't get in to.)

Regarding speeding, I don't see how the current system can hold up under technological advances. There are a dozen trivial ways to tell if someone is speeding, from the toll booth data of the original article to cell phone GPS to computer vision to road sensors to smart cars. It doesn't make sense for the police to perform inefficient, dangerous traffic stops when all this data is available, but the system would collapse if everyone received 10 traffic tickets a day.

There is absolutely nothing new in tech advances that makes it easier to enforce speeding laws. In the 80s I read some book about beating speeding tickets, and they did the math about the profit margin on a radar gun. It turned out that the average radar gun generated a net profit on the order of $1000/day/gun. The obvious question is why aren't there radar guns on every police car? The answer is obvious: local politicians don't like to get tickets, either.

> It turned out that the average radar gun generated a net profit on the order of $1000/day/gun. The obvious question is why aren't there radar guns on every police car?

I agree with your sentiment. But please bear in mind, that the profit per radar gun would probably go down, if enforcement was less sporadic.

One of the problems is that the US has so many laws on the books that law enforcement has no choice but to enforce it sporadically. If every law was enforced as written then I would imagine about 80% of the US population would be in the justice system in one form or another at any given moment.

But it does provide a way to pick-and-choose when enforcing laws.

This makes it easier to target enemies.

Not all cars are required to have a front license plate, just FYI. For example, when I got the license for my MINI, they only sent me one, and said that I didn't need to have one on the front.

Sort of ironic. When I bought my mini, it only had one license plate, and I've since received several tickets for that reason. #california

Hmm. I might be wrong! Everything I'm looking at online seems to suggest I should have one. But they only sent me one!? I dunno.

Regarding CA, the vehicle code says something to the effect that the ticket a). must be given by an officer b). must no have financial incentive attached. Just ask the court that dismissed my red light camera ticket for "lack of prosecution". On that note: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/feb/01/san-diego-red-lig....

In my mostly uninformed opinion, drug laws are a huge part of the problem in terms of public interfacing with the police.

That said, while people may complain about particular speed limits, I don't think very many would call a cap somewhere below 120mph "unjust".

The maximum safe speed really depends on the road, current traffic, weather, and the capabilities of the car. I could imagine some locations permitting safe travel at 120+. Maybe the revenue currently earned from speeding tickets can be gained by offering a "license to speed" instead, with increased driver training, insurance, and vehicle inspection requirements.

You can't go by the capabilities of the individual car. You have to also account for the capabilities of the other cars on the road. If a Ferrari is speeding along at 120 MPH, which might be easily within its capabilities, there will be problems when it encounters the small Hyundai that can only achieve 90 comfortably.

Plus there's the issue of driver's ability as well. Can you look in your side mirror and successfully gauge the speed of the car that's a good distance behind you to know whether you can safely change lanes? If the car is going at a known max speed, of which you are probably aware of as you are likely at that speed yourself, then you can change but if the car is going two to three times faster than you I would imagine changing lanes would be a bad idea.

Also, how would the police be able to judge the things you describe looking at your car driving by at 120 MPH while everyone else is driving in the 80s? The officer would have to constantly be pulling these people over to check their "licensed to speed" status. How would the officer be able to judge the conditions of your car as you breeze by? Sticker on the bumper? Better be a huge freaking sticker when you are flying through traffic.

Speed limits are decided upon on the safety of most cars for the general area and expectations of traffic conditions, not the capabilities of the cars or drivers on the road.

I agree with you in general. There needs to be a common speed for all cars because difference in speed is, I believe, the real cause of danger.

However, there is one common case where the speeding law seems unnecessary at best. I live in Texas. Florida is similar in that there can be large stretches of empty highway. When I travel outside the city there is often very little traffic and very open country. If I can see for a mile and I am the only one out there, why shouldn't I travel at the fastest speed I can manage safely? In the city speeding rarely pays off, what with traffic and traffic controls. On a trip of 200 miles (Austin to Dallas for example) the difference between an average speed of 60 m/hr and 90 m/hr is an hour of travel. It seems wrong that I should be limited in this situation because an 18-wheeler cannot handle more than 60 or 70 safely. Worse is when you have small towns that drop the speed limit to 55 or 45 for a tiny stretch of road when the road does not even go through the town. That kind of speed trap is what angers people, especially when you see an officer blow through with impunity.

You make good points, but I'll say first your example of the obvious speed trap is a different problem of which I agree with you.

There are examples of US interstates with no speed limits within, to some people, reasonable limits:


They even discuss how in some cases fatalities go up with new road laws and speed limits.

I have driven that stretch of road between Austin and Dallas as I live in the Dallas area. I have also lived in Florida with it's stretches of long, boring roads. Plus, I've lived in Vegas with that incredibly boring route into Los Angeles. In every case I would agree with you that the idea of being able to go a bit faster would have been nice.

But the question that will come up is how do you determine the maximum speed that you can safely manage? What if your assessment of your max speed differs with that of the police officer who witnesses what he feels is a dangerous amount of speed? What about other people on the road that you will eventually come across that can't handle the situation that you present if you decide that the person can handle a speed that in truth they cannot? I'm sure you're thinking you'll just slow down when you see someone but you cannot foresee the possibilities plus your reaction time dwindles quite effectively the faster you go. A mile at 60 MPH is one thing, a mile at 120 MPH is another.

My example against this, which is interesting considering the topic of this thread, is when I was in Vegas an off-duty cop was speeding (I forget how much but in excess of 100 MPH) on one of the interstates outside of the main part of town and rear-ended a family in their car. The resulting accident killed a number of them including children. Therefore, I personally don't like the idea of a free-for-all on the interstate where different cars can drive at different speeds based on criteria that will be different for each individual driver and car. I would rather we all agree on a maximum speed that makes sense for the conditions of the road and expected traffic. Now if a road has too slow of a speed limit for the typical conditions of that road, then that is a different discussion.

I-35 between Austin and Dallas is a spectacularly bad example, give that the traffic is routinely congested.


(Ok, that's downtown Austin; how about this one:

http://www.bartcop.com/Austin-Garbage-09.jpg )

I think the issue here is that off-duty police officers speed aggressively with the knowledge that, if caught, they will be almost certainly let off the hook due to their job. That makes the situation completely different than people with any other "just a job" job.

Or analogous to any other abuse of position.

As gate-keepers to the law the police are in a very special position.

How can we expect them to investigate abuse of position if they are abusing their position?

Do you hold them to a higher level of moral responsibility during their off time because of what they do for a living?

Yes! Of course! Being an officer may be 'just a job', but in practice the hat doesn't come off. Which is the entire point - police officers occupy a particular position in society regardless of whether or not they're wearing a badge at the moment.

That's not the same thing as saying that I'm surprised that they're still human, though.

I agree. An off-duty cop is just off the clock. By the way the news reads there really is no such thing as an off-duty cop. A cop is always on the job. Describing a cop as off-duty suggests that he suddenly becomes a normal citizen like everyone else once the clock is punched at the end of the shift. But I'm willing to bet an off-duty cop has no issues with using police powers, if necessary, while off the clock.

Well then, let them stop pretending that they're looking out for our safety when they put up a speed trap. If you want to talk about having more reasonable road markings, speed limits, and fines for speeding that's great. It's a conversation that we need to have. But to have a bunch of guys driving around like jerks, on and off duty, extracting a tax from the working stiffs is an insult, and nobody should be surprised that the cops get little sympathy.

> Unless you wanna have robots do it instead

Not really. It's been shown time and again that greedy authorities will compromise on public safety to optimize profit. And, machines tend to have no discretion. Nor is any applied by the authorities. If you show up to an intersection at two am, with nobody in sight, stop, look and proceed safely through a red light, you get the same citation that some jerk gets who blows through on a busy day.

My reasoning in that speed traps are for revenue generation instead of safety is over the thought that a visible police presence on the road would more likely cause people to slow down and obey traffic laws. Hiding to ambush a speeder is the same tactic used by a highwayman out for money.

I agree. You might also consider the fact that any machinery capable of selectively recording red-light violators, is also capable of warning other drivers, yet such a feature is absent from any that I have seen.

> And, machines tend to have no discretion.

This a feature, that protects and racism and classism.

> that protects and racism

You've got a point.

>and classism.

Meh, I'm not so sure about that one, and really, in both cases it depends where the machines are sited.

By that logic it doesn't protect against racism either.

> Hell, that's probably what make them join the force in the first place.

This. If we believe that people will tend to behave in accordance with their incentives (and we all do, because we're all good capitalists here) then this is a virtual certainty.

Cops get paid X per year. So, all things being equal, some number of people who think it is worthwhile to do the job for X per year will sign up. A few will take the job because they want to help people, so they are willing to work for less than they would at some other job. At the same time, and in the same vein, a few will take the job because it allows them "perks" like hurting people and generally breaking the law without consequence. This is why it is so, so important to hold police to a higher standard, because in the long run we want more of the "want to help people" type and fewer of the "want to break the law" type.

  Do you hold them to a higher level of moral responsibility during their off time because of what they do for a living?

> Do you hold them to a higher level of moral responsibility during their off time because of what they do for a living?

In a word, yes! I expect a judge to engage in ethical behaviour when not behind the bench, a politician to tell the truth (as laughable as that is) and so on. Sure, cops are human but they should also know that by virtue of their position they are much more visible than the ordinary citizen and act accordingly. Surely you can see the hypocrisy of a cop giving tickets for speeding when they get away with the very same behaviour. Maybe I'm old fashioned, I think cops should not be able to say "Do as I say, not as I do."

> Do you hold them to a higher level of moral responsibility during their off time because of what they do for a living?

Only if they get "professional courtesy" every time they get pulled over, unlike the rest of us that get traffic tickets.

I would have thought dealing with the consequences of speeding in their jobs (notifying families of the death of loved ones, seeing the terrible injuries caused) would have stopped them. I know a few people who work in that area and that stuff stays with them. For example - they've assured me I should never buy a motor bike.

(Shrug) There aren't any "consequences of speeding." If you hit something or kill somebody, you were doing something wrong besides speeding.

People are making small mistakes all the time. Lower speed gives you more time to correct your own and other people's mistakes.

Hiring a professional driver would increase safety a bit. Even better, hire a professional driver and pay him/her to drive slowly.

Yes, you were doing something wrong like not understanding physics involving the coefficient of friction, acceleration formulas, and the inability to see through solid objects to know that a child is about to step out on the road in front of your car at a distance where you could have stopped had you not been speeding.

The parent comment was aiming at the fact that speed is rarely a cause of an accident, it is often a condition. The difference is small but relevant, as law enforcement focuses on speed as a cause, ignoring the real causes (e.g. Car parked before crosswalk preventing visibility of child that is crossing the road)

Speed - its not the cause of an accident. It's the cause of death.

That's dumb. As dumb as saying that the cause of death is the dashboard your head bumps onto. Or that the cause of death is being alive.

If you can't tell the difference between cause and condition, you may keep silent. No one is forcing you to participate in the discussion.

It wasn't dumb, perhaps I wasn't clear. As a former Police officer I've been to many car crashes and understand the difference between what causes the accident and what kills people.

My point was, that in a large proportion of the accidents where people are killed and where drivers are speeding, people state that that it was the drivers inattention that caused the accident, and not the speed they were going. They use this to suggest that we should not prosecute speeding.

While this is technically true, (one of) the reason that we impose speed limits is that an accident caused by, e.g., inattention or mistake is turned from a fender-bender into a fatal accident by high speed.

Even the best drivers make mistakes from time to time, we have a right not to have that mistake turn into a fatal accident by someone speeding.

Point taken, you are right. However, on the other hand, the ease with which speed becomes the culprit often precludes better solutions. Two examples:

A particular crosswalk in my city was a dark spot, accident wise. A common accident spot, resulting in deaths. Speed traps were, for years, commonly placed in the street, treating, I assume, the perceived cause of the accidents. Speed bumps followed. Years go by, accident rates don't go down. Then, finally specific street lighting is setup on the crosswalk: problem solved. The cause was not excess speed, but night visibility of the crosswalk.

One of the worst mountain roads in Portugal, IP4, was for years considered plagued by speeding. Lots of police cruisers, both marked and stealth, patrolled the road, enforcing limits. Static speed traps the ensued. Accident rates stubbornly wouldn't go down. Then, finally, a brilliant mind decided to place plastic lane barriers preventing overtaking in prohibited zones. Problem solved! Speed was not the cause, dangerous overtake maneuvers were.

Speed is an easy target. As such, it's a dangerous default as accident cause.

Also, even if the kid (or someone else) is completely at fault, they shouldn't have to die for their mistakes.

So how does a number on a sign at the side of the road have anything to do with any of those things?

It's typically an estimation based on 85th percentile speed for a given road derived from engineering considerations like grade, curvature, pedestrian access, presence of divider for opposing traffic, and so on. The limit is generally pegged to specific values and modified for certain scenarios (school, construction, playground, etc.) assuming that roads of most types have similar characteristics. While this can vary from region to region for the same type of road, it generally indicates a reasonable estimate of a safe driving speed for the typical driver and typical vehicle.

That's how the number on the sign relates.

Right, so there aren't any consequences of smoking, but only consequences of inhaling tar?

I wouldn't go for "higher standard" but I would say they should be "better informed" about the consequences of driving recklessly.

I have talked to a lot of state patrolmen in CA and WA (USA) and they were cured of using their awesome driving schools for personal advantage after coming up on their first gruesome accident. Especially if said involved children.

People tend to think they're "exceptional" in some way, though, and will dismiss the risk by thinking that they are better trained and more aware of the factors that lead to accidents.

I believe in the old lead by example. As a police officer they are obligated to follow the very laws they enforce. If they cannot do that then they should not be a officer in the first place.

Over the period of 2004-2011. So divide by 7.

You should also try to find the vehicular death per 100k statistic.

Exactly. Per Wikipedia it is about 12 deaths per 100k on average from the period of 2004-2012. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_...

Huh! So we're at 3 deaths/maims per year for X number of cops, vs. 12 deaths per 100k for the general populace.

It's all about the division at this point. How many cops were there in that region? If it's just Miami-Dade: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miami-Dade_Police_Department Officers 3,034

soooo.... 3 * (100/3) = 100 deaths per 100k of police population.

Which is 8x the normal rate. It's bad, but it's not too outrageous.

Apples and oranges. The number in the article is 'crashes caused by officers driving at high speed', the general pop statistic is all vehicular deaths.

Similarly, deaths per 100k is the rate of victimisation amongst the population. Deaths per number of officers is a rate of offending, not victimisation.

Right. There are a lot of improvements to be made, but I'm just trying to make a quick estimate to compare to.

> That's such a horrifying statistic if true.

What more evidence do you want of it's truth? The story's right there. you can see how they reported it. The data is searchable.

The speeding data, yes. I don't know where I'd get access to the 21 killed or maimed though beyond the story. But sure, I probably don't have a good reason to believe the numbers are inaccurate.

They didn't just reach speeds of 130mph, but average speeds of 130mph over a distance of several miles. Their maximum speed was probably closer to 150-180.

I want to know what cars these officers are driving that are capable of 150-180mph, or capable of sustaining speeds of 130mph over a significant distance. From my knowledge, 150 is a fairly exclusive club limited to not-inexpensive performance cars, and 180 is a very hard target to meet, mostly at the feet of German luxury cars. I know police officers don't make six figures, so the question is what car are they in that can hit 130 sustained, and 150-180 max?

Florida Highway Patrol has some seriously beefed up vehicles. As someone who used to run from the cops on my motorcycle semi-frequently I do have to say that I'm not aware of any that could get up to 180 though.

There are a police versions of the Dodge Charger Dodge Challenger and a new police version of the Chevy Caprice. When I recently drove across the south I saw many highway patrols had the Challenger. That said, nobody is driving 180mph in a sedan on American roads.




> "800 officers who reached speeds of 90-130 mph"

Technically, couldn't this be 799 guys who meant to go 85 but drifted up to 90 and one jerk who went 130?

Technically, the data is there to answer this question.

I don't think the accidents and deaths are limited to the 800 officers they identified. The set of officers speeding is certainly greater than the set of officers identified as speeding, and the accidents would probably be from the former set.

> we should be more worried about car accidents than terrorism.

And we should be more worried about the "watchers" than the "watched".

> we should be more worried about car accidents than terrorism

doesn't terrorism scale better, though?

This lends to a trend that's way to prevalent as of late: There are no checks and/or balances on the Police; the only discipline comes internally, often as a result of public outcry. Perhaps it's the bias of what you actually hear about, but it seems like the worst that can happen to a Police officer is paid leave.

It's even worse for national security agencies. Questioning whether they are doing a good or necessary job means you're a threat to national security.

"as of late"? Feels like the lack of checks and balances on the police has been going on for a while.

It's only when something major happens that people take notice, like someone putting together this report, now all of a sudden it's a new trend that's way to prevalent as of late. :P

OK, I guess "as of late" means "since the Internet."

If anything, I bet it has gotten better since the Internet. Pre-Internet, it would take a local news agency to ferret out problems. Now, problems can be reported by anyone and viewed by many.

Which allows people to read about it more often, making them think the problem is worse now.

We like to talk about the "10x developer", but journalism has to be the field with the highest disparity in value. Some journalists are worth their weight in gold, and some are worth less than nothing.

Nothing makes me more upset than corrupt cops. Obviously the off-duty cops got away with speeding because cops don't give tickets to other cops. That's the real scandal. Corrupt cops undermine the entire legal system, which is much worse than anything any terrorist could ever hope to achieve. They should be treated accordingly!

You must be upset a lot

Yes I am. (-;

Wow, an officer was FIRED for speeding. That should be the headline right there. I was beginning to think it was impossible for a cop to get themselves fired.

The officer fired was the one "who sparked the project", that is, the one that was pulled over (after refusing to stop) by a state trooper, if I remember correctly.

It sounds like no police officers were fired as a result of this investigation.

Maybe he was fired for drawing negative media attention.

One was. Out of 800 found. That should also be a headline.

I'm not sure you need to fire someone for driving 125mph at 4 o'clock in the morning. The punishment should fit the crime.

He was something of a super speeder, check out his lap times:


120 MPH was almost double the speed limit (65 MPH) and as the data shows it was a routine. The data shows only average times, so who knows what his top speed was (he was "only" averaging 95 the day he got busted for going 120).

He was very frequently averaging speeds that constitute reckless driving. He's lucky he just got fired, his license should be suspended for a long period of time just like it would be for anyone else that wasn't a cop.

In most jobs where you drive for a living maintaining a clean or at least insurable DMV record both on and off the job is required.

320 accidents.

21 maimed or killed.

I really think this is more than a little bit of middle of the night speeding.

Is it also kosher to drive while intoxicated at 4 o'clock in the morning? I'm not asking to be snarky, I just don't understand the line of reasoning. It seems like you are saying that engaging is behaviors that are risky to other members of the public are ok as long as nobody is hurt on the specific instance in which you engage in them.

I think that idea is that driving at 125mph is less risky at 4am because there are fewer obstacles around. Attempting to drive 125mph at, say, 4pm would be a lot more risky/dangerous.

That said, I don't think that actions outside of work necessarily should mean someone is fired. Using your badge to attempt to get out of trouble, or stating that you feel that speeding is your 'right' (on-duty or off-duty) just because you are a cop, on the other hand...

I didn't say that he should not be punished, I said that he shouldn't be fired. If we fired everyone for every mistake in judgement, nobody would be doing any work.

Have you been getting in the habit of using kilometers, perhaps? 125mph is absurdly fast.

Isn't that an arrestable offense? How can you work from inside jail?

Local journalists got the cops fired. How the hell such a thing exists, I'm not sure.. Probably teens or funded by a local community college.

Or Pulitzer winners. One of the three for sure!

So all I need to do to be a great journalist is to win a Pulitzer?

Yes, and all you need to do to be a great mathematician is to win the Fields Medal. All you need to do to be a great jurist is to become the Chief Justice of the SCOTUS.

Go for it! I wish you the best in that endeavor.

"The database was so innovative that two law enforcement agencies sent investigators to the newsroom to learn how to replicate it."

Expect your ticket in the mail, while legislation is passed that prevents cops from being held accountable.

I'm curious as to the technical details. I can't imagine why investigators couldn't get access to the raw Sun Pass database, which records tag id, toll booth, and a timestamp, if it works anything like my EZ-Pass system. From that, it's trivial to match up enter/exit records and divide the distance by the time to come up with an average speed. The article says they got the data from 12 police departments. I wonder what kind of records they obtained.

I wondered the same thing. Perhaps the distance between toll booths is what they measured in the 2500 miles driven? It seems like you should be able to get the data from OSM as well, with a lot less time required!

Just guessing here, but I'd imaging they they would have to request the police car transponder details from the police departments, so they could filter police from other drivers.

John Allen Paulos has been pushing using toll data for speeding citations for decades, most recently here: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/WhosCounting/t/story?id=979...

There are a number of problems with doing things like this.

The first is that significant speed differentials are extremely dangerous. Uncalibrated speedometers are very common and very inaccurate. Anything that causes guaranteed enforcement is going to reduce safety because people will start religiously following their speedometer instead of the normal flow of traffic, so now you have people driving all different speeds than one another based on how badly and in which direction their speedometer is miscalibrated. On top of that you have a situation where anyone who has made a stop for coffee or gas is exempt from the timer because of the stop, so you put a number of people driving 15MPH over the limit (because they stopped and aren't subject to the timer) on the same road as people driving 15MPH under the limit (because they haven't stopped and their speedometer is inaccurate) and you're going to see more collisions.

Then there is the pragmatic problem. Speeding tickets are big money because the law is enforced sporadically under unpredictable conditions. To generate revenue, enforcement has to be rare enough that it doesn't induce compliance. And the proposed scheme is entirely deterministic. Everyone who doesn't make a stop will discontinue their speeding between toll booths -- which is ostensibly the intended result, except that it means the scheme will generate no money and will deprive the government of existing ticket revenue that would have been generated on that stretch of road. Meanwhile it reduces the need for police presence, which means you'll have to fight the law enforcement unions to boot. It's not at all surprising that there has been little interest in implementing it.

Average speed cameras are common in the UK. The flow of traffic adjusts so that the body of traffic is at the limit - we don't keep our eyes on the speedo, as enforcement only kicks in at limit+x mph, and a short duration deviation from speed isn't a problem. Most people have cruise control, and they won't need to check the speedo once set.

I've no empirical evidence, but driving on main roads with average speed cameras feels safer.

Do you have any citations for your claim that "people driving 15MPH under the limit (because ... their speedometer is inaccurate)" is "very common?"

I like how you piece together two different sentences to change the meaning. Speedometer inaccuracy is very common, e.g. http://www.caranddriver.com/features/speedometer-scandal

Being off by 15MPH is near the edge of the plausible range. What you get when you start with a speedometer that was off by several percent from the factory and then you throw in bald tires, or armchair mechanics who put low profile tires on stock wheels, or replace the differential with one that has a different gear ratio, or damage from a previous collision, etc.

Although I'm sure it will be implemented sooner rather than later for the purpose of surveillance and intelligence.

Number of times I have stopped for gas on a 30-mile stretch of local toll road: 0.

Why would someone stop, just to get an excuse to speed later, at the same average? The few people drag-racing, maybe. Not the vast majority who want to to arrive at destination ASASP.

You are conjuring up a ridiculous hypothetical and claiming it is the common case.

>Why would someone stop, just to get an excuse to speed later, at the same average?

You do understand that there are service plazas on toll roads. People stop for gas because they need gas, not because they want to speed. But once someone has stopped, or intends to stop before the toll booth, they're no longer subject to the timer and end up creating a dangerous speed differential against the drivers who are.

As someone who lives in South Florida (east coast, Jupiter southward), I can state that the only toll roads in the area that also have service plazas are the Florida Turnpike (north/south and can be used for commuting) and I-75 west of US-27 (runs east/west across the state, and at the point it becomes a toll road, you are basically heading away from the population center towards the middle of the state; also, practically no one lives west of US-27 until you get to the west coast of Florida). The other toll roads (Sawgrass Expressway, 924, Dolphin Expressway, parts of I-95 in Miami, Don Shula Expressway and I think 826 (it's been awhile since I driven that one)) are all very short (longest is the Sawgrass Expressway, at 20 miles) and all in a very dense urban setting and absolutely no service plazas.

Also, all the toll roads in South Florida use the same electronic system (EZ-Pass); it's also usable up through Orlando (from personal experience). With such a system, there's no need to even slow down to pay the toll (and there are no more toll booths in Miami; if you have no EZ-Pass system, a photo of your license place is taken, and a bill (not a ticket) is mailed to the license holder).

Edit: There are also three service plazas along the Florida Turnpike in South Florida, one in Dade County (Miami), one in Broward County (just north of Ft. Lauderdale) and one in West Palm Beach (towards the north end of the county), each separated by approximately 30 miles. Depending on where the cop in question lived and worked, he might have never even passed a service plaza (and besides, the gas there is more expensive).

On today's roads there are always some people driving over the speed limit. By your logic we should abolish speed limits to remove this "speed differential".

You mean like this?


Existing speed limits are pointless but mostly harmless because people just ignore them. Their primary purpose is to serve as a source of ticket revenue and an excuse for police to stop any vehicle they don't otherwise have cause to stop.

If you stopped, nobody forces you to speed up. (And they could still put some police people on the beat, just to check up on the stoppers.)

>If you stopped, nobody forces you to speed up.

Is that supposed to be an argument that people won't do it?

>And they could still put some police people on the beat, just to check up on the stoppers.

Or they could just do that to begin with and forget about the toll booths, no?

number of times you've not stopped for gas which are relevant: 0

the point is that if you intend to stop, or must stop, you are free to speed without fear of automatic ticketing.

So how's that worse than the current situation?

not worse, just misguided.

I'm just going to throw this out there,

people don't pass marked cars

so a marked car driving the speed limit causes traffic to back up behind them

for no other reason than to alleviate traffic congestion, it probably makes sense for them to drive 15-20 miles over the speed limit

(that obviously doesn't excuse driving 130 mph)

I would argue that for the sake of the law, having a backup of cars behind an officer all doing the speed limit is a good thing. It's called the speed limit, not the speed range. As in, the maximum you're allowed to do on that road in perfect conditions. If we want to enforce the laws, having everyone follow a pace car going exactly the speed limit is a good thing.

Having an officer going 65 in a 55 just to relieve congestion means the law is irrelevant.

Also, having pace cars alleviates traffic jams (assuming the pace car is leaving appropriate space in front of him to absorb traffic shocks). This obviously doesn't work in the current situation because no one feels bad passing a cop in a traffic jam, but there's something to this idea.

Agreed. Having laws that _everyone_ breaks is worse than useless, as it encourages a disregard for the law and resentment towards enforcement officers, as well as leaving lots of room for unequal enforcement.

I suspect a lot of people would may the majority of speed limits are irrelevant, but I digress.

What's the problem with the marked cars driving the speed limit? If all the cars drive at the speed limit, that's good, right?

I always thought the speed limit was there as a speed limit. I've found that in Australia, speed limits are obeyed much more than in North America, where they seem to be suggestions or lower bounds on speed. Many times in Canada I've been travelling in traffic that's doing 30 - 40 kph over the speed limit. That's enough to get your car confiscated in Western Australia!

first thing that pops up when googling cost of traffic jams


the cost is real, and should be accounted for

I would have to see a study that shows that the speed limit is the source of traffic congestion. I seriously doubt it is. Most sources of congestion seem to be more along the lines of disabled vehicles, accidents, several roads converging in the same area, merging issues, and just stupid drivers at any speed. Increasing the speed limit by 10 or 15 MPH doesn't address any of that and in fact would likely make it worse in some of those examples.

I don't have a study to link to

but I'm seen how one slow driving cop can cause a bottle neck behind him as noone wants to pass him

some links about about how seemingly minor factors can cause traffic jams



The cop car obeying the speed limit and every one behind it doing the same is not an example of congestion. As long as the cars are flowing at the posted speed limit then I don't see that as congestion, the traffic is just not speeding along as quickly as one wishes it would.

By that logic, any street that has two or more cars following the speed limit in close proximity to each other could be classified as congestion.

Once you have a buildup of cars that are traveling slower than the intended speed of the road that causes further slowing up the line that eventually creates bumper-to-bumper traffic with little movement, then you have congestion.

A retired Marine I know said roughly "we recruit them with commercials showing guys rappelling from helicopters or advancing through fire, we train them to take extreme risks, and we're astonished when they go 130 on a motorcycle and get killed". I have very little interest in driving over about 75, but then I also have very little interest in confronting dangerous people.

A decent chunk of my last few weeks on Parris Island was them telling us how much money they'd spent on us and not to [expletive] it up by killing ourselves doing something stupid.

OP here. I'm sensing some generalized anti-police sentiment. Many cities allow residents to "ride along" in a police car for a shift. (In the front!) It's not a bad thing to do.

Anti-police sentiment exists here because police abuse their power systematically, and notably so in places with strong tech communities like New York City and the Bay Area (specifically Oakland), residents of which are over-represented on HN.

And even the dumbest, most corrupt cop isn't going to do anything scandalous while you're sitting right there. And the flatfoot giving you a ride has probably been told it's his job to babysit you for the night, while they tell you bs about what an unflinching view of the mean streets you're getting.

Personally, I don't really feel an anti-police sentiment on an individual level. I get that it's a hard job, and I've met some respectable officers. But collectively, the seemingly total lack of accountability drives me nuts.

ok I really am not getting this it says:

"the technical challenges were daunting because the raw information does not allow speed calculations,'' Maines said. "We came up with some neat tricks to overcome that, and it's great that the judges recognized our hard work.""

I am crazy to think that the raw data would be something like: account#, toll location, time And this would be the bare minimum. How would determining the length between tolls and using the times to determine the average speed required be "neat tricks"? Am I really off?

I am not saying it wasn't hard work, but please tell me the real technical challenges, that I really would love to hear.

Yea but you can't even begin to imagine how big the excel spreadsheet was.

that put a smile on my face, do i need to update my resume to be a database specialist?

It gives some hope that it's possible to police the police.

Except when that gets the policer threats from officers being policed (and their colleagues in the brotherhood):


our only real hope at this point is that the panopticon will go both ways.

> The reporters found nearly 800 officers who reached speeds of 90-130 mph, many of them while off duty.

Well, driving above the speed limit while on duty is required. Why would that be included in the statistic? And driving 90 is hardly out of the ordinary where I'm from. That being said, driving 120 or 130 while off duty is clearly a bad idea.

> Well, driving above the speed limit while on duty is required.

Admittedly, it's not really physically possible to catch up to someone traveling at 90 mph when you're limited to 65, however they have lights and sirens that, according to law, they are required to use while responding to an emergency or incident, which broadly covers speeding.

According to the original article, more than half of all incidents occurred outside of the officers jurisdictions. Miami-Dade limits officers to 20 mph above the speed limit at all times, even while enroute to an emergency (270 cops were found going over 90, 70 being the highest speed limit in Miami-Dade). FHP limits officers to 15 above the posted limit, but does allow excesses if the situation requires it, but only if the environment allows it and it is safe to do so, but earns the prize for the fastest speed of 129.8 mph.


You might be interested to learn that radio waves can travel well in excess in of 90mph. as can helicopters. In fact, many jurisdictions ban high-speed chases, specifically because they are more dangerous than they help.

I'm apparently missing something. How is speed of light and the maximum horizontal speed of a helicopter relevant to the capabilities a single cop traveling in a single highway capable vehicle in pursuit of another highway capable vehicle?

I think I'm perfectly aware of the existence of radio waves and the breakthrough in communications their discovery unlocked, but I wasn't talking about that. I was talking about two different objects traveling at two different speeds in the same direction being physically incapable of meeting at another point unless the faster object slows down or stops, or in this instance the slower object breaks the speed limit and speeds up.

I think OP was making the point that, instead of speeding, a police officer should radio other officers ahead of the speeder in an attempt to catch the perpetrator.

It's a bad point because police already do radio ahead while they're in pursuit. Also, some cities do not allow police to chase suspects but it all depends on the crime. For example, they may chase someone wanted for murder but not someone else who's wanted for a non-violent crime. The argument is that it's not worth putting the public at risk for some offenders but for others it's important to apprehend the suspected criminal.

without sly ad homonym attacks this will be boring. the basic intent is to say that there is nothing but ego that requires the original officer to make the stop. radio to air pursuit and other police should generally be safer than creating a chase scenario.

"You can outrun his motor, but you can't outrun his motorola."

"Well, driving above the speed limit while on duty is required."

Not always. It is technically not even allowed unless they are actively responding to a call, I believe. (There's a lot of police work that involves being in a marked car without being on your way to stop a robbery in progress).

What makes me happy about this is that it's an example living in the information age. Every day people are gaining more and more tools that can be used to, in a way, force transparency. I think the situation from that standpoint will only get better as stories like this unfold. I really like this one because it's a demonstration that given the right tools, some folks can cut through and make their own transparency.

I'm not saying it's a panacea, but I do think that we live in pretty interesting times for this kind of thing.

Here's hoping it continues in that direction.

And absolutely nothing will change.

Like Congress voting back insider-trading.

Zero penalty for speeding off-duty cops and they will still kill people and get away with it.


They got away with it because they're cops.They sped outrageously (literally) because they knew they'd face no consequences. That's an abuse of public trust and duty, whether they're on or off duty.

Exactly! My point is that real scandal for me is that apparently most cops won't give other cops a speeding ticket, which enabled the speeding and killing of 20 people in the first place.

Great use case for big data, and a great story about how "shadow data", the data that is avaialbe only through manipulation of data can be extracted.

And people will use this as a reason to scream "OMG CORRUPT COPS ALL OF THEM ARE AWFUL!" Welcome to the history of law enforcement.

People are people. We all do stupid things, and pretending that cops are anything but people is idiotic. Yes, they should be held to a higher standard. No, that does not mean you should not expect them to fuck up; it means that they should be punished when they do, just like the rest of us.

I know people who scream corruption and all sorts of other stupidity every time some government agent does something that seems even remotely wrong. I also know people who will defend, against all logic, all actions of anyone carrying a badge. I fall somewhere in between; I know and have known a whole lot of government employees, and have even been processed by a few of them. Yep, it was my fault, and I can't bring myself to hold it against them.

The point is that most people who take the job of upholding the law do so. That the laws aren't perfect is not their fault. That there are people who take that job but still break the law means they're not perfect, and it means they're still subject to the same laws as the rest of us. That's not news; that's just reality.

The idea that cops should be perfect sure as hell didn't come from cops. At least, none that I know. Higher standard? Sure. Perfection? Try a mirror. No one can manage that, and if you want perfect people chasing you down the street, you're likely to get sued when they find out you're using Superman without express written permission.

It's true - the majority of crime and unprovoked acts of violence in many regions are committed by law enforcement and the legal system as a whole.

The solution is to replace the current feudal legal system with a framework that seeks to reduce violence.

well, am I the only one to find that a little bit strange? pardon me for the cross reference but it feels like this should be on /r/nottheonion

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