N.C. Legislative Leaders Support Speeding Crackdown

May 24, 2007

Leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly say legal loopholes that allow speeders to avoid punishment should be changed immediately, including the practice of judges who allow high-speed offenders to keep their driver’s licenses and avoid higher insurance premiums.

Speeding laws enacted by lawmakers have been weakened over the years by loopholes they’ve created that allow drivers to avoid harsh penalties.

For instance, William “Pete” Hunter, a Guilford County District Court judge, granted a prayer for judgment continued 101 times between January 2002 and June 2006, or for 74 percent of the speeding cases that came before him. That’s twice as many passes to motorists charged with high-speed driving for that period as any other judge in North Carolina, according to an analysis by The News & Observer of Raleigh.

The ruling is essentially a free pass that keeps a speeding conviction off a driver’s record so they can keep their licenses and not have insurance rates increase.

“Who would have ever thought that judges were acting in this way?” said Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare.

Hunter said he examines a number of factors in his judgments, which are not against the law and are part of the discretionary power given to a judge. He can forgive any speed and the driver doesn’t have to have a clean record to get the clearance.

Other proposed changes include limiting improper equipment pleas to two in a five-year period instead of the no limit under current law, said Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, the senate majority leader.

He also favors requiring the state Division of Motor Vehicles to record “improper equipment – speedometer” convictions on a driver’s record, which is not the practice now.

In recent years that has allowed about 30 percent of all speeding cases statewide to be pleaded down to improper equipment, which helps speeders avoid losing a driver’s license and insurance penalties.

Police and district attorneys say they often don’t know they are dealing with a chronic speeder because these convictions aren’t recorded.

Rand also said lawmakers should authorize a study on related issues including overcrowded courtrooms.

House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange, said lawmakers should provide more resources to the state Highway Patrol.

“We really do need some more troopers on the road and more troopers in areas where speeding is really, really bad,” he said. “Tickets do cause a change in behavior.”

Gov. Mike Easley supports the legislative changes outlined by Rand, according to a statement issued by his office.

The release said Easley supports moving minor speeding ticket cases from District Court to magistrates.

Tighter speeding laws would help, but lawmakers also need to provide the necessary money so prosecutors can properly handle the cases, said Garry Frank, president of the district attorneys’ group and district attorney for Davie, Alexander, Davidson and Iredell counties.

“It would certainly give DAs their marching orders,” Frank said. “But we have to make sure there are the funds to do it.”

Information from: The News & Observer,

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