You’re driving 70 on the interstate, the speed limit, and you feel silly because everyone is passing you.
This week, say law enforcement officers across the Southeast, you may look like the smart one.
Even inching up toward 75 mph risks getting you pulled over during a weeklong special enforcement campaign across Florida and four other states.
Started in 2017, Operation Southern Shield has become an annual tradition among federal and regional agencies in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. But this year, with more motorists eager to hit the highway after a year in pandemic lockdown, the campaign takes on new urgency.
Carmen Hayes oversees the effort as administrator of Region 4 for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and told reporters Monday that this year’s campaign will continue through Saturday.
“As the nation reopens, most of us are excited to get back to doing more of the things that we were previously not able to do but it’s important that we’re safe behind the wheel,” Hayes said.
The Traffic Safety Administration said 38,680 Americans were killed in traffic crashes in 2020, an increase of 7.2 percent over the 36,096 deaths reported in 2019. The number of speed-related crashes grew by a striking 11 percent compared to 2019 numbers, she said.
“These are more than numbers,” Hayes said. “These are people who have lost their lives on our roadways; people who will be missed by family and friends.”
This week was chosen for the annual crackdown because it falls within the peak summer travel period, when the rate of fatal and injury crashes in the Southeast is higher than at any other time of the year.
In Florida, troopers will be paying special attention to speeders on Interstate 10, Interstate 75 and Interstate 95. The Highway Patrol warned that those driving even slightly over the limit risk getting pulled over, wherever they’re traveling. The highest legal speed limit on any Florida roadway is 70 mph.
Florida law also requires moving over when approaching law enforcement officers, emergency workers, or any other travelers pulled over to the side of the road and slowing to 20 mph under the posted speed limit when this happens on a two-lane road or where moving over isn’t safe.
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Last year, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported 3,334 traffic fatalities — up from 3,192 in 2019. That’s despite a decline in the number of traffic crashes reported.
“Well, that tells us is it is because of speed and no seatbelt,” said Col. Gene Spaulding, director of the Florida Highway Patrol. “Those are the two primary issues that cause significant injuries after a traffic crash.”
Distracted driving also plays a role, Spaulding said, but speeding creates more distractions as well as greater distances and greater opportunity for a serious or fatal crash.