Governor considering new traffic laws

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Under 18 and like to drive fast? Your license could be suspended over a single speeding violation.

Do you drive a truck weighing more than 48,000 pounds? You could be banned from the left lanes on major highways around Missouri's big cities.

Have a lot of unpaid parking tickets? If you live near St. Louis or Kansas City, they could start showing up on your personal property tax bill.

Those are among the dozens of provisions in a massive bill on traffic laws approved by the Missouri Legislature in the waning hours of the 2003 session. If it is signed by Gov. Bob Holden, who is still reviewing it, most of the revised laws would take effect Aug. 28.

The legislation takes aim at young speeders, among other groups. Motorists under 18 would lose eight points off their licenses for a first offense of driving at least 20 mph over the speed limit -- and 12 points for second and subsequent offenses.

State law mandates license suspensions of 30 days for anyone accumulating eight points in 18 months, with longer suspensions for subsequent offenses.

Lt. Tim Hull, a spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, said that in 2001, excessive speed was blamed in 43 percent of all fatal crashes involving drivers under 21.

"There's the possibility that this certainly could act as a deterrent," Hull said of the legislation. "And it's going to cause a problem for those who don't feel this is a deterrent."

State Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, sponsored the bill. The teenage speeding provision was added by state Senate Majority Leader Mike Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, he said. "I think his area had a lot of hill jumping and the deaths of teenaged kids," Lipke said. "He was looking for a way to stop that."

'They'll just be driving'

Will Ramsey, a 17-year-old junior at Central High School in Cape Girardeau, doesn't think the law will stop teenaged drivers from excessive speeding. "They won't be thinking about the law when they're driving. They'll just be driving however they want," he said.

But Ramsey endorses changing the law. "You shouldn't be driving 20 mph over the speed limit," he said. "If you get caught, you should be punished."

Ramsey admits he has driven 20 mph over the speed limit himself. So has Luke Kester, a Central High School junior who used to drive a faster car.

But Kester thinks the license suspension should be longer than 30 days.

Kester, who lives on Highway 74, said "people are going 80 mph all the time" by his home. Whether the law change acts as a deterrent depends on how well it's enforced, he said, adding that he has only seen one person pulled over on Highway 74 in the past three years.

Kester does question why driving 20 mph over the speed limit is only severely punished for drivers 16 or 17 years old. "I think it should apply to everyone," he said.

Lipke said the law is in line with the state's new graduated license provisions for teenagers. "There are added restrictions on younger drivers until they get the experience," he said.

Seldom seen in Jackson

Lt. Robert Bonney of the Jackson Police Department said officers in that city seldom encounter speeders going 20 mph over the limit. "It's probably more aimed toward the interstate drivers," he said.

Capt. Carl Kinnison of the Cape Girardeau Police Department said the law will have applications in Cape Girardeau. There have been speeding problems near Central High School, he said, and even on Broadway on weekend nights. "If you're doing 45 in a 25 mph zone, that's over the limit."

Another section would require Missourians seeking to recover their licenses after drunken driving convictions to pay more fees for a required traffic course.

Under the bill, outstanding traffic fines or parking tickets could be added to personal property tax bills in first-class charter counties -- Jackson, St. Charles and St. Louis.

Applicants for bus drivers' licenses would have to submit one set of fingerprints to the Missouri State Highway Patrol and one to the FBI, starting in July 2004, and would have to pay for the fingerprinting.

Both the Jackson and Cape Girardeau police departments do fingerprinting for free.

The bill also specifies that in "urbanized areas," heavy trucks cannot use the left lanes of highways that have at least three lanes in each direction. If the bill becomes law, state officials would decide which stretches of which highways would be affected.

"You get trucks side-by-side going up a hill and you're looking at a traffic backup," Hull said. "We see a lot of traffic crashes when traffic is backed up."

Staff writer Sam Blackwell contributed to this report.

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