DES MOINES — Last week, in the middle of a snowstorm, a driver on “100 percent snow and ice” was ticketed by an Iowa State Patrol trooper for doing 96 mph in 65 mph speed zone.
The driver’s effort to get to work on time cost him about $240, according to the patrol.
Excessive speed, regardless of the conditions, is becoming more common on Iowa roads, according to data compiled by the patrol. Last year, troopers wrote 78,153 speed citations, including 463 citation to motorists driving 25 mph over the speed limit.
More alarming to Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens were the 729 citations for driving 100 mph or faster.
The 729 citations for 100 mph is more than double the number ISP wrote in 2013, but less than the 797 issued in 2017, according to Public Safety.
“Quite frankly, as the new commissioner of DPS, I found that number staggering, surprising,” Bayens said Tuesday during a meeting with the Justice System Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees his budget.
In 2009, the Iowa State Patrol reported issuing 67,571 speed memos and 91,783 citations. No data on excessive speed was available.
The patrol is studying data on excessive speed to determine if there are “hot spots” for motorists exceeding 100 mph, Bayens said.
“We need to focus on where they are occurring,” he said, and be “very educated and guided in our enforcement.”
Excessive speeding is not limited to “high school boys out joy riding” based on what law enforcement officers have told him, said Rep. Mike Sexton, R-Rockwell City. “They are folks without a criminal record who are late for a doctor’s appointment.”
Having more troopers on the road would help reduce excessive speeding, Bayens said.
“Visibility matters. When you see a squad car you involuntarily tap the brakes,” he told legislators.
The patrol has 373 filled trooper positions. Another 21 positions are unfilled because the funds were needed to pay for equipment to outfit the active troopers, he said.
The patrol responds to calls for service, mostly on the interstate system, which means less time patrolling rural highways.
“If people think they can get away with it, they push the envelope,” said Rep. Jon Thorup, R-Knoxville, who is on leave from the patrol while the Legislature is in session. He said excessive speeders include every age group and both genders.
Despite the unfilled positions, Bayens submitted a status quo general fund budget of $63.9 million for the patrol.
That’s a problem, Sen. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids, told subcommittee members.
“He needs more money,” he said, referring to those unfilled positions. “I hope nobody walks out of here feeling comfortable with a status quo budget. He needs more money.”
Bayens also shared the patrol’s goals for 2019, which include lowering traffic fatalities to fewer than 300. The number of Iowa traffic fatalities has averaged 336 over the past five years with a low of 316 in 2015 and high of 399 the following year. There were 318 traffic deaths in 2018. In 2008, there were 412 fatalities, which was down from 527 in 1995.