Even the most law-abiding drivers have been written up for speeding at some point. They were in a hurry to get somewhere or simply didn’t realize how fast they were going.
But there’s another category of speeding that goes beyond that.
Excessive speed is defined by Vermont statute as driving “on a public highway at a speed of 60 miles per hour or more and at least 30 miles per hour in excess of a state speed zone or local speed limit.”
On Vermont’s interstates that means driving at 95 mph or more.
One stretch of I-89, near the Royalton/Sharon town lines, has produced more than its share of excessive speeders and all have been apprehended by one state police trooper.
As a member of the Vermont State Police Traffic Operations Unit, Trooper Rich Slusser concentrates strictly on highway safety education and enforcing traffic laws.
He spends a lot of time parked along the interstate with his patrol car’s radar pointed at oncoming traffic.
Slusser has made seven stops since the spring of 2015 on the southbound stretch of I-89. In each case the driver was traveling 100 mph or faster. On no other section of interstate in Vermont has there been more than a single stop for excessive speed this year.
Slusser says there are many other similar places on the interstate where there is a relatively straight downhill section of highway. In this case, however, there’s a small dirt pull-off under a canopy of trees along the side of the road.
Instead of parking in one of the very visible U-turns that cross the median, where speeders anticipate seeing a trooper, Slusser monitors traffic from the less obvious spot next to the highway.
He says excessive speed violators are mostly young and mostly male. He understands that many people exceed the speed limit because they’re not paying attention to how fast they’re going. But above a certain speed, it’s impossible not to be aware.
“When they’re doing over 100 mph, they know they’re flying,” he says.
Slusser says he’s always curious about why they’re going so fast.
“Usually there is no excuse. There’s no real reason. I had one guy [say] ‘I wanted to see what my car could do,” he says.
Unlike normal speeding infractions, which are civil offenses, excessive speed is a criminal offense.
Violators are taken to a state police barracks, fingerprinted, photographed and released with a court date.
The fines amount to hundreds of dollars. The offense also carries a possible jail sentence, but Slusser says he’s never seen an instance where someone served time for excessive speed. And if they don’t have a history of violations, the criminal charges are usually dropped.
Based on the situation, he can also cite an excessive speeder for negligent operation, which results in a license suspension.
“If it’s raining out, or they’re flying in and out of cars, switching lanes fast, we’re going to charge them with negligent operation as well,” Slusser says.
The fastest speeder Slusser has stopped was going 121 mph. He says he's never had to chase someone down. In fact once they spot his cruiser they usually slow to well below the speed limit.
Slusser says he's never had a repeat excessive speed offender, either, but he believes people who are driving too fast are more worried about getting caught than getting in an accident.
The higher the speed the greater the likelihood of tragic results. That was illustrated recently when police allege a woman driving at approximately 100 miles an hour hit another car, killing the two occupants.
Slusser says preventing events like that is why he’s out patrolling the highways.
“We’re not trying to bring the hammer down on people. We’re trying to make the roads safe,” he says.
This story was corrected to clarify that typical speeding violations are civil offenses.