- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 9, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Drivers beware. Virginia commuters cruising 55 mph on the Beltway are in danger of getting ticketed for reckless driving.

The Virginia Department of Transportation's (VDOT) new variable-speed-limit initiative, a $3 million program imported from Europe, makes it possible. With variable speed limits, the agency can use a remote control to lower posted speed limits by as much as 20 mph while vehicles are on the road. A newly created speed limit - which could change instantly from 55 mph to 35 mph at the press of a button - would be displayed on an electronic sign on the far right-hand side of the road. These constantly changing speed-limit signs could vary from mile to mile.

On the Beltway, which has a high volume of commercial traffic, the view of such signs frequently is blocked by big-rig trucks and sport utility vehicles in the slow lane. Twenty mph over the speed limit constitutes reckless driving in Virginia, which is a class-one misdemeanor carrying the potential for six months in jail in addition to the $2,500 price tag of the ticket itself.

This system makes it increasingly difficult to contest a purported speeding violation in traffic court. Under normal circumstances, an accused motorist has an uphill battle when it is his word against a patrolman's about the speed at which a car was traveling. With variable speed limits, there is not even a clear standard about what speed a driver should have been going because the speed-limit signage is not constant.

The variable-speed-limit program is in effect on the Beltway between the Springfield interchange and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. According to VDOT, the program is designed to tell motorists how fast they should drive to achieve optimum traffic flow. It is not clear how confusion about a speed limit on a highway can help traffic flow smoothly. The more obvious explanation is that variable speed limits are about revenue, and we are sure VDOT will succeed at squeezing lots of money out of drivers with this scam.


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