Image: Speeding ticket © Corbis

Of the dozens of speeding tickets that Greg P. earned during his first nine years of driving, none was because he was in a hurry.

Doing 80 to 90 mph in a 75 mph zone didn't seem unreasonable. And why not take advantage of the wide-open roads of Texas -- where speed limits can reach 85 mph -- by driving 95 or 100 mph?

"It's comfortable. It's a cruising speed for me," says Greg, who asked that his last name not be used.

Greg is hardly alone. "The public's attitude about speeding is enormously conflicted," notes the Governors Highway Safety Association's recent survey of state laws and enforcement tactics. "Few advocates exist for speed reduction; speeding is a behavior that many people engage in routinely."

But traffic fatalities linked to speeding have gone up 7% since 2000, while fatal crashes by people not using seat belts have dropped 23%, and alcohol-impaired fatalities are down 3%, the report finds. Since the group's last survey, seven states have actually raised their speed limits.

Recognizing reality, the GHSA report calls for states to firmly deal with two issues where public support is substantial: enforcement of both aggressive driving laws and speed laws in school and work zones. The GHSA also wants federal safety officials to mount a high-visibility campaign like those that reduced deaths from drunken driving and failure to use seat belts, and to encourage the use of automated enforcement such as speed and red-light cameras.

But will the right drivers listen?

It's getting easier to speed

Since the last survey of highway safety offices in 2005, few states have done much to combat speeding, while seven states -- Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Vermont -- actually have increased speed limits.

Texas and Utah have the highest speed limits in the country: 85 mph in Texas and 80 mph in Utah on some rural highway segments.

At the same time, state budget cuts have trimmed back the number of officers available to enforce the laws, the GHSA says.

One state, Minnesota, made speeding less painful. Drivers passing on a two-lane road now may exceed the speed limit by 10 mph, and the state has adopted an administrative penalty option for speeding that keeps violations off the driver's motor vehicle record -- and away from affecting insurance premiums.

Ultimately, setting speed limits is often a political decision, says Barbara Harsha, the executive director of the GHSA.

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"There's just an apathy about speed limits," she says. "People think they don't apply to them and that it pertains to the other guy."

It's not surprising, then, that nearly two-thirds of motorists surveyed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in 2010 said they felt pressure from other drivers to go even faster.

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