Even when speed doesn't kill (and it does), it will really cost you in Whatcom County

Washington State Patrol catches speeding drivers from the sky

The Washington State Patrol Aviation Section uses a Cessna 206 equipped with specialized camera equipment to provide aerial traffic enforcement support on Interstate 90 on June 23-25, 2017.
Up Next
The Washington State Patrol Aviation Section uses a Cessna 206 equipped with specialized camera equipment to provide aerial traffic enforcement support on Interstate 90 on June 23-25, 2017.

Running late for an appointment? Trying to get around that slowpoke on the freeway? Gotta beat that yellow light?

Before you punch the gas pedal, remember that a recent report said the Evergreen State is among the toughest on speeders and reckless drivers.

Personal finance website WalletHub said Washington is first among U.S. states where speeding is automatically considered reckless driving, seventh in average cost increase of insurance after one speeding ticket, and tenth for minimum jail time for a first reckless-driving offense.

We're also second for maximum fine for a second reckless-driving offense and 13th for minimum jail time for a second reckless-driving offense.

Fatalities and injuries caused by speeding have declined sharply over the past decade in Whatcom County.

According to state Department of Transportation records, there have been four fatal and serious injury crashes this year in Whatcom County that were linked to excess speed.

For all of 2017, that number was 19 crashes.

In 2007, there were 39 fatal and serious-injury crashes in which speed was a factor.

BH Stock speed limit sign
Staff The Bellingham Herald file

"Speed kills," WalletHub said in a statement. "We have all been told that since driver’s education class, and yet American drivers routinely exceed the speed limit."

In Washington, a first-time reckless driving conviction could result in a year in jail, a $5,000 fine and a suspended license.

Surveys show that many drivers speed, even though ticket prices in Washington were raised several years ago and the cost of car insurance often rises with a traffic citation.

WalletHub also found that insurance rates rise an average 18.53 percent in Washington after one speeding ticket.

Traffic citations for speeding alone start at $105 and rise to $423.

A 2017 AAA study of risky and aggressive driving found that speeding is more socially acceptable than drunken driving.

Slightly more than half of U.S. drivers said they go 15 mph above the limit on freeways and almost half of drivers said they drive 10 mph above the 25 limit on residential streets.

In contrast, only 13.5 percent of drivers admitted to driving drunk in 2016, the year the survey was conducted.

A full 94 percent of drivers said they consider drunks a serious threat.

Even though speeding alone is legally considered reckless driving in Washington, a police officer won't always add reckless charge to a speeding ticket, said Trooper Heather Axtman of the Washington State Patrol.

"It's all up to the trooper," Axtman said. "It's not necessarily an automatic reckless. That's willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others."

Ticket penalties in Washington state are set by law, and speeding in an under-40 zone costs more, she said.

She said police officers will throw the book at speeders in residential areas.

"If you're going 80 in a 25, you're getting a hefty fine," Axtman said. "If you're in a zone with homes and kids all around and you're kicking it at 40 to 45 — the cop might be able to justify a reckless."

CarInsurance.com said a speeding ticket could result in a 10 percent increase in insurance premiums for three to five years, depending on the company and other factors, including how long the policy holder has been a client.

"Three speeding tickets in Bellingham over five years and my insurance rates did not go up," said Lori Wilkinson Laigaie. "(But) I've been with Geico for 18 years. Maybe that's it."

Laigaie could be right, said former Bellingham resident Matt Hagen, now an insurance broker with Griffin MacLean in Bellevue.

Hagen said car insurance agents look at a three-year driving history and also take into account the driver's credit score and length of time the client has held a policy with the company.

"What it's going to depend on is how fast you were going over the limit," Hagen said. "Anything 16 (mph) and over is where agents are going to ding you little higher."

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty