Gridlock Guy: A trip to court and the extreme difficulty in deterring speeders

Street racers vandalize "Rainbow Crosswalk" for second weekend in a row

Street racers vandalize "Rainbow Crosswalk" for second weekend in a row

There is an ongoing pattern, a cycle that stunts progress: Law enforcement and the judicial system simply aren’t stopping enough criminals or keeping accused ones in check. This is evidenced in many arenas, including very obviously on the roads.

A trend that began proliferating before the pandemic and spread like a virus during the early stages thereof has only stayed since the roads have refilled. Cowardly and selfish daredevils shut down intersections and freeways to cut donuts and drag race. Others just drive 20, 30, 50 mph faster than surrounding traffic, darting in and out of lanes as if law-abiders are chicanes.

Police get calls trying to curb this behavior, but the offenders are often long gone. Many enforcement agencies are understaffed and there are bidding wars to lure officers elsewhere.

When the police do arrive, crowds around drifters scatter. When the police seek a super-speeder, the pursuit can turn into a dangerous high-speed chase, which many jurisdictions no longer allow. And then there is the tension that law enforcement and the public have faced heavily in the last two years. How hard can officers lay down the law versus the potential trouble and controversy that can cause?

The reckless drivers who receive tickets find other ways to slide through the cracks, as one session last Thursday at the Atlanta Municipal Court showed. I observed a full docket in one of four traffic-related courts.

Most of the accused on that day pleaded no contest to various issues, and the majority received monetary punishments and no points on their licenses, instances that were largely fair. A large handful of these drivers got pats on the back for wearing seatbelts, wags of the finger for not, and various short lectures on the importance of different driving responsibilities. Some people simply need the wake-up call of this experience. A hefty fine and a half-morning spent at court is a bad-behavior deterrent.

But more than a few defendants appealed for a jury trial for instances where they were at fault in crashes or caught speeding. This is where the justice process frustrates.

Less than 20 years ago, a series of fiscal and power-centralizing moves shrunk the size of the Atlanta Municipal Court and moved most jury trial cases to the county court. This stymied the city court from trying certain cases and being a relief valve of sorts for the county. Backlogs started forming.

The courts’ COVID shutdowns made the delays for cases worse. Drivers who face license loss or jail time get lawyers. Any lawyers worth their salt appeal for jury trials. That then sends more cases to a further-backlogged Fulton County Court, keeping bad drivers on the streets even longer.

The reported case delay in Fulton’s court is 18-24 months. By the time the county can hear the defendant’s case, scoring any kind of conviction is hard. Remember that officer-staffing glut? The arresting or ticketing officer for a case that is months or even years old may have left the force, so the accused walks. The statute of limitations can expire before the case is heard. Someone under age 21 can age past the point of the strict punishment for underage super-speeders.

A surprising number of people did not show up for their arraignments last week. There are various reasons for this, but warrants go out for people who blow off this requirement. The problem is — just as is true with pulling over speeders — defiant and self-anointed road kings can just say, “Catch me if you can.”

The frustrating cycle continues

A couple of cases from my three-hour observation were stark in their dangerousness. One person was doing 84 mph in a 55 zone, was not wearing a seatbelt, had an expired dealer tag, and was watching YouTube on their cell phone. They pleaded no contest, but they still had a steep fine and a mandatory trip to driving school.

Another driver received their second extreme speeding ticket in a year; they were clocked doing 98 mph in a 60 and were not wearing their seatbelt. They surprisingly pled guilty, thus not asking for a trial.

When the judge pressed this 21-year-old speedster about where they were so eager to travel at 12:15 a.m., they admitted they were hurrying to a strip club. The judge repeated what so many of us have heard these last two years: The roads are mayhem right now.

This driver’s selfish decisions got him the worst punishment that I observed: driving school, a nearly $1,000 fine, and their license suspended for 30 days. They were also told that another offense like this would mean jail time. They were lucky not to get some then. If they had appealed for a trial, they very likely would have driven home.

The sheer volume of traffic cases in just the City of Atlanta is astounding. And while judges have some tools for curbing egregious violators — such as suspending their licenses until the jury trials with the county — those punishments can get tied up with appeals.

Culture is bruised concerning responsible driving; people just seem to care less. And the system to keep people in check needs overhauling, too. The prevalence of extreme speeders and reckless road-blockers may just be a trend. But if the courts continue backing up and if police departments stay understaffed, this rash on the streets will fester.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on Contact him at