Just before lunch-hour traffic, there’s ample space on Interstate 95 that tempts divers to speed. Finding the left lane too slow, a dark-gray Chevrolet sports car switched lanes to the right and accelerated. A Florida Highway Patrol trooper tailed not far behind.
Trooper Carl Vincent, 35, clocked the Chevrolet going 81 miles per hour in a 65 zone. He flicked on his lights and pulled the driver over onto the shoulder of I-95.
A young woman opened the car door, claiming her window doesn’t roll down. She got out of the car. Vincent remained calm and asked for her license and registration.
“I was going the same speed you were going,” she said to the trooper, her arms flying in the air in protest.
Vincent chuckled. “I was doing 79, the speed limit is 65. I’m glad you said that on camera, ma’am,” he said.
He let her off with a warning.
“Even though she gave me attitude, I’m still going to be the bigger person,” he said.
Ticket or not, troopers like Vincent want to show that law enforcement is cracking down on speeding and reckless driving, part of the multi-agency, multi-state initiative “Operation Slow Down.”
During the weeklong campaign, law enforcement agencies in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee will ramp up their presence on interstate corridors and other higher-speed roads.
One reason for the initiative is the increased number of speeding violations, FHP Major Robert Chandler said at a Monday news conference. In Florida, the number of drivers clocked going more than 50 miles per hour has risen every year since 2012. Since May, there have been 271 violations.
“When tourists come from all walks of life from all over the world, some aren’t used to these large highways and high volume of traffic,” Chandler said. “Then you combine that with drivers who exceed speed limits, drive aggressively, cut each other off — it makes for a deadly mix.”
For drivers who break the rules, Chandler said, they can choose from what he calls the “menu,” a brochure-like list of fines and penalties for the various traffic violations.
“The Florida Highway Patrol will be highly visible across Florida’s high-speed corridors,” he said.
But they’re not just looking for speeders.
In his patrol car parked along Interstate 595 outside the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Monday, Vincent scanned his rear-view mirror for drivers a little too desperate to make their flight on time. He waited for people who might have mixed the exit to cut across the white lines.
This particular exit was littered with debris from vehicle accidents, largely from people swerving off the expressway, striking another car on the exit ramp, Vincent said.
“Cutting off people like that creates fatalities upon fatalities,” he said.
After only five minutes of waiting, a white midsize sedan sliced through the solid lines near the exit lane. Vincent’s patrol car jolted into motion and snagged the driver within seconds.
In his 11 years on the patrol, Vincent has seen the carnage this kind of reckless driving can cause, so he wasn’t as lenient as he was with the speeding woman. He wrote the driver a $165 ticket.
“I try to keep it fair. If I write four tickets, I try to write four warnings,” he said. “But for this case, what if another car was coming down, exiting and he did that? People can get killed.”
It’s all about reminding people to drive responsibly not just this week, but every week, Vincent said.
So for drivers noticing more FHP presence on their commutes, it’s not just paranoia: More troopers are hitting the highway until Friday.