CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — The 17-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel has unmatched beauty. It over overlooks the Chesapeake Bay and was once called “an engineering wonder of the modern world.”
Today, it’s considered by many as a reckless driving speed zone.
“They get out here at night. They get in a hurry, and going 132 miles an hour is ridiculous,” Bridge-Tunnel Police Chief Edward Spencer says.
Virginia Beach court documents show Martin Coggins, of New York City, was pulled over going 132 miles per hour in a 55 miles per hour zone on the bridge-tunnel. Five minutes after that traffic stop and just eight miles down the road, Coggins was stopped again by another officer. In that instance, he was clocked going 85 miles per hour.
“Most of the time, when they go to court with that type of speed, you better have a tooth-brush,” Chief Spencer said.
That’s true. It varies, but for the most part, judges tend to give possible jail time when a driver is caught going 90 miles an hour or more.
Coggins is now appealing an 80-day active jail sentence. The court hearings are in Virginia Beach and Northampton County, depending on where the driver lives.
Chief Spencer adds, “We want to be seen. We want to enforce the laws of the Commonwealth.”
Spencer wants increased police visibility to deter speeders. That brings us to Master Police Officer Morris Smith.
“It is open space, and no one around me, so I figure I could drive as fast as I want.”
Officer Smith says drivers see the straight and narrow road. They see the water. It’s a bridge, they are often lulled into speeding because they don’t think anyone is watching them, especially at night.
10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox took a ride with Officer Smith while he was running radar.
“Right there. 78 in a 55,” Smith said as his radar gun started beeping.
Morris calls ahead to another officer, who pulls them over. That driver was cited with reckless driving, which is 20 miles over the speed limit of 55.
Make no mistake, reckless speeders remain a major safety concern on the bridge-tunnel.
WAVY News looked into speeding tickets given by two Bridge-Tunnel Police officers.
Officer J. Batakis, who pulled Martin Coggins, was in Northampton County in October and will be in December. He wrote 76 reckless speeding tickets — 11 were between 91 and 99 miles per hour, and there was one at 104
Officer Smith will be in Northampton County Court Tuesday. He has 33 tickets, and 10 are reckless driving at 75 miles per hour or more.
Why is reckless speeding such a common occurrence on the CBBT?
“I don’t know,” Officer Smith replied. “Maybe the fines aren’t stiff enough. I’m not sure.”
Reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia. That means if you’re convicted, you could face the possibility of up to 12 months in jail, six months suspended license and six points on your license.
10 On Your Side looked for how many speeders are clocked over 100 miles an hour, and we found a reckless trend.
2014: 14 stops over 100 miles per hour.
2015: 18 stops over 100 miles per hour.
2016: So far, 17 stops over 100 miles per hour.
“I am most surprised when someone is out here driving triple digits, and they are under the influence of alcohol,” Officer Smith said.
Ironically, as WAVY went through the 109 speeding violations, there wasn’t one case attached to a DUI. It appears drivers aren’t drunk behind the wheel, they’re just speeding, and coming up with excuses.
“One guy said he had a death in the family. I said, ‘OK, but there’s no need for you to drive that fast.’ He says, ‘You don’t understand.’ I said, ‘I do understand, and I’m trying to save your life now or possibly someone else’s life.'”
Reckless speeding isn’t a new concern. In 2003, a General Assembly report of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) told bridge-tunnel operators they need to develop strategies to address reckless driving by doing the following:
- Reduce current tolerance to speeding by giving tickets early and often
- Use radars
- Use speed indicator signs
- Visible police patrols
CBBT operators responded. All of these are now done.
“All patrol vehicles are equipped with in-car cameras, and all officers are trained on how they are used. Officers also have body cameras,” Chief Spencer told WAVY News. “There is remote video surveillance at multiple locations on the facility. Cameras are monitored 24/7 at multiple locations. There are multiple cameras located in the tunnels, on the islands, and at the approaches. They are monitored 24/7 at multiple locations.”
10 On Your Side also asked Chief Spencer for statistics on reckless driving.
In 1994, which was the last year prior to the new parallel span construction, there were 428 reckless driving citations (speeds in excess of 74 miles per hour) given.
The first full year of the parallel span, there were 2,030 reckless driving tickets.
In 2015, that number had dropped to 710 reckless tickets. One can only assume the new safety measures were significant in that drop, but so far in 2016, reckless speeding tickets are up to 924.
The visible police patrols could be key. As Chief Spencer said, “we want to be seen.” That’s what Officer Smith does everyday he comes to work with his trusty radar.
“He’s going 67,” Smith motions to the driver with a lowering hand gesture to slow down. “I just get out and ride with the public. That’s what I do. I just make myself present as they ride along.”