Police crack down on M-59 speed demons

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published November 8, 2012

Lead-footed drivers, beware: Your ticket may be up.

In an effort to combat motorists’ excessive speeds in the area, Sterling Heights, Shelby Township and Utica are teaming up to increase traffic enforcement along Hall Road/M-59, from Dequindre to Hayes.

“We’re trying to raise awareness before 59 turns into a 696,” said Sgt. Aaron Burgess of the Sterling Heights Police Department’s traffic safety bureau, referring to dangerous speeds and aggressive motorists on the 696 interstate. “What we have noticed, especially inside Sterling Heights, is that we’re seeing a huge increase in the speeds that are coming into Sterling Heights, into Utica.

“Quite often these speeds we’re seeing are in excess of 100 mph,” he added. “It’s not uncommon to come into the 55 zone, up into Van Dyke, at 100, 115 mph.”

Utica Police Chief David Faber agreed that his department has “seen quite a few recently that hit triple digits” along his city’s 3-mile stretch of Hall Road.

“Led by Sterling Heights, they got with the area departments, and we decided we’re going to do a little crackdown out there, and we’ll let the public know we’re going to be out there,” he said.

Burgess said the agencies also have been fielding numerous complaints about “very aggressive driving” in the vicinity of Lakeside Mall, including rampant red light running.

Faber said the section near Utica Park Boulevard — Utica’s most dangerous intersection, according to Michigan Department of Transportation figures — has been a particular problem of late.

“There’s a lot of traffic down there, and you’ve got a lot of people entering and exiting Hall Road,” he said.

Heading eastbound on M-59 from Macomb County’s western border, the speed limit is 70 mph until around Merrill, when it decreases to 55. From Van Dyke to Hayes, it’s 45 mph.

In a 45-minute period Oct. 25, one officer wrote seven excessive speed tickets, including some for motorists driving in the 90s in a 70-mph zone, said Burgess.

Throughout a two-hour period later the same day, Sterling Heights police issued 23 speeding violations, including those issued to multiple drivers traveling more than 80 mph in a 55 mph area, he added.

When conducting a traffic stop, Burgess explained, an officer visually observes a suspected speeder, then determines the motorist’s speed using radar, “which blankets all vehicles in a cone,” or laser, which uses a “pencil-thin” beam to pinpoint an individual car.

Speeding fines can range from $110 to $220, depending on the offense’s severity.

Burgess believes this summer’s favorable conditions lulled some motorists into a false sense of complacency.

“I think some of this has to do with the fact that we did have a very hot, dry summer; the roadways have been very good, so people haven’t had to slow down,” he said. “Their traction, acceleration, deceleration, have not been affected.”

But with winter — and its requisite perilous weather — looming, that’s likely to change very soon, said Burgess.

“My concern is that people will continue these poor driving habits … and we’re going to end up having a very serious or a fatal crash,” he said.

Plus, as the winter holidays approach, Hall Road — straddled by Lakeside Mall, a plethora of shops and the Mall at Partridge Creek just beyond in Clinton Township — becomes slammed with shoppers.

“Especially with the holiday season coming up and whatnot, there’s going to be more people … up and down M-59 — traveling, shopping — and it’s obviously a major goal of ours, for safety, so people are aware and people are able to shop and have a good time safely,” said Shelby Township officer Derek Stansbury.

He insisted it’s not just all about writing tickets. “It’s more of just a reminder, just to slow it down, be cognizant of what you’re doing and paying attention to your driving so that we don’t have any issues. Obviously, the more we can be out there, the more visual we are, the better it is,” he said.

Faber noted that the ubiquitous commercials featuring “crash test dummies” demonstrate vehicle safety feature efficacy in controlled crash simulations of 35-40 mph.

“You increase that two-fold, it doesn’t matter what you have in the vehicle; there are going to be injuries,” he said. “The only vehicles designed to crash at those speeds are in NASCAR — and the average driver doesn’t have that equipment.”

According to Burgess, the trio of police agencies hasn’t conducted this kind of large-scale joint initiative on M-59/Hall Road in several years.

The crackdown, which Burgess credited to Lt. Dale Dwojakowski, will last at least through November, but perhaps beyond, depending on whether it appears drivers are getting the message, he said.

“It’s scary out on the roadway,” said Burgess. “It’s gotten to the point where it’s so dangerous now, we have to take a strict approach to the violations we’re going to issue.”