This proves the rule.
Public Investigator | Taking tips, chasing leads, solving problems
Being female is no license to speed, tickets show
State Patrol cites men, women equally; Illinoisans merit tickets more often
By Ellen Gabler of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: Aug. 2, 2009
Ladies, brace yourselves: It's not true.
Your femininity is not protecting you from receiving tickets on Wisconsin interstates and highways.
Women and men actually receive the same proportion of tickets compared with warnings when pulled over by Wisconsin State Patrol officers.
But here's the good news for Cheeseheads, ladies and gents alike:
Those Illinois drivers got slapped with tickets a higher percentage of the time. One possible reason? In general, they were driving faster.
That's according to an analysis of more than 150,000 citations and warnings issued by the Wisconsin State Patrol in 2008.
Public Investigator requested the data to get a closer look at who receives tickets and warnings on Wisconsin roads.
State Patrol officials say the decision to cite or warn a driver can be subjective.
"The ultimate decision goes with the trooper," said Inspector David Harvey of the Wisconsin State Patrol, noting that speeding in a 30-mph zone with bicyclists around could be considered more dangerous than speeding on a rural road.
Public Investigator asked for the data to examine the State Patrol's trends in ticketing drivers based on race and other factors. But the data provides an incomplete picture on race.
Black drivers from Wisconsin, for instance, received a speeding ticket a higher percentage of the time when they were stopped than whites did - about 10.5 percentage points more.
Nearly 30 times more whites than blacks were issued either a citation or a warning, but proportionately, white drivers were more likely to get off with a warning.
But black drivers were recorded speeding at faster speeds than whites. Those higher speeds are more likely to earn a ticket than a warning, experts say.
For example, 26% of blacks from Wisconsin who were cited were going at least 21 mph over the speed limit, according to state records. Only 11% of white drivers who were ticketed were going that fast.
When state troopers issue warnings, they don't log how much over the limit drivers were going at the time. So it's impossible to compare whether race makes any difference in drivers getting tickets or warnings at the same speeds.
"You need to get data that has some sort of benchmark," said John Lamberth, an expert in conducting racial profiling studies.
As of now, that data doesn't exist for many of the state's law enforcement agencies, even though lawmakers and community leaders have recommended for nearly a decade that it be collected.
Lamberth said agencies often don't know the appropriate data to collect, don't have the money to collect it or are stymied by political agendas that won't allow certain information to be gathered.
In June, Gov. Jim Doyle signed into law a provision that requires more data collection to check for racial profiling.
Maj. Darren Price, with the Wisconsin State Patrol, said the agency is looking to capture more data so that it can better analyze trends. The department still investigates the few complaints that it gets about racial profiling, he said.
"We're not shy about it," he said.
Illinois drivers ticketed
No one likes to see the red and blue lights flashing in their rearview mirror. While law enforcement officials acknowledge there's a certain amount of subjectivity to their ticketing, they insist they're not out to get anyone.
Many drivers, however, disagree.
Elaine Graf of Aurora, Ill., said she was pulled over and ticketed on I-94 last August for driving 11 miles over the speed limit.
While she admits she was speeding, Graf said all the other drivers around her were too. She thinks her Illinois plates might have made her stick out.
"I wasn't going 11 miles over the speed limit all by myself," she said.
Price, with the State Patrol, said out-of-state drivers might have a higher proportion of tickets than warnings because they are used to driving a certain way in their own state and enforcement varies from state-to-state.
Public Investigator found that about 60% of Illinois drivers received tickets instead of warnings in 2008, compared with about 40% of Wisconsin drivers who were cited.As it turns out, Illinois drivers seem to be going faster than Wisconsin drivers.
About 20% of Illinois drivers who were ticketed were driving at least 21 mph over the speed limit, compared with about 8% of Wisconsin drivers who were ticketed for driving those extreme speeds.
Wisconsin drivers also might be conditioned not to speed.
Price said that Wisconsin has much higher fines than many other states, which out-of-towners might not expect. Wisconsinites, however, might already know fines are steep and slow down accordingly.
Erica Gunther, of Cullom, Ill., said she was stunned when she received a ticket last June for at least $250. Gunther said she was driving only about 8 mph over the speed limit, but a State Patrol trooper recorded her driving 12 mph over the limit in a 65-mph zone.
Gunther said she wouldn't have gotten pulled over in Illinois for going that fast, but had she known Wisconsin troopers were so strict, she would have taken precautions.
"I would have at least set the cruise control," she said.
Price said Wisconsinites might also be extra cautious about speeding because they don't want to rack up points against their license. Out-of-state drivers don't necessarily have to worry about losing points in their home state if they get a ticket in Wisconsin because the points don't transfer over.
He dismissed the idea that troopers would pull over an out-of-state driver just for being an outsider.
"We don't know we are stopping an Illinois driver until we stop them or pull up behind them to stop them," he said.
And what about the ladies?
While it's true that more men are stopped overall - they have nearly double the amount of warnings and citations compared with women - the sexes both got off with just warnings 57% of the time.
Cassandra Amdahl, a 20-year-old student at UW-Milwaukee, said her friends who are guys wouldn't buy the statistics.
Amdahl said she's been pulled over at least 15 times and has gotten only three tickets.
"I don't know why they seem to let me go so much," she said.
Ben Poston of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this repor