Most Northwest drivers rely on “buffer zone” to avoid consequences of speeding



​​​SEATTLE – How many miles per hour above the speed limit can a driver go without drawing attention from the police? According to a recent poll by PEMCO Insurance, most drivers have a clear perception of the answer and take advantage of that "buffer zone."

Northwest-based PEMCO Insurance reports that as many as two out of three Northwest drivers believe they can bump their speed above the posted limit – even if witnessed by law enforcement – and get away with it, although the data varies by where those leadfoot drivers live.

In Oregon, two-thirds of registered drivers believe they can add a few miles per hour while driving on interstates without being pulled over, and more than half admit they add as much as 9 mph above the legal speed limit.

That’s significantly higher than in Washington, where only about half of the drivers believe there’s a freeway buffer zone, with the majority – 59 percent – setting the threshold at just 4 mph or less over the legal speed limit, according to the poll

“Oregon’s lower freeway speed limit, set at 65, may explain why Oregon drivers think there’s a higher tolerance for speeding,” said PEMCO spokesperson Jon Osterberg. "Regardless, data shows that speeding causes more crashes and fatalities."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that nearly one-half of all fatal speeding-related crashes in 2009 occurred on roads with posted speed limits of 55 mph or more.

According to the Washington State Patrol, speeding is one of three areas where data shows motorists are most likely to be killed or injured when drivers violate posted speed limits. Other fatal behavior includes driving while impaired and failure to wear a seatbelt.

Despite the State Patrol’s emphasis on catching speeders, nine out of 10 Washington drivers admit they’ve exceeded the speed limit at least once, and half of all Washington drivers say they speed at least some of the time. The same holds true for Oregon drivers, according to the PEMCO poll.

Oregonians, however, are more likely to push speed limits, with 61 percent saying they should be quick to slow down before reaching 9 mph above the posted speed. That compares with 71 percent of Washington drivers who slow down before hitting 9 mph over the speed limit.

In either state, of those who admit to speeding, a majority say they’re simply keeping up with the flow of traffic, and a smaller fraction say they speed without realizing they’re exceeding the limit.

What’s also true for both states is the more you earn, the more likely you’ll speed. Nearly 60 percent of drivers with incomes of more than $50,000 per year admit to sometimes speeding.

Younger drivers also demonstrate less caution for slowing down. About two-thirds of drivers under age 35 admit to speeding at least some of the time, while less than half of drivers over age 35 say they sometimes speed.

"Although most of us speed at least once in a while, the major takeaway here is to remember that increased speed equals increased danger of physical harm, whether the police catch you or not," Osterberg said.

To learn more about the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll and to view a summary of the results, visit, where the public is invited to participate in an informal version of the poll to see how their own responses compare with those collected by FBK Research of Seattle in April 2011 and July 2011.

About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll

PEMCO Insurance commissioned this independent survey that asked Washington and Oregon drivers several questions about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 601 respondents in Washington and 600 respondents in the Portland metro area, yields an accuracy of +/- 4.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study were conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than +/- 4.1 percent.

About PEMCO Insurance

PEMCO Insurance, established in 1949, is a Seattle-based provider of auto, home, boat, life, and umbrella insurance to Northwest residents. PEMCO Insurance is sold by community agents throughout the region and through PEMCO offices. For more information, visit