Brevard County ranks fourth in both speed-related and aggressive-driving fatal and injury crash rates among the Sunshine State's 23 largest counties of more than 200,000 residents.
"Here's how the traffic goes out on I-95. They're speeding until they catch up to the slower traffic, and now they're tailgating. Because they're pushing 'em, trying to get 'em out of the way," said Sgt. Scott Behringer, who heads the nine-deputy BCSO traffic unit.
"And once they get 'em out of the way — or if they can't get 'em out of the way — they immediately cut over with limited room, which is now improper change of lanes," Behringer told Local 6 News partner Florida Today.
"Now, that's aggressive driving. Two or more moving violations in succession is considered aggressive driving," he said.
In 2012 in Brevard, there were five traffic deaths and 192 injuries linked with aggressive driving. Four traffic deaths and 233 injuries were linked with speeding, said Benjamin Jacobs, FDOT crash records and research administrator.
Only Broward, Palm Beach and Leon counties ranked higher than Brevard in both crash-rate categories among Florida's 23 major counties.
"I did not realize how high we ranked," said Bob Kamm, executive director of the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization.
"We have 80 miles or so of I-95 in the county, as well as (State Road) 528. And those are well-known locations for people to disregard speed limits. Unfortunately, at that high rate of speed, if there's an incident it can be very damaging. It can be fatal," Kamm said.
"We're a long county. And to get from Titusville to Palm Bay, it's 50 miles. People want to get there fast, and sometimes they don't pay attention. Eighty percent of crashes are due to driver error — and speeding makes it worse," he said.
Stereotypes of doddering snowbirds, drunkards or reckless teenagers wreaking havoc behind the wheel do not explain the Space Coast's standings. Brevard's fatal and injury crash rates rank 15th for drivers age 65 and older, 17th for alcohol-related and 19th for teen drivers.
FDOT aggressive-driving and speed-related crash statistics overlap in many instances, Jacobs said.
For example, in beachside Brevard's most widely reported recent crash, Nancy Chancey lost control of her Dodge Challenger after barreling through traffic at about 100 mph on State Road A1A near Indialantic. Her muscle car struck and killed a pedestrian; she was ejected into a culvert and killed; and the Challenger rolled and burst into flames on the pavement.
Brevard morning rush-hour speeders are of great concern, Behringer said, particularly on I-95 and the Pineda Causeway Extension.
"I turn into the Indianapolis 500 pace car on the interstate. The traffic will come up behind me at a higher rate of speed than I'm traveling. They'll slow down and pack up behind me. If I get off the interstate, they immediately push on the gas and accelerate," Behringer said.
"Don't be the last-minute riser, rushing around the house, and then you have to speed to make up time so you get to work on time. Because that's a lot of the excuses that we hear out there: 'I'm running late for work,' " he said.
"Well, that's your fault, not mine. And you're jeopardizing the safety of the motoring public out here by your driving actions," he said.
Two weeks ago, Gov. Rick Scott vowed to veto a proposed 5 mph speed limit increase on Florida highways, from 70 to 75 mph.
AAA Auto Club South supports Scott's stance. Statistics show that speed-related fatal crashes exceed the national average in 13 of 16 states where the speed limit was raised to more than 70 mph, said Karen Morgan, AAA spokeswoman.
"That was a very strong argument for us, seeing that where they loosened the reins on speed limits the fatalities increased. We also felt that, when the bill was in the Legislature, there was no compelling argument for why this bill was needed," Morgan said.
Thrush, a 15-year BCSO traffic unit veteran, typically writes 10 to 15 tickets per shift in northern Brevard. He recalled chasing down a motorcyclist near Mims who was tearing up I-95 at 114 mph en route to Bike Week in Daytona Beach.
Thrush's 2013 Ford Taurus Police Interceptor sports radar guns mounted atop the dashboard and rear package shelf. Driving west while patrolling SR 528 last week, he clocked an oncoming Toyota speeding east at 86 mph on the other side of the guardrail.
"There's a 91," he said seconds later, clocking another speeding vehicle. "And I can't go across the median here."
Thrush said the ongoing I-95 expansion from four to six lanes has greatly reduced the number of median crossings.
"I like the new roads. But putting the median in with no breaks in it, it just kills us. And it just encourages the people to step on it on the other side," Thrush said while watching for I-95 speeders at the State Road 524 overpass.
"Because they know where the crossovers are, where we can turn around and initiate stops on them," he said.