After retiring last year as chief executive officer of the Maryland poultry company that bears his name, Frank Perdue likened his fast-paced career to an engine. "As you get older, you turn the throttle down a little bit," the 69-year-old chicken magnate said in a published interview. Indeed, for most of the previous 20 years, Perdue seemed to be a man in a hurry -- and he has the driving record to prove it. Since 1968, the year he founded his first poultry processing plant in his Eastern Shore home town of Salisbury, police in Maryland and Virginia have cited Perdue for 37 separate moving violations, resulting in 34 convictions, the majority of them for speeding, according to motor vehicle and court records. Perdue received 10 of the citations, eight for speeding, from 1980 through 1988. Yet by virtue of luck and good legal advice, Perdue has never had his driver's license suspended, revoked or restricted. He has, however, paid hundreds of dollars in fines and thousands more to settle claims resulting from two traffic accidents, including a 1974 fatality in Pennsylvania. "I'm just a fast driver," he said in a brief telephone conversation. "I'm often late for where I have to be. But that's no excuse for speeding," said Perdue, who remains chairman of the board of Perdue Farms Inc. "I regret the infractions. It's not something I am proud of," he said. He declined repeated requests to discuss his driving record in detail. Although that record of violations is uncannily consistent, Perdue has avoided serious disciplinary action by never accumulating more than eight points on his license during a two-year period, the number set by Maryland law for a suspension. A driver may be penalized eight points, for instance, by receiving four tickets worth two points each for speeding 10 miles an hour or more above the posted limit. The points from motor vehicle violations expire two years after the date of the offense and are deducted from the Department of Motor Vehicles' running tally for a license holder. In two instances, Perdue's point total stayed below the level at which he would face suspension because he postponed final action and did not settle outstanding violations until after previous points had expired, records show. Edward Seidel, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles, said the agency's hearing examiners are trained to "recognize patterns" in a person's driving record, but that unless the number of points warrants a suspension, there is little they can do but issue repeated warnings. Perdue "has the kind of pattern, spaced adequately enough, to avoid the checks and balances in the system," Seidel said. "The law provides opportunity for postponements. His behavior is not unusual or irrational." Seidel added that while Perdue's record is by no means exemplary, it is much better than those of most drivers who are called in for repeated hearings on charges of drunken or reckless driving. "It would appear that he wants to go a little faster than the law allows . . . . He has just had the grace of God on his side, but in a comparative analysis, he is far from being the bad driver we are really after," Seidel said. Besides the 1974 fatality -- in which he was arrested on an involuntary manslaughter charge that was later dropped -- most of the blots on Perdue's driving record are relatively minor; there is no evidence that alcohol or drugs were ever involved. The most recent offenses Perdue committed in his 1986 Mercedes-Benz were convictions for passing another car on the shoulder of a road in Manassas last August, going 54 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone in Salisbury in June 1988, and driving nine miles an hour over the speed limit on a rural highway near Ocean City in November 1987, according to Department of Motor Vehicles records. Perdue also acknowledged he received another speeding ticket last month. In the counties he frequents near his Eastern Shore home base, Perdue's driving habits are well known to some law enforcement officials, but not a cause of much concern. Many of them see it as a slight idiosyncrasy of a man who is probably the area's most famous resident, its biggest employer and the benefactor of a business school in his name. "He has a reputation for a lot of things, and getting tickets is one of them," one state official said, asking not to be identified. "A lot of people look at it like, 'so what if the man gets a traffic ticket now and then? He has a lot of places to go and a lot of business to attend to. He isn't a menace by any means,' " said a state trooper familiar with Perdue's driving record. The frequency with which Perdue gets tickets was raised recently in a civil suit resulting from a 1985 accident, in which a car he was driving about 30 to 35 mph rear-ended a vehicle stopped at a traffic light in Salisbury, court records show. According to court documents filed in the case, which was settled for an undisclosed sum this month, Perdue said he looked down at some papers on the floor of his car while he was driving, and did not see the other vehicle. Afterward, he twice visited the home of the driver, John O. Wade, and sent Wade to his personal physician, court records show. Wade, in seeking damages for his injuries because of the accident, sued Perdue and alleged that he had "a driving record that demonstrated he was not a fit and proper person to safely operate a motor vehicle." In his written answer to Wade's suit, Perdue denied negligence in the accident. Perdue acknowledged then that he was involved in another accident in 1980, resulting in damage to the rental car he was driving at the time. Perdue was also driving a rented car from New York in October 1974, when he had the accident that claimed the life of a 45-year-old Philadelphia chemist. The 1974 fatal car crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which occurred while Perdue was on probation for motor vehicle offenses committed in his home state of Maryland, resulted in his arrest on Dec. 19, 1974, on an involuntary manslaughter charge. Conviction on such a charge is automatic grounds for losing driving privileges. The charge was dismissed in May 1975, however, after prosecutors failed to present the case to a grand jury in time for trial. Details of the legal wrangling that followed the traffic accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike were made public for the first time recently in Southern Exposure magazine, published by the nonprofit Institute for Southern Studies in Durham, N.C. The information appeared in an article accompanying a story about poor working conditions in the poultry industry. All criminal records about the manslaughter case were expunged several years ago at the request of Perdue's attorneys, who included now-U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who was retained by Perdue after serving as a Philadelphia district attorney. But a Farmers Home Administration investigative report obtained by the magazine under the Freedom of Information Act says Perdue was arrested, charged with reckless homicide, and released on $500 bond. The report was prepared as part of a background check when Perdue applied for a federal loan. According to a civil suit that Perdue later settled with the widow and four children of the victim, Harold V. Smith, the accident occurred when Perdue did not heed warning signs and red lights in a highway construction zone. The suit alleges he was trying to pass a string of slow-moving cars when the road suddenly narrowed into two-way traffic. Perdue, traveling the wrong way, hit Smith's car head-on. Smith died at the scene from massive chest injuries and Perdue suffered a broken nose, according to sources familiar with the incident. But somewhere along the line, the criminal case was lost in the judicial bureaucracy and the state ran out of time to present it to a grand jury because Pennsylvania had enacted a new law requiring criminal trials to begin within 180 days of an arrest, the Farmers Home Administration report said. The case was dismissed, and Maryland officials never learned of the accident, which could have resulted in license revocation. Perdue also managed to avoid problems with the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles during the two-year period in the mid-1970s after the accident, when he accumulated nine points in violations. Records show, however, that after Perdue was called in for a disciplinary hearing -- his third in eight years -- he received three months of probation, an action akin to a warning. During this same period, a prosecutor in Worcester County withdrew a speeding ticket worth an additional two points after Perdue contested it in court. In dropping the charge, the prosecutor cited what he called Perdue's satisfactory driving record, which contained no convictions in the six months after the alleged violation. Perdue actually had two outstanding violations, but they did not appear on his record because he had not yet paid the fines.