COVID-19 and Speeding: A Dangerous Combination
It seems as though we have all read the news stories about the impact the current pandemic is having on life as we know it—quarantining, physical distancing, economic crises, and the obvious health and safety of so many. Unfortunately, another unintended outcome is the increase in speeding on our nation’s roadways, leading to serious injury and fatal crashes. The lack of traffic and congestion on roads, from our busiest highways to our local streets, has created an “open road” for those looking to live out their race car driver dreams. Many are ending up seriously injured or worse, or injuring or killing vulnerable users, and creating additional strain on both law enforcement and medical workers.
According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, many states have reported alarming speed increases, with some, such as Colorado, Nebraska, Indiana, and Utah, noting a significant surge in vehicles clocked at 100 mph or more. State police in Florida and Iowa are reporting drivers going 20 to 40 miles over the posted speed limit. In New York City, despite far fewer vehicles on the road, the City’s automated speed cameras issued 24,765 speeding tickets citywide on March 27, or nearly double the 12,672 tickets issued daily a month earlier. In Georgia, a police officer clocked a driver speeding down a local road at 103 MPH past a city park, a fire department, and an apartment complex filled with out-of-school children—all in the middle of the day on a street with a 45 MPH posted speed limit.
Connecticut is also experiencing an increase in speed and a rise in fatal crashes. Data show that during the month of April, at many locations, the percentage of drivers traveling faster than 80 mph has doubled and in some cases has increased as much as 8-fold when compared to preceding months of 2020—this includes locations where the speed limit is 55 mph.
Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Joe Giulietti stated, “Our state, and our nation, have suffered tremendous loss from COVID-19. Every driver on the road can help prevent more senseless death, injuries and strain on our first responders and the healthcare professionals that are working tirelessly to combat this virus. We are appealing to the public on a personal level—now more than ever—please recognize the impact of speeding and extreme speeding on every family and every person in this state. Please don’t speed, and together, we’ll get through this.”
Other states are also noticing that although they are experiencing reduced crash rates, the crashes are more serious. In Minnesota, between March 16th and April 21st, thirty-five people died in car crashes—the most in that period in at least six years, even as about half as many cars as normal are on its roads. “There’s a lot more available lane space for people to use—and abuse,” said Michael Hanson, Director of Minnesota’s Office of Traffic Safety, adding that speeding and aggressive or careless driving were the most common factors in the lethal crashes. Among the drivers Minnesota police pulled over was a man clocked going 110 mph who told the officer he was just out for a joy ride.
Not only does this behavior put the first responders at risk during this pandemic, but it also impacts the hospitals which are already strained in many locations. GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins commented, “Law enforcement officials have the same mission as health care providers—to save lives. If you must drive, buckle up, follow the posted speed limit and look out for pedestrians and bicyclists. Emergency rooms in many areas of the country are at capacity, and the last thing they need is additional strain from traffic crash victims.” In many places, the decrease in vehicular traffic volumes has resulted in an increase in pedestrian and bicycle traffic. These vulnerable roadway users are at a higher risk of being injured or killed in a crash, and in Nevada and Rhode Island, state officials note pedestrian fatalities are rising. Faced with this additional impact from the coronavirus, many places are finding various ways to try and combat this trend. Police departments and local and state government officials are working together to try and curb these excessive speeds. The California Highway Patrol has started posting pictures of the speeds some are hitting and the tickets they’re getting on their Twitter account. Georgia officers posted images of a crash on their Twitter feed to remind drivers to slow down. Many others are also using their social media accounts to warn drivers of the consequences of speeding.
The CTDOT and the CT State Police have partnered on an initiative to target speeding drivers, with highway variable message signs displaying the message “Help Our Heroes – Please Don’t Speed.” They also released two Public Service Announcements as part of the campaign. One can be viewed by clicking on the picture below and you can view the other, here.
In Los Angeles, where speeds are up by as much as 30% on some streets, the City has begun making timing changes to traffic signals and pedestrian walk signals in an attempt to slow drivers down and keep everyone safe. In Austin, TX, where preliminary numbers show traffic crashes were down 20% in March compared to January and February 2020 but the number of serious injuries caused by crashes was up 15%, the Austin Transportation Department is changing traffic signal timing on key corridors so signals change quicker, resulting in drivers having to stop for red lights more often. Many other cities and towns are looking at technology as a means to combat the increased speed. Our Traffic Signal Circuit Rider, Tess Schwartz, has written a companion article for this issue of Crossroads providing more information on traffic signal solutions.
Additional Helpful Resources on This Topic:
“The Roads Are Quieter Due to Coronavirus, but There Are More Fatal Car Crashes” by Scott Calvert, The Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-roads-are-quieter-due-to-coronavirus-but-there-are-more-fatal-car-crashes-11588152600
“With Less Freeway Traffic Due to Coronavirus, There’s More Speeding and That Worries CHP” by Anh Do, Matthew Ormsmeth and Pauline Repard, Los Angeles Times, March 19, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-03-19/less-freeway-traffic-coronavirus-more-speeding-chp
“On Austin’s Empty Streets, Drivers Find a Need to Speed” by Samuel King, KUT, Austin, TX, April 8, 2020, https://www.kut.org/post/austins-empty-streets-drivers-find-need-speed
“Empty Georgia Roads Creating Dangerous Desire for Triple-Digit Speed” by Randy Travis, Fox 5, Atlanta, GA, April 15, 2020, https://www.fox5atlanta.com/news/empty-georgia-roads-creating-dangerous-desire-for-triple-digit-speed
“State Traffic Down 50% on Average During the Pandemic” by Kimberly Drelich, The Day, May 3, 2020 (updated), https://www.theday.com/article/20200502/NWS01/200509881
“CTDOT and State Police Launch Please Do Not Speed Initiative” Connecticut Department of Transportation, May 8, 2020, https://portal.ct.gov/DOT/News-from-the-Connecticut-Department-of-Transportation/2020/CTDOT-and-State-Police-Launch-Please-Do-Not-Speed-Initiative
For more information and assistance with local road safety in your community, contact Melissa Evans, Safety Circuit Rider, at firstname.lastname@example.org.