Speeders Take Over Empty Roads — With Fatal Consequences

By: - April 20, 2020 12:00 am

Light traffic in the Harlem neighborhood of New York during the coronavirus pandemic. Traffic volume has plummeted throughout the country, emboldening motorists to drive at excessive speeds. Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press

Read Stateline coverage of the latest state action on coronavirus.

As Americans remain at home, many roads in cities, suburbs and rural areas are practically deserted. But the absence of traffic is a seductive draw for one type of driver: speeders.

“People are saying, ‘Wow, the roads are wide open. There’s no one here but me,’” said Pam Shadel Fischer, a senior director at the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices. “We’re seeing incredibly crazy, off-the-chart speed and aggressiveness.”

Daily vehicle traffic dropped by two-thirds nationally from March 1 through April 10, according to StreetLight Data, a San Francisco-based traffic analytics company.

And while many states, such as California and Ohio, have seen a reduction in overall crashes during the pandemic compared with last year, some are reporting a jump in traffic fatalities that they say is linked to speeding or reckless driving.

“It’s crazy. People are driving like idiots,” said Buffalo Grove (Illinois) Police Chief Steven Casstevens, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “I’m on a tollway at least 15 miles as part of my own travel to work, and every morning I get passed by no less than 15 cars doing over 100 miles an hour.”

Some drivers figure police are so busy and strained dealing with COVID-19 that they’re not as focused on speeders.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jenni Bergal

Jenni Bergal covers transportation, infrastructure and cybersecurity for Stateline. She has been a reporter at Kaiser and the Center for Public Integrity.