As pandemic raged, Ohio roadways became speedways … and still are

Coronavirus

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Some drivers took advantage of roads and highways emptied by the coronavirus pandemic by pushing well past the speed limit, a trend that continues even as states try to get back to normal.

In Ohio, state troopers have issued 2,200 tickets since April for driving more than 100 mph, a 61% increase over the same time period a year ago (see an interview with Gov. Mike DeWine in the video above). The highest ticketed speed was 147 mph in the Cincinnati area.

While traffic has decreased 15% from February through July, the number of people driving more than 80 mph on Ohio roads jumped by 30%, according to sensor data analyzed by the state Department of Transportation.

Columbus resident Karen Poltor experienced the trend firsthand last month when three cars raced past her on state Route 315, an expressway through the city.

“They were flying in the left lane and weaving around cars,” said Poltor, who estimated their speed at between 90 and 100 mph. “It was terrifying to watch.”

Ohio authorities are especially troubled that speeds not only picked up in the early days of the pandemic when roads were emptier, but they’ve also continued even as the state reopened and roads became more congested.

“We’ve seen people continue to go those speeds even though there now is more traffic, which makes it even more dangerous,” said Lt. Craig Cvetan, an Ohio patrol spokesman.

July was Ohio’s deadliest traffic month since 2007, with 154 fatalities.

A temporary reduction in traffic enforcement in the early days of the pandemic may have contributed to a sense of invulnerability by some drivers. Some Ohio police agencies — though not the patrol — eased up on pulling drivers over for minor traffic violations to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

In addition, Ohio troopers were spread thin for several weeks as they were called on to help distribute food and later provide security as protests over police brutality and racism erupted following the death in May of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“When people see less troopers on the roadway or they see less law enforcement out working, there is that tendency for them to start committing traffic violations,” Cvetan said.

The government warned drivers to slow down in a mid-July message aimed at pandemic speeding.

“Less traffic has coincided with a rise in speeding in some areas of the country, and that’s a problem because speeding increases the risk of crashes, and can increase crash severity as well,” said James Owens, deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a public service announcement.

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