HARRISBURG -- The Pennsylvania State Police have written 766 tickets for speeding over 100 mph in the five months since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down many businesses and reduced traffic on roadways.
That’s 41 more tickets for topping 100 mph than the state police report they issued over the same period in 2019. Troopers wrote less than half the number of tickets for speeding overall in that period, data provided by the state police shows.
In May alone, troopers ticketed 199 people for exceeding 100 mph, data shows.
Lead-footed drivers didn’t let up once traffic started to pick up in the summer either.
-- While in June, troopers wrote 106 tickets for speeding over 100 mph, 12 fewer than they wrote for speeding over 100 mph the prior June, the trend rose significantly in July and August.
-- In July, troopers ticketed 181 speeders clocked going over 100 mph, 53% more than they did July 2019, when troopers ticketed 118 speeders exceeding 100 mph.
-- In August, troopers ticketed 187 people driving more than 100 mph, 33% more than they caught exceeding 100 mph in the same month in 2019, when 141 speeders were clocked over 100 mph.
In addition, the new automated speed enforcement program launched this year to monitor motorists speeding in active work zones issued at least 38,615 tickets to speeders, said Alexis Campbell, a Department of Transportation spokeswoman.
That includes 17,460 tickets in June, 10,801 in July and at least 10,354 in August, she said.
The August total doesn’t include all of the tickets issued by the speed camera system since some tickets are still being processed, she said. The Transportation Department couldn’t immediately provide an estimate for how fast those speeders were going, but the state’s speed camera systems only ticket motorists exceeding the speed limit by 11 mph, she said.
“Speeding continues to be a persistent safety issue, contributing to nearly 10,000 deaths a year. It hasn’t achieved the same stigma as impaired driving, for example, despite the clear safety implications,” said Joseph Young, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Since 2014, Pennsylvania has allowed motorists to travel up to 70 mph on stretches of the state’s interstate highways and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Young said that as Pennsylvania and other states have approved higher maximum speed limits, it’s led to motorists being more aggressive about how fast they go. The institute’s research shows that when the maximum speed limit is increased, motorists drive faster whether they are in areas where the speed limit has been increased or not, he said.
Research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has shown that motorists who engage in risky driving behavior may not change that behavior even if they have accidents, said Theresa Podguski, director of legislative affairs for AAA East Central in Pennsylvania. The foundation's survey found that motorists who'd recently had accidents were more likely to admit that they engage in risky driving behavior, she said.
"We urge motorists not to falling into risk driving habits like speeding," she said.
“There seems to be a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ culture with motorists in the United States,” Podguski said.
The federal 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.
While the state police data shows that troopers have been catching more drivers speeding at high rates of travel, there’s no clear evidence yet that the speeding has translated into more serious car crashes this summer in Pennsylvania.
The Department of Transportation’s preliminary crash data indicates that there were fewer crashes in March to June than in the same period last year, Campbell said.
She added, however, that it’s not clear that all local police departments have submitted their accident reports to the state. “It’s premature to attempt to assess crash data for this time frame,” she said.