Back in May, I was on Zoom with a few coworkers, waiting for a meeting to start. Like so often happens in situations like this, we started talking about a random topic to pass the time, which happened to be the pandemic and traffic tickets. One dude said his friend was a highway patrol officer. He mentioned that his officer friend told him that the local highway patrol was instructed to limit pulling people over to limit coronavirus exposure. Then he raised his eyebrows and gave half a grin, and I suddenly realized what he was really saying: that due to the pandemic, he — and, from the looks of things, many others — can now use this as an excuse to drive like a total dick.
Now listen, I don’t want to be labeled a rule-following nerd-face, but speed limits are put into place for simple public safety. And with or without officers pulling people over, we really should be following the speed limit because, you know, it saves lives. But apparently there are a lot of people out there who got word that officers were pulling back on pulling people over, and went all hog wild. News flash: Officers are pulling people over again, and well, speeding tickets are way, way, up.
To be clear, there is some truth to what my coworker said in that meeting a few months ago. According to CBS Pittsburgh, there was a “temporary reduction in traffic enforcement in the early days of the pandemic… to avoid spreading the coronavirus.” This, combined with fewer people being on the road, has caused a lot of drivers to feel comfortable flexing their gas pedal.
For example, The Iowa State Patrol recorded a 101% increase from January through August over the four-year average in tickets for speeds exceeding 100 mph, along with a 75% increase in tickets for speeds of 25 mph or more over the posted speed limit. Yes, you read that right. 101% increase in speeds exceeding 100 mph.
I’m not going to try and say I’m guilt-free in the speeding arena. When I was 21, I once got pulled over for going 115 on a rural Utah highway. The ticket was massive, and I never went that fast again. I would like to think that most of the people in Iowa have learned their lesson too, but with 2020 being the way that it is, I doubt it.
Unfortunately, however, it’s not just limited to Iowans. California Highway Patrol officers issued more than 15,000 tickets from mid-March through Aug. 19 for speeds exceeding 100 mph. This was a 100% increase over the same time period a year ago. Ohio, Utah, and Vermont have all seen similar increases in people driving like the world is ending.
And yes, I get the urge. It does feel like the world is ending right now. I live in Oregon, and as I type this sentence, there is ash falling outside my window from wildfires. The university I work for is now a shelter, and it kind of feels like I’m living in the dystopian novel The Road. So yeah, it definitely feels like 2020 is the end of days.
But … I am still optimistic that it’s not. Or at least I hope it’s not, and so all you dick-faces out there using the pandemic as an excuse to speed need to knock it off. I don’t want to state the obvious, but lives are at stake here. Not only are highway officers putting themselves at risk of contracting COVID by pulling you over, you are putting yourself at risk of contracting COVID by being pulled over. You are also putting everyone on the freeway at risk.
Along with the increase in speeding tickets, there has been an increase in road fatalities. July was Ohio’s deadliest traffic month since 2007, with 154 fatalities. California has seen an 8% increase in the number of people killed on the roadways, and Connecticut had a 42% increase in deaths.
I mean, wow! We have already lost close to 200,000 Americans to COVID. Do we really need to be losing additional lives on the road because you are driving like your parents aren’t home? I don’t want to turn this post into a lecture, but I don’t see any way around it. America, get your act together. I’m both mad and disappointed.
2020 has been a hard year. No one will say differently. And yeah, I get that some people want to blow off some steam by driving really fast and carefree, but now really isn’t the time. I want everyone reading this to sit down and take a deep breath. Then I want you to say to yourself, “I will obey all traffic laws because I’m not going to make 2020 any deadlier than it already is.” I’ll wait. Did you do it? Thanks.
Now buckle up, use your turn signal, and back that lead foot off the gas pedal.