On the Roads Less Traveled, Speeds Are Up

Last updated: 08-15-2020

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On the Roads Less Traveled, Speeds Are Up

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During the coronavirus pandemic, driving on rural interstates can seem like being on an Indy 500 straightaway.

The speed limit may be 65 mph — even 75 mph — on many highways. But motorists and truckers who observe the legal limit must feel like they are in the way as the pedal-to-the-metal crowd whiz by at 100 mph, or faster.

Consider: In July, the Virginia State Patrol wrote speeding tickets to two different motorists clocked at doing 124 mph on an interstate, and wrote another ticket to a driver going 110 mph.

Of course, such motorists may be rare, but speeding is a concern for law enforcement.

Maximum speeds increased to 80 mph on some Oklahoma roads as of Aug. 6.

“The faster you drive, the survivability of a crash diminishes,” Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance Executive Director Collin Mooney told Transport Topics. “Keeping speeds down definitely saves lives when a crash occurs.”

To address the issue, one focus during CVSA’s July Operation Safe Driver Week was on speeding, Mooney said.

So might now be the right time for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to find out if this apparent need for speed is temporary or if motorists’ attitudes toward speeding have changed?

In a Federal Register post in early August, NHTSA announced plans to conduct its fourth “National Survey of Speeding Attitudes and Behaviors.” The first survey was in 1997, and the most recent in 2011. Now the agency is seeking Office of Management and Budget approval to conduct the survey, and public comment on its plan will be accepted through Oct. 2.

NHTSA intends to survey more than 7,000 motorists to examine the extent to which drivers speed, who the speeders are, when and why they speed, and what countermeasures are most acceptable and effective in reducing speeding.

NHTSA Notice and Request fo... by Transport Topics on Scribd

The agency also plans to assess whether self-reported behaviors, attitudes and perceptions regarding speeding and associated countermeasure strategies have changed since the administration of the three previous surveys.

Also, there will be questions on emerging speed-related technologies.

“The findings from this survey will assist NHTSA in designing, targeting and implementing programs intended to reduce speed on the roadways,” the agency wrote in its Federal Register post, “and to provide data to states, localities and law enforcement agencies that will aid in their efforts to reduce speed-related crashes and injuries.”

In the 2011 survey, drivers classified as speeders tended to be younger compared with nonspeeders. One-half of the drivers 16 to 20 years old were classified as speeders compared with 15% of drivers 65 or older, NHTSA said.

Speeders also were more likely to have higher household incomes; 42% of drivers with annual household incomes exceeding $100,000 were classified as speeders. Only 25% of drivers with annual household incomes of $30,000 or less were in this driver type category.

But already there is evidence that with less traffic congestion there are more temptations to speed.

CVSA reported recently that National Safety Council research showed that although Americans have been driving less due to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, the fatality rate per mile driven increased 14% compared with March 2019. NSC’s traffic fatality data also shows that speeding and reckless driving during the pandemic has led to a disproportionate number of crashes and fatalities.

“As the number of vehicles on roadways decreased in March and April, the average speed in the five largest U.S. metropolitan areas increased by as much as 75% compared to January and February,” NSC said. “And in some of the normally more-congested areas of the country, average speeds increased by as much as 250%.”

NSC said the average 5 p.m. speed on Interstate 405 in Los Angeles went from 19 mph to 68 mph. In Chicago, the average speed on Interstate 290 more than doubled to 62 mph from 24 mph. In the Washington, D.C., region, average speeds during the evening rush rose from 27 mph to nearly 70 mph on the Capital Beltway, well above the 55 mph limit. And, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, from March 23 to May 3, tickets issued for driving 100 mph or more increased 53% compared with 2019, even as traffic levels decreased.

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