As traffic thinned during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kansas highways emerged as drag strips for drivers who saw a chance to floor the gas pedal and hit speeds of more than 100 mph.
“We’re seeing people drive incredibly fast, many fatalities at 100 mph or more,” Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz recently told legislators.
“I think people see wide open roads, and they just go really fast,” Lorenz said.
New Kansas High Patrol data show the state saw a substantial increase in the number of drivers reaching 100 mph or more on state roads.
The data shows the Highway Patrol wrote 60% more tickets for drivers speeding at 100 mph in 2020 than it did a year earlier.
The patrol handed out 2,831 tickets last year for drivers racing along at 100 mph or more, an increase from 1,765 the previous year.
It was an extraordinary year for drivers speeding at 100 mph, since the average number of tickets doled out from 2016 to 2019 was 2,034.
The KHP also saw increases in tickets for speeding that’s excessive although not quite as fast as 100 mph.
The number of drivers cited for speeding 20 mph or more over the speed limit in Kansas rose by a third over 2019, the data shows.
Troopers cited 14,185 drivers for exceeding the speed limit by 20 mph or more, which on some Kansas interstates means drivers were easily hitting at least 95 mph.
It was increase from the 10,679 citations issued for speeding at 20 mph or more over the speed limint in 2019.
By comparison, the Highway Patrol wrote an average of 11,845 tickets a year for motorists driving 20 mph or more over the limit from 2016 to 2019.
The new speeding trend comes at a time when driving has declined because of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders that kept people off the highways.
Overall across the country, driving was down last year through October by about 14%, or roughly 381 billion vehicle miles traveled, according to federal highway data.
In Kansas, the overall number of vehicle miles driven dropped about 10% through October of last year, falling from about 26.9 billion vehicle miles traveled to 24.2 billion.
However, the state has seen an increase in highway deaths, increasing from 411 in 2019 to 425 last year, according to preliminary state data.
Speeding has emerged as an increasing safety issue nationally during the pandemic.
Consider what’s happening in these states:
- In Iowa, the State Patrol wrote 101% more tickets over a four-year average for speeds of 100 mph or more from January to August. There also was a 75% increase in tickets for speeds 25 mph or more above the speed limit.
- In California, the Highway Patrol officers cited more than 15,000 drivers from mid-March through Aug. 19 for driving at 100 mph more, a 100% increase over the same time frame a year ago.
- In Georgia in the early stages of the pandemic in April, the State Patrol reported that it was issuing nearly two-thirds more tickets for speeding at 100 mph, while handing out 140 citations during one two-week period
- In New York City after the pandemic took hold, the city’s automated speed cameras issued 24,765 speeding tickets citywide on March 27, or nearly double the 12,672 tickets issued daily a month earlier.
Nationally, federal data show that for the first half of 2019, there was a 2% decrease in highway deaths while vehicle miles driven droppped almost 17%.
As a result, the national fatality rate for the first half of 2020 climbed to its highest level since 2008, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The fatality rate for the first half of 2020 increased to 1.25 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles travled, up from 1.06 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in the first half of 2019.
In the second quarter of the year when stay-at-home orders were in place, the national fatality rate rose to 1.42 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled compared to 1.10 in the first quarter and 1.08 for the same time frame a year earlier.