The photos seem more prevalent now on social media: snapshots from inside police cars of radar guns displaying autobahn-esque, triple-digit speeds.
“Drivers are absolutely driving in a more reckless manner right now,” Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Blake White said. “There seems to be a perception that the rules do not apply during this time simply because of the stay-at-home order. Speeding in this manner is incredibly selfish and puts everyone on the road at risk. There are no autobahns in Colorado, but some drivers right now seem to think there are.”
With coronavirus-related shutdowns of work and play keeping most cars parked, drivers who are out on the road are more readily pushing pedal to metal. The state patrol says even with steep declines in the numbers of cars on the road, troopers are citing more lead-footed drivers.
Earlier this month, a yet unidentified team in a 2019 Audi with extra fuel tanks drove from New York to Los Angeles in 26 hours, 38 minutes, averaging about 106 mph and shattering the cross-country Cannonball Run record. (The venerable and highly illegal race sees a crew of rotating drivers in customized cars breaking all kinds of traffic laws in a cross-country contest. The recent attempt has stirred some concerns in the largely underground racing world about a crew taking advantage of the lack of traffic to shave hours off the previous record.)
The New York Times last weekend reported traffic cops across the country on high alert as speedy drivers take advantage of the lack of traffic on American roads. While the exact route of the zooming Audi isn’t known, previous Cannonball Run records have been set in souped-up race cars flying through Colorado on the Interstate 70 corridor.
State troopers say that the number of tickets for egregious speeding is staying level with previous years despite the steep declines in traffic. There may be fewer drivers, but more of them are pushing speedometers into triple digits.
In March, Colorado State Patrol troopers cited 37 drivers across the state for driving 40 mph or more over the speed limit. They wrote 1,317 tickets for drivers going 20-39 mph over the speed limit. In March 2019, they cited the same number of drivers traveling more than 40 mph over the limit and slightly fewer — 1,254 — driving 20-39 mph over the speed limit.
This is not a fair comparison though. In the latter half of March, the state was shutting down with stay-at-home orders and business closures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Traffic-counting outfit Streetlight Data showed traffic along I-70 from Kit Carson County in the east to the Western Slope’s Mesa County down as much as 80% in recent weeks.
“There should be a dramatic decrease in citations because many people are staying home,” White said. “But we have seen the opposite.”
Local sheriffs along I-70 are not reporting surges in tickets. And that’s by design as local law enforcement focuses on neighborhoods and county needs.
Garfield County deputies wrote 27 speeding tickets in March, with only one driver cited for traveling 20-24 mph above the speed limit. Thirteen of the 27 tickets were for 10-19 mph above the speed limit.
In March 2019, Garfield County deputies issued 35 speeding tickets with four of those delivered to drivers speeding by 20-24 mph above the speed limit. In March 2018, 19 drivers were cited for speeding, including three tickets for 20-24 mph above the limit.
“Overall the tickets issued in 2020 seem to be down from 2019, however it is really hard to draw a correlation,” Garfield County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Walt Stowe said. “The overall traffic volume is down significantly.”
In Mesa County, deputies have cited only one driver since March 1 and it was for speeding 26-39 mph above the limit. Deputies in Summit and Eagle counties reported no increase.
In San Miguel County, a sheriff’s deputy reported a man in a Toyota was driving in excess of 100 mph and nearly running other drivers off the road on Colorado 145 near Placerville on March 24. The man crashed into a cliff and other drivers helped the deputy pull the injured man from his shredded pick-up.
Eagle County sheriff’s spokeswoman Amber Mulson-Barrett said deputies have been leaving most traffic enforcement on I-70 and U.S. 6 to the Colorado State Patrol. Local deputies have been advised not to respond to accidents unless troopers ask for help.
“With the current COVID situation, we have been working to be more visible and to keep a strong presence in our neighborhoods, trailheads and parks,” Mulson-Barrett said. “Lots of educating, a few parking tickets at crowded trailheads and some adultsitting.”
White said troopers are seeing drivers speed through residential, business, construction and interstate areas “with no regard for the lives of themselves or others.”
The tickets for speeding 40 mph above the posted speed limit can cost drivers more than $1,000 and a conviction can result in a mandatory one-year suspension of their driver’s license. That money does not go to the state patrol, White said.
“The costs of speeding tickets are high because speed kills and the high fines are there to deter the behavior,” he said. “We would prefer to not have to write anyone tickets for speeding but unfortunately selfish drivers continue to drive recklessly and we will continue to make sure they know it is unacceptable.”