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Speeding is a dangerous ‘new normal’ on U.S. roads, IIHS says


Photo: Olivier Le Moal/iStockphoto

Arlington, VA — Engaging in risky driving behaviors – particularly speeding – has become “the new normal” since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to an analysis conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Using 2019 and 2020 data from more than 500 Virginia Department of Transportation speed counters, IIHS compared the percentages of drivers who exceeded the speed limit from March through June. The four-month period analyzed in 2020 coincided with initial business closures and a statewide, stay-at-home order that lasted until mid-May.

Findings show that although traffic volume in the areas studied fell by more than 25% during the lockdown compared with the same period in 2019, the proportion of vehicles exceeding the speed limit by at least 10 mph surged 30%-40% on all roads other than rural arterials, which experienced little change. Additionally, on weekdays in spring 2020, the proportion of vehicles traveling 10 mph or more over the speed limit climbed 43% between 6 and 8:59 a.m., and 63% between 3 and 5:59 p.m.


“Those numbers suggest that the absence of rush-hour traffic prompted drivers to step on the gas,” IIHS says, adding that, “national statistics show that this behavior stuck around even after traffic returned to pre-pandemic levels.”

According to federal data, 11,258 people were killed in speeding-related crashes in 2020 – a 17% increase from the previous year. Deaths linked to speeding also accounted for 29% of all traffic fatalities in 2020.

Citing early estimates for 2021 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, IIHS says drivers are continuing to speed. NHTSA reports that speeding-related fatalities in 2021 rose 5% from the previous year, while the number of fatalities among vehicle occupants not wearing seat belts rose 3% and alcohol-related crashes rose 5%.

“We can’t accept this increase in dangerous driving behaviors,” Jessica Cicchino, vice president of research at IIHS, said in a press release. “We need to double down on implementing proven solutions that have been shown to prevent speeding, like automated speed enforcement and road designs that slow traffic.”

The National Safety Council has called for a Safe System approach to slower speeds.

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