Some 1 in to 10 drivers — 11% — admit to putting the pedal to the metal and traveling 20 MPH over the speed limit during the early months of COVID-19, according to a recent national survey commissioned by Erie Insurance.
Respondents gave a wide range of rationales as to why they drove much faster than normal during the pandemic. The majority — 66% — said since the roads were not so congested during the pandemic they felt it was safe to exceed posted speed limits.
Noteworthy, almost half of respondents — 46% — said their reason for speeding was simply that they view themselves as a “good driver” and felt confident they could drive safely, even at high speeds. Of the drivers who felt they could drive safely even at high speeds, youthful drivers seemed to be the most self-assured — with 71% of 18-24-year-olds feeling this way, compared with only 19% of 45-54-year-olds.
Other excuses for speeding included the fact that there were fewer law enforcement officers visible, so motorists felt they could get away with speeding without getting a ticket — with 34% noting this as a factor. Drivers also said that posted speed limits are slower than necessary and they simply preferred to drive faster (25%). Finally, a smaller percentage (17%) of respondents said the empty roads were a good opportunity to see how fast their car could go.
The survey also explored feelings about "traffic calming" measures such as lane narrowing and chicanes, which are deliberate curves put into an otherwise straight road. Experts say a narrow road with curves can be safer because drivers must pay more attention and drive more slowly than they do on a wide, straight one where it's easier to speed, but most drivers assumed the opposite.
For example, 69% of drivers said straight, wide roads tend to be safer compared with only 13% who said narrow, curved roads are safer. The remaining respondents were not sure. As for how drivers feel about these measures, nearly half of drivers (46%) oppose lane narrowing and more than a third (36%) oppose chicanes.
The survey also delved into technology that allows the driver to set a tolerance level so their car will automatically adjust to go up to 20 MPH over the posted speed limit. Motorists had mixed reactions. Some 17% of drivers thought that was fine and that drivers should be able to do it if they want, but 42% viewed this as dangerous because it would make it too easy for drivers to consistently go up to 20 MPH over the speed limit.
When asked about other drivers and what they observed on the roads during the darkest days of the pandemic, one third (33%) of respondents said it seemed like a lot more drivers than normal were speeding and of those, nearly 6 in 10 (57%) said they noticed more drivers going at extreme speeds.
Speeding remains one of the biggest dangers on our nation’s roadways. In 2019 alone, more than 9,000 people lost their lives in speed-related crashes.