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Speeding shot up amid the pandemic and continues to outpace 2019, data show

Woburn, MA. – July 3:  Traffic is detoured off I-95 north at I-93 during an armed stand off with police in the Wakefield area July 3, 2021 Woburn, MA. (Photo By Mary Schwalm/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
Woburn, MA. – July 3: Traffic is detoured off I-95 north at I-93 during an armed stand off with police in the Wakefield area July 3, 2021 Woburn, MA. (Photo By Mary Schwalm/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
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Motorists put the pedal to the metal during the pandemic and police are worried as roads get busy with the final stretch of summer travel.

In Massachusetts, a spike in speeding citations that emerged last year amid the pandemic has largely carried into 2021 — but to a smaller degree, MassDOT data show.

Speeding citations spiked 81% in 2020 for a total of 322,145, outpacing the number issued during the prior year in every month except for in April and December. There were a total of 177,233 in 2019, according to MassDOT.

Citation numbers this year came in above pre-pandemic levels each month so far except for July, for a total of 113,103, MassDOT data show. These numbers put the state on track to once again blast past 2019 citiation numbers, where there were there were 108,026 written during the same period.

The latest data shows the number of highway deaths nationwide in 2020 was the greatest in more than a decade even though cars and trucks drove fewer miles during the pandemic.

“Summer is an incredibly dangerous time. And it culminates with Labor Day, that last hurrah,” said Pam Shadel Fischer of the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Traffic data indicates the higher death toll was related to higher average speeds in conjunction with more of those on the roads driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and a slight decline in seat belt use.

Motorists do not seem to be slowing down.

“People are flying down the roads,” Maine State Police Cpl. Doug Cropper said of summer traffic on Interstate 95. “It’s just ridiculous.”

In New York state, the percentage of fatalities for which speeding was the primary cause and the total number of speeding tickets grew from January through June, compared to the year before the pandemic, officials said.

“There is continued concern about the rise in speeding and aggressive driving as we enter the heart of the vacation travel season,” said Beau Duffy, spokesperson for New York State Police.

In the end, traffic deaths nationwide in 2020 grew about 7.2% to 38,680 even though there was a 13.2% reduction in the number of miles traveled, according to the NHTSA estimates. It was the deadliest year on highways since 2007.

Police and highway safety officials must ensure speed limits take into account all users, and then they must vigorously enforce them with a visible presence, said Joseph Young, spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Some police departments are launching public awareness campaigns.

“Summer holidays should be a time of fun and family, not sorrow and tragedy,” Washington State Police Chief John R. Batiste said as California, Oregon and Washington kicked off a summer travel safety enforcement effort.

In places like California’s Los Angeles County, heavy congestion can slow motorists down naturally.

But those flashing blue lights remain the best antidote for speeding and bad behavior, said Fischer, from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

“High visibility enforcement works,” she said. “When people see police officers, they will think twice about what they’re doing.”

Herald wire services contributed to this report.

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