For those living in the little town of Pleasant Ridge, Michigan, the silver lining of the state’s pandemic shelter-in-place order was a sharp drop in traffic along both I-696 and eight-lane Woodward Ave., traditionally busy thoroughfares that slice through the city. But there’s a flip side to the story, locals note, often with the scream of “crotch rocket” motorcycles and the roar of muscle cars providing background noise.
While regular traffic levels have plunged by as much as 80% in cities like Los Angeles, New York and Detroit, authorities note that there has been a huge surge in speeding by those still on the road. And many of those with high-performance bikes and cars are taking the opportunity to open up on roads where traffic would normally be too dense.
“I hear the roar of V-8s that sounds more like Woodward Dream Cruise than social distancing,” said Adam Bernard, who lives right off Woodward Avenue, referencing the annual festival in Detroit that brings out high-performance muscle cars.
“I can hear it three blocks in” from the highway, added Samantha Hoyt, who lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, just north of I-696, Detroit’s crosstown freeway.
The situation is by no means unique to Detroit. Last week, 33-year-old Benjamin Chen crashed a rare, $1 million Porsche Gemballa Mirage GT supercar while speeding along 11th Avenue in New York City, smashing into a number of cars before his vehicle came to a stop.
While highway crashes are down, overall, with so many fewer vehicles on the road, police across the country have been reporting a significant number of high-speed incidents and are stopping drivers clocking speeds of over 100 mph in areas where even reaching speed limits could be difficult in more normal times. That includes roads like L.A.’s I-405 where data from navigation service TomTom shows traffic has been known as much as 80% since California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a shelter-in-place order.
Inrix, another traffic data service, reports that speeds not only on U.S. interstates, but on state expressways and other major routes has surged by as much as 75% compared to what was normally seen pre-pandemic.
It’s “Almost like a mild dystopian movie script,” Nashville’s Steve Yaeger told TheDetroitBureau.com. “Anecdotal of course, but my (girlfriend) and I have commented to each other the few times we’ve been out in suburbia that people are running red lights and driving faster and more aggressively since the mandated lockdown started.”
And it’s not just limited to major urban areas, added Dave Kinney, whose office window looks out on narrow, winding State Route 193 in Great Falls, New York. He said he is seeing many people driving well in excess of 30 to 40 mph over the posted 25 mph speed limit in my village,” one pushing 70 mph.
Similar things seem to be happening all over the world. London police report speeds doubling on some road while officials in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia have seen speeding increase on local roads as much as six-fold, to nearly one in every three.
In some communities, authorities are pushing back. The California Highway Patrol reports that 543 tickets were issued to drivers exceeding 100 mph between March 19 and March 29, up more than 25% from the 418 citations issued during the same period in 2019.
Where they’re in use, New York City is reporting a 12% increase in tickets issued through traffic cameras, though police officers have actually been issuing fewer citations.
Several Michigan officials who have spoken with TheDetroitBureau.com on background note that while police are trying to crack down on the most reckless behavior they are, in many cases, being more tolerant of modest levels of speeding.
“Don’t pull anyone over unless you have to,” one officer told Car and Driver magazine.
The reality is that each traffic stop raises the risk of an officer becoming exposed to a driver who might already be infected with the coronavirus. A number of Michigan police, especially in Detroit, have themselves become infected, some dying from COVID-19.
In little Pleasant Ridge, Michigan, all 0.6 square miles of it, the subject of speeding was a hot topic during this week’s City Commission meeting, town officials pressing their police chief to do something about the problem. But with residents largely locked into their homes, and the Commission itself now meeting online, it was clear that no one was going to press too hard for the city’s nine police officers to risk their own lives to cite someone moving 10 over the limit.