Local police say they're facing a challenge that doesn't seem to be slowing down.
More cars are barreling down area highways at excessive and, in some cases, reckless speeds.
“We're seeing so much more extreme speeds than ever,” said Sgt. Brian Walker, public information officer for the Indiana State Police Fort Wayne Post. “In this last year, I've written more tickets for 100 mph than ever before.”
In an 11-county region that includes Fort Wayne, state police have issued 96 citations through Thursday this year for driving in excess of 100 mph. That number is on pace with, if not ahead of, the 164 such citations that were issued last year. Only 65 citations were issued in 2019.
Some officers believe the problem began after the coronavirus hit last year. There were fewer vehicles on the roads, allowing some speeders to draw more attention. But even more drivers are punching their accelerator pedals as communities have loosened pandemic restrictions.
Police departments across the country have noticed a similar trend.
From January to June, the number of tickets issued by the California Highway Patrol for speeding in excess of 100 mph were nearly double prepandemic levels, and the number of tickets for reckless driving citations grew as well, officials said.
Walker has noticed the trend on interstate highways like I-69 and I-469 and four-lane state highways such as U.S. 27 and U.S. 30.
Walker recalled one incident in January when a state trooper clocked an 18-year-old driving 110 mph on I-469 near Winchester Road. The vehicle crashed, and the driver walked away with minor injuries.
“More people feel comfortable driving now, but of those people, there are more of them driving faster,” said Lt. Jonathon A. Gray, Van Wert post commander for the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
The number of nationwide traffic deaths in 2020 increased about 7.2% to about 38,680 despite a 13.2% reduction in the number of miles traveled, according to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration. It was the deadliest year since 2007.
Allen County saw fewer traffic deaths last year, 35, compared with 40 in 2019. But this year's 28 fatal crashes are significantly more than the 16 the county saw during the same period in 2020. It's unclear how many of those crashes were caused by excessive speed.
Lt. Tony Maze of Fort Wayne Police said the pandemic might have played a small part in an increase in speeding.
Faster drivers took advantage of less traffic last year, “which made it easier for them to do so,” Maze said in an email.
But those drivers may not have adjusted their times to account for more vehicles on the roads this year. This “could result in their feeling the need to travel at higher speeds to make up for the time in traffic,” Maze said.
Fewer officers may have been patrolling Ohio highways at times since the pandemic began, Gray said, because they were given extra duties that included community outreach and providing security during protests tied to George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.
U.S. 24 in Paulding County and U.S. 30 in Van Wert County saw a higher percentage of speeders than usual on April 4 – Easter Sunday, when temperatures reached the lower 70s.
Traffic monitors show that 10.3% of vehicles traveling that stretch of U.S. 24 were 15 mph or more over the 65 mph speed limit while nearly 8% of vehicles traveling the Van Wert County section of U.S. 30 were 15 mph or more over the 70 mph speed limit, Gray said.
Five months earlier – Nov. 8, another warm Sunday – nearly 5% of drivers exceeded the speed limit by 15 mph or more on U.S. 24 in Paulding County. More than 6% were traveling 15 mph or more over the limit on U.S. 30 in Van Wert County.
The highway patrol has targeted both highways to try to cut down on speeding. But aside from that, “I don't know what the answer is because it has boggled us for the last 12 months,” Gray said.
Maze had a different assessment.
“It's an adjustment,” he said, “and the pandemic is no excuse for reckless driving behavior.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.