Levels of speeding and drunken driving seemed normal, then COVID-19 happened
Between May 22 and Sept. 7 of this year, the Utah Highway Patrol cited 1,759 people for driving 100 mph or faster
SALT LAKE CITY — My morning was humming along nicely Tuesday, until I came across the latest survey on good drivers by the insurance quote site QuoteWizard.com.
It tagged Utah as the state with the 14th highest drunken driving rate and as the 49th worst for speeding. That’s 49th, as in second best of the 50 states.
Tell that to the crowd on I-15, or to the people I encounter on the street near my house, where traffic is supposed to go 25 mph, max.
I know what you’re thinking. Evensen, with the state’s 4th Congressional District in a dead heat, the next presidential debate ready to hit us like a thumb war of microphone mute buttons and a pandemic engulfing us all, you decided to write about Utah drivers?
By my own scientific survey, since the middle of March I have written 16 columns on election-related subjects, either local or national, and a whopping 31 columns on the pandemic. It’s about time you got a break, and why not something that concerns navigating traffic, which I’m guessing you do more each day than even putting on and taking off masks?
I called QuoteWizard. I spoke to Adam Johnson, senior research analyst and the author of the report. He explained that the study was based on an analysis of roughly 2 million applications for insurance quotes.
When people request one of these, they have to provide all sorts of information about their driving record. The company compiles all the data, breaks it out by state and assembles a report.
He assured me my concern wasn’t abnormal, especially about the state’s good speeding record.
“No matter who you talk to, people always assume their drivers are the worst,” he said. He also reminded me that Utah drivers were rated the worst just four years ago, which might provide an answer to any politicians asking if you’re better off today than you were in 2016.
Or maybe not.
The QuoteWizard report isn’t scientific. A lot of drivers out there didn’t ask for an insurance quote, and they weren’t included in the study.
But to be safe, I called Sgt. Nick Street of the Utah Highway Patrol.
Lo and behold, something mysterious is indeed afoot.
People in Utah are driving a little drunker. And, in contradiction to the QuoteWizard survey, they’re driving a lot faster.
In fiscal year 2019-20, police agencies statewide issued 10,532 DUI citations in 2020 in Utah. That was up slightly from the previous two fiscal years. And, for some reason, a lot more people are driving over 100 mph. Between May 22 and Sept. 7 of this year, the Highway Patrol cited 1,759 people for driving that fast or more. It cited 3,952 for going more than 20 mph above the speed limit.”
And for some reason, more people are driving over 100 mph. Between May 22 and Sept. 7 of this year, UHP cited 1,759 people for driving that fast or more. It cited 3,952 for going more than 20 mph above the speed limit.
Because the Utah Highway Patrol deals mainly with freeways and highways in the state, and because Utah has a 70 mph posted limit along freeways in urban areas and 80 mph in most rural areas, it takes a bit of effort to speed. Street assured me these numbers are far above the average.
One more strange thing: “If you look at just the first six weeks of this year, things were on par with previous years,” he said. “Once March began, we started noticing weird behavior.”
Let’s see, what else began in March? Oh yeah, that COVID-19 thing.
You may also be wondering whether Utah’s relatively new DUI law, with its toughest-in-the-nation .05% blood alcohol limit, had anything to do with this. Not likely, Street said.
Which brings me to another strange thing. This appears to be happening in a lot of states.
Street told me about a recent Zoom meeting with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, in which “everyone reported the same issue.”
Anecdotally, you can find evidence of this behavior in various news reports. In Cleveland, for instance, 19News (Cleveland19.com) reported last week that Ohio traffic stops are down dramatically because people have been forced to stay home, but fatal accidents are up — 946 vs. 904 at this time last year.
So, is that it? Did people take advantage of lighter traffic and push the pedal to the metal? Or are people so upset by the pandemic that they throw caution out the windshield?
More importantly, once we get a vaccine or solve this crisis some other way, will we go back to safe and sane roads? Don’t be so sure.
“There will be a new normal,” Street said. “We don’t know if it will ever go back to where we were.”
The only thing we do know is that I’ve now written 32 columns on the pandemic.