CORONAVIRUS

Iowa sees surge in drivers going over 100 mph

Excessive speeding up; so are holiday weekend patrols

An Iowa Department of Transportation digital sign displays a message March 26 over a highway in Des Moines in response t
An Iowa Department of Transportation digital sign displays a message March 26 over a highway in Des Moines in response to the spread of COVID-19. The Iowa DOT announced Thursday that, perhaps because of fewer cars on the road during the pandemic, the number of excessive speeders has skyrocketed. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

DES MOINES — Perhaps feeling empowered by fewer cars on the road during the coronavirus pandemic, or by the misguided belief that patrol cars were quarantined, excessive speeding on Iowa highways from January through June increased by 65 percent over the previous four-year average, the state transportation agency said Thursday.

So patrol officers plan to focus on excessive speeders over this Independence Day holiday weekend, an Iowa Department of Transportation spokesman said.

“The state patrol as well as other agencies, we’re going to have extra officers out on the roads patrolling our roadways,” said Sgt. Alex Dinkla, public information officer for the Iowa State Patrol, said Thursday. “Nobody wants to see a loved one killed in any kind of a traffic accident, and obviously that is one of our concerns when we see people traveling at these speeds.”

Excessive speeding in Iowa is defined by drivers exceeding the speed limit by 25 mph or more. From Jan. 1 through June 10, 1,635 drivers committed excessive speeding violations — a 65 percent increase over the previous four-year average, according to the department.

Nearly a third of the violations were for speeds over 100 mph, an increase of 84 percent over the last four-year average, Iowa DOT said.

The most common violators were men between 14 and 29. Most violators — 60 percent — were out-of-state drivers, the department said.

Dinkla said some drivers traveling at excessive speeds may have felt emboldened by roadways with less traffic while many businesses were closed during the pandemic. He also said some drivers told officers they thought there would be fewer patrol cars out.

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“That’s quite the contrary,” Dinkla said. “Our officers need to be out there and they are going to be out there enforcing those egregious speeds.”

Dinkla said a multiagency collaboration is attempting to address the speeding increase.

He said in addition to the increased Iowa State Patrol enforcement efforts this holiday weekend, the Iowa Department of Transportation is posting signs, including on dynamic highway message boards, about the issue; and the Iowa Department of Public Safety and Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau are also working on messaging and public awareness. They also are working with other states in the region.

“These traffic trends are alarming and unprecedented,” Col. Nathan Fulk, the Iowa State Patrol commander, said in a statement. “High speeds are not only making our Iowa roadways less safe on a daily basis for all of us, but speeding is one of the leading contributing factors in fatality crashes. We need motorists to understand that this type of driving behavior is not the new normal.”

As of Thursday evening, there have been 114 traffic fatalities so far this year in Iowa, according to the state DOT.

While excessive speeding is up, the number of traffic deaths by this point of the year is less in 2020 than in at least each of the last five years, state data shows.

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