If you've thought that there has been a lot more speeding and reckless driving since the pandemic began last March, you're absolutely right. Illinois traffic deaths during this COVID-19 nightmare have been spiking.

I think it first dawned on me that things were different on Rockford's roads and Illinois' highways in late March of 2020 when I found myself being passed on East State Street.

Not that being passed is a big deal, especially on East State. What made it unusual was that I was traveling between 45-50mph when an SUV streaked past me like I was standing still. The SUV's driver was doing at least 70mph and accelerating as we passed Target. Moments later, another vehicle, this time a sedan, blew past even faster than the SUV did. Then another one followed suit.

I realized that news began to spread the previous week about how the police were being careful to limit the spread of COVID-19, and that they were limiting contact with motorists unless they were dealing with an accident. I'm sure that message was taken by many to be "the cops aren't going to pull you over for speeding during the pandemic."

So, while there may have been less motorists on the road due to lockdowns and pandemic restrictions, many of those who were on the road must have figured that speed limits were merely speed suggestions at that point. Whether that was true or not, Illinois' traffic fatalities in 2020 were the worst numbers since 2007.


Police say people are more likely to speed when there is less traffic and less traffic enforcement — state police wrote 20,000 fewer speeding tickets in 2020 than in 2019. An estimated 1,166 people died in automobile crashes in the state in 2020, the highest number reported in more than a decade and about 16 percent higher than the previous year.

TopDriver.com, in a piece that crunches the traffic fatality numbers here in Illinois, points out that most of Illinois' crash deaths are happening on city streets, not the open highway. And, while pretty much everyone hates traffic congestion, it does help to slow down, or at least maintain traffic speeds.

Decreased traffic has given Illinois drivers a false sense of security. Drivers perceive the open roads to be safe and think increased speed is okay, but this isn't the case. If it were, we wouldn't see an increase in fatalities.

Let's be careful out there.


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