Police car Credit: Stock image | Pixabay

Even though traffic on Maine roads is down significantly during the coronavirus shutdown, citations for speeding has risen and appears to be a factor in more fatal crashes than it was a year ago.

Between March 22 and April 19 eight people were killed in seven crashes on Maine roads, according to the Maine Department of Public Safety. Speed was determined to be a factor in six of the wrecks.

During the same time period last year, nine people died in eight crashes. Speeding was a factor in three of them.

Stephen McCausland, spokesperson for the department, cautioned that there’s not enough data to link the rise in fatalities to a trend.

“But, anecdotally, more people do appear to be speeding overall,” he said.

That appears to be reflected in the number of tickets issued for speeding between March 22 and April 19 this year compared to last year, according to the violations bureau of the Maine court system.

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Of the 761 charges lodged during that time period, 299 were for speeding and 462 were for other violations.

During the same time period last year, 6,194 charges were filed. Of those, 2,047 were for speeding and 4,147 were for other violations.

During those four weeks, 39 percent of the charges issued were for speeding compared to the 36 percent issued last year.

Another indication that Mainers are staying home is that traffic on the Maine Turnpike is down an average of 56 percent since March 16 when many Mainers began working from home, according to Maine Turnpike Authority’s Treasurer Doug Davidson.

Lauren Stewart, director of the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, asked drivers to resist the temptation to speed just because there are fewer vehicles on the state’s highways.

“We can all see less cars on the roads these days and while fewer cars and less traffic may lead to temptation, motorists need to keep in mind that crashes involving higher speeds are more likely to result in severe injuries and death. Speeding is not a victimless crime when it endangers the lives of everyone on the road,” she said Friday.

“During this time, it is likely that more people are walking and biking in their communities to get out and enjoy fresh air and sunshine,” Stewart said. “We all want to get through this pandemic safely and that includes driving safely.”

What’s happening in Maine is consistent with what is happening in other states, according to Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

“People are saying, ‘Wow, the roads are wide open. There’s no one here but me,’” said Pam Shadel Fischer, a senior director at the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices. “We’re seeing incredibly crazy, off-the-chart speed and aggressiveness.”

As of May 1, Maine has had close to the same number of fatalities it had last year — 34 in 2020 and 38 in 2019, according to the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety.