Why Drivers Say they Are Speeding During Pandemic

Erie Insurance surveys drivers on the increase in speeding since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

With national highway safety organizations sounding the alarm about an increase in speeding during the early months of the pandemic and launching programs to combat it, Erie Insurance recently commissioned a national survey to gauge drivers’ attitudes and behaviors regarding speeding.

One in 10 drivers (11%) admitted to driving at extreme speeds (20 mph or more over the speed limit) much more often than normal during the early months of the pandemic. As for what they observed about other drivers, a third (33%) said it seemed like a lot more drivers than normal were speeding and of those, nearly six in 10 (57%) said they noticed more drivers going at extreme speeds.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, high speeds make fatal car crashes more likely because it takes longer to stop or slow down and crash energy increases exponentially as speeds go up. IIHS says that in 2019, the most recent year for which data are available, more than 9,000 deaths – or one in four car crash fatalities – occurred in speed-related crashes.

“We commissioned this survey to draw attention to the fact that speeding is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths, but the good news is that it’s a problem we can all do something about,” said Jon Bloom, vice president of personal auto, Erie Insurance. “It’s within the power of every driver to simply drive within the speed limit. That would save literally thousands of lives each year.”

When asked why they sped much more often than normal early in the pandemic, drivers who admitted to doing so said it was because:

The roads were not congested so they felt it was safe to drive faster than posted speed limits


They’re a good driver so felt they could drive safely, even at high speeds


It seemed like there was far less law enforcement out, so they felt they could speed without getting a ticket


They thought that in general, posted speed limits are slower than necessary and they prefer to drive faster


The empty roads were a good opportunity to see how fast their car could go


While 46% of all drivers who sped much more often than normal during the pandemic said it was because they were a good driver some felt they could drive safely even at high speeds, the youngest drivers were significantly more likely than any other age group to say this. Youthful drivers seemed to be the most confident, as 71% of 18-24-year-olds felt this way, compared with only 19% of 45-54-year-olds.

The survey also asked drivers about so-called “traffic calming” measures such as lane narrowing and chicanes, which are deliberate curves put into an otherwise straight road. A narrow road with curves can be safer because drivers have to pay more attention and drive more slowly than they do on a wide, straight one where it’s easier to speed, but most drivers assumed the opposite. Sixty-nine percent of drivers said straight, wide roads tend to be safer compared with only 13% who said narrow, curved roads are safer. The rest weren’t sure. As for how drivers feel about these measures, nearly half of drivers (46%) oppose lane narrowing and more than a third (36%) oppose chicanes.

The survey also asked drivers to weigh in on technology that uses traffic sign recognition to adjust a car’s speed as the speed limit changes. But some cars also enable the driver to set a tolerance level so their car will automatically adjust to go up to 20 mph over the posted speed limit. 17% of drivers thought that was fine and that drivers should be able to do it if they want, but 42% viewed this as dangerous because it would make it too easy for drivers to consistently go up to 20 mph over the speed limit.