Traffic is light in Georgia, but more drivers are topping 100 mph

Tempted by unusually light traffic during the coronavirus pandemic, scores of Georgia motorists are putting the pedal to the metal — and getting busted.

The Georgia State Patrol says that while it's writing far fewer traffic tickets than normal, tickets for speeding at 100 mph or more are up nearly two-thirds statewide from a year ago. Troopers wrote 140 citations in a recent two-week period, and that doesn't count tickets issued by some local police, who have also seen an increase in triple-digit speeds.

To crack down on dangerous driving, the State Patrol wrote more than 600 speeding tickets (for any speed) in three days over this weekend — an unusually high number with traffic so light. Lt. Stephanie Stallings said the agency is sending a message.

“Regardless of the amount of traffic on the road, you’re still endangering people when your speed increases,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday.

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The rash of triple-digit speeding comes as traffic volumes in metro Atlanta and across the state have plummeted in recent weeks. Last week, Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry reported that traffic was down 45% statewide.

With far fewer people on the road, the number of traffic tickets also is way down. In the two weeks ending April 16, the State Patrol issued 740 speeding citations across Georgia — down 87% from the same two-week period a year ago.

The agency also investigated 1,293 crashes during the two-week period this year — down 54%.

But the 140 citations for speeding 100 mph or more was up 63% from a year ago.

Curiously, the number of citations for speeding 90 to 99 mph was down about as much — 62% — the State Patrol reported.

“It seems the violators in the 90-99 range unfortunately increased their speeds,” Stallings said. “Again, thankfully, they were caught.”

Sandy Springs, which patrols part of Ga. 400 — also has reported a rash of triple-digit speeding. One motorcyclist there was traveling so fast — 172 mph — that police couldn't catch up.

Georgia motorists aren’t the only ones with lead feet. Last week the Governors Highway Safety Association — which represents state highway safety offices — reported similar problems across the country.

The association said police in Colorado, Indiana, Nebraska and Utah have clocked motorists traveling more than 100 mph. State police in Florida and Iowa report drivers going 20 to 40 mph over the speed limit. In New York City, traffic cameras issued 24,765 speeding tickets on March 27 — nearly double the number issued daily a month earlier, despite lighter traffic.

“Emptier streets may be encouraging some drivers to (flout) traffic safety laws, including speed limits,” the association said.

In Georgia, speeding is a misdemeanor punishable by fines of up to $1,000. But, depending on how fast you’re going and where you get caught, fines vary. The state tacks on $200 for “super speeders” — those traveling 75 mph or more on a two-lane road or 85 mph and above on any road or highway.

Most jurisdictions want anyone traveling 100 mph or faster to go straight to jail. But Stallings said some jurisdictions have backed off arrests for fear of spreading the coronavirus in local jails.

To try to stem high-speed mayhem, the State Patrol went on a ticket-writing binge this weekend. Though 600 tickets wouldn’t be unusual for a normal weekend, Stallings said it’s significant, given the lighter traffic.

“We absolutely concentrated on trying to slow people down this weekend,” she said. “It probably sent some shock waves through the state.”