Rash of speeding across Kansas that accompanied onset of COVID-19 pandemic hasn't slowed

·5 min read
Speeds of passing vehicles are monitored inside a Kansas Highway Patrol State Trooper's vehicle using a radar system Friday morning.
Speeds of passing vehicles are monitored inside a Kansas Highway Patrol State Trooper's vehicle using a radar system Friday morning.

A sharp surge in people driving far above the speed limit accompanied the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Kansas and surrounding states.

Thousands were ticketed for going more than 100 mph.

One driver doubled up, topping 200 mph.

That person drove an Audi A7 sports car that was clocked in July 2021 going 202 mph in a 65 mph construction zone on the Kansas Turnpike, Kansas Highway Patrol Superintendent Herman Jones told a Kansas legislative committee last February.

"The driver was stopped, found to be under the influence of alcohol, and arrested on multiple charges," Jones said in a written statement submitted to that committee.

COVID seems to have slowed down but speeding far over the limit hasn't

Vehicles travel along Interstate 70 in western Kansas. The sharp surge of speeding that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't slowed down, the Kansas Highway Patrol says.
Vehicles travel along Interstate 70 in western Kansas. The sharp surge of speeding that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't slowed down, the Kansas Highway Patrol says.

While COVID-19 seems to have slowed down this year, the high incidence of people driving far above the speed limit has not, Jones told The Capital-Journal last week.

"The mentality of speed just continued on," he said.

The KHP as of June 15 had issued 6,883 tickets to motorists this year alleging they drove 20 mph or more above the speed limit, said KHP Lt. Candice Breshears.

That puts it on pace to finish this year with 15,134 such citations, which is more than the 15,060 issued by the KHP in 2021, the 14,022 issued in 2020 and the 10,577 issued in 2019.

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The KHP as of June 15 had issued 1,413 tickets this year alleging motorists drove 100 mph or more, Breshears said.

That puts it on pace to finish the year with 3,107 such citations, which is less than the 3,309 issued by the KHP in 2021 but more than the 2,823 issued in 2020 and the 1,758 issued in 2019.

Speeders apparently thought law enforcement was 'hands off'

Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Brock Simone uses a handheld remote to operate a vehicle-mounted radar system to track speeds of passing vehicles Friday morning on Interstate 70.
Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Brock Simone uses a handheld remote to operate a vehicle-mounted radar system to track speeds of passing vehicles Friday morning on Interstate 70.

The KHP started seeing a marked increase in motorists driving far above the speed limit about the same time the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, Jones said.

Those drivers apparently thought that law enforcement at the time was taking a "hands off" approach to speeding, which wasn't the case, he said.

The state at about that time also saw a big drop in the number of drivers using its highways.

Kansas and surrounding states were still seeing a lot of speeding in March 2021, when Jones and officials from the Iowa State Patrol, Nebraska State Patrol, Arkansas State Police and Missouri State Highway Patrol made a public request that drivers slow down.

“KHP is proud to partner with our neighboring states in reminding motorists of the dangers of excessive speeding and the need for us to all work together to make our state and region safe,” Jones said that month.

202 mph in a 65-mph zone

A Kansas Highway Patrol trooper on July 16 of last year clocked an Audi A7 sports car being driven at 202 mph in Chase County in east-central Kansas, Breshears said.

The trooper wasn't able to "lock in" the car's speed and catch up to it, so the motorist wasn't charged with driving at that speed, Breshears said.

The car was later stopped in Lyon County, she said. Court records said driver Juan Garcia was charged with driving under the influence, transporting an open container of alcoholic beverage, reckless driving and speeding 130 mph in a 75-mph zone.

Garcia subsequently pleaded guilty to DUI and reckless driving as part of an arrangement through which the other charges were dismissed, court records show.

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Jones mentioned that case last February in a letter he sent to a Kansas House of Representatives committee as it considered a bill, which ended up not becoming law, that would have made any person driving 100 mph or more guilty of reckless driving.

'Speed kills,' KHP leader says in pointing to fatality increase

Jones stressed in the letter that drivers who exceed the speed limit endanger their own lives and those of other motorists.

Speeding reduces the effectiveness of occupant protection equipment, such as seat belts and air bags, while also reducing the effectiveness of roadway safety measures, such as guardrails and median barriers, he added.

"When one's speed doubles, one's stopping distance quadruples, making every increase in speed an exponentially more dangerous act," Jones wrote.

Speeding also increases the degree of a crash's severity, he added.

"As more force comes into the crash equation, there are more likely to be injuries and death," Jones wrote. "Speeding also puts the lives of our law enforcement personnel in peril as they must oftentimes exceed the speed of the violator's vehicle in order to initiative a traffic stop."

The term "speed kills" is true, Jones told The Capital-Journal last week.

The Kansas Department of Transportation says Kansas in 2020 and 2021 saw noticeably fewer traffic accidents — but slightly more fatalities — than it did in 2019.

Kansas traffic deaths totaled 410 in 2019, 425 in 2020 and 423 in 2021, though the latter year's data is unofficial and incomplete, according to KDOT.

Meanwhile, it said, the state's number of traffic crashes totaled 64,913 in 2019, 52,598 in 2020 and 55,367 in 2021.

'We're not robots'

KHP troopers have responded by ramping up efforts to promote highway safety through taking steps that include working overtime on special enforcement efforts targeting speeding and aggressive driving, Jones told The Capital-Journal.

Troopers at times have also patrolled the state's highways using marked vehicles that look different than those they normally drive and consequently "blend in" more effectively, he said.

In such situations, Jones said, troopers have watched as motorists who didn't notice the troopers "zoomed right past them," darted aggressively in and out of traffic, and drove while clearly being distracted by their cell phones.

Jones stressed that fatal traffic crashes prove painful to many people — including the loved ones of those who were killed and even KHP troopers who respond to the scene.

"We're not robots," Jones said. "We're human. That's why we're being even more vigilant about trying to save lives and safeguard the public."

Tim Hrenchir can be reached at threnchir@gannett.com or 785-213-5934.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas still sees rise in speeding, including driver topping 200 mph