The drop in the number of cars on the road during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to a spike in the number of speeding and distracted driving incidents in Pennsylvania, state police and highway officials report.

“While the pandemic has kept many customers off our roadway, there is no safety in lower traffic numbers because many who are driving now are forgetting their safe-driving behaviors,” said Mark Compton, CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. “In fact, because there are no traffic queues, motorists are driving at excessive speeds, as well as using their cellphones more frequently and for greater periods of time.”

Lt. David Devitt, staff services section commander for Troop T, the state police troop that’s in charge of patrolling the Pennsylvania Turnpike, reports that his patrols have recently cited several drivers for speeding above 100 mph.

“Speeding coupled with distracted driving is a dangerous combination,” Devitt said. “As motorists resume travel for the holiday weekend, their focus should remain on the roadway to avoid tragic outcomes. For this reason and your own safety, it’s important to put down your cellphone and watch your speed.”

Despite these trends, state police data indicate that the number of crashes and DUI arrests has fallen dramatically during the pandemic. For example, during the week of May 9 to 15, state police handled 429 crashes and made 232 DUI arrests; that’s down sharply from the 1,235 crashes and 420 DUI arrests reported during the baseline pre-pandemic week of Feb. 22 to 28.

The Turnpike Commission projected that more than 1.1 million drivers will use the Turnpike over the Memorial Day weekend – approximately 375,000 on Friday, 225,000 on Saturday, 250,000 on Sunday and 275,000 on Monday. 

That would be a drop of more than half from last year’s Memorial Day weekend, during which more than 2.2 million drivers used the Turnpike.

Memorial Day weekend partially coincides with a statewide “Click It or Ticket” seatbelt enforcement initiative that will run through June 14, PennDOT announced this week.

Mark Pesto is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkPesto.

Recommended for you