The pandemic led to more speeding on Maine’s rural roadways, UMaine study finds

The COVID-19 pandemic affected a lot of elements of life in Maine — including, apparently, how much drivers speed on the state’s rural roadways, according to a new study from the University of Maine.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, states across the country reported an increase in the rate of fatal and severe car accidents despite the decrease in traffic volume. When stay-at-home orders were put in place, not only were there fewer drivers on the road, but less enforcement of traffic laws. Drivers responded to these shifts by increasing their speed, particularly on rural roads, which make up 80% of all roads in Maine.

Researchers from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Maine and University of Connecticut used statistical models to quantify the impact of the pandemic on speeding in Maine. They developed models for three types of rural roads — major collectors, minor arterials and principal arterials using data from count stations that recorded the number of vehicles and their speed. They found that the the odds of speeding by more than 15 mph increased by 34% on rural major collectors, 32% on rural minor arterials and 51% on rural principal arterials during the stay-at-home order in April and May 2020 compared to the same months in 2019. 

What’s more, the speeding trend continued even a year after the start of the pandemic. The models showed that the odds of speeding by more than 15 mph, in April and May 2021, one year after the order, were still 27% higher on rural major collectors and 17% higher on rural principal arterials compared to the same months in 2019.

“These results show that the massive disruption in travel demand, or traffic volume, can have a profound impact on the operational speed or speeding with lasting effects long after the disruption has ceased.” says Ali Shirazi, principal investigator of the project and assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Maine.

This study highlights the importance of managing transportation infrastructure for traffic flow and safety in times of crisis like the pandemic, particularly in light of the diminishing funds available to transportation agencies in the state.

“Speeding is a contributing factor in many fatal or severe crashes, so recognizing that speeding has significantly increased suggests the importance of exploring countermeasures or interventions to reduce the speed,” Shirazi says.

The study will be published November 2022 in the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention, and is currently available online

Contact: Sam Schipani, samantha.schipani@maine.edu