A report this week showed a spike in traffic fatalities last month — a time when the pandemic forced most commuters to stay home, apparently opening the highways to speeders.

Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver said investigators believe speed or distracted driving were involved in most of the crashes that killed 28 people in April, one more than the 27 who died in April 2019.

Pandemic or not, drivers are usually to blame in crashes involving excessive speed or distracted driving.

Although the monthly death toll went up by only one compared to last year, our roads were twice as deadly in light of traffic decreasing by half.

With the state of emergency declared by the governor on March 10, most businesses shut down quickly and commuter traffic plummeted within a week. Anyone pulling onto a major highway saw much less traffic and cars flying by, often well above the speed limit.

The number of arrests by local and state police fell dramatically, however, probably because police and court officers were reluctant to deal with people up close during the pandemic.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles said citations for all reasons, including civil, criminal, arrest and warnings, dropped in both March and April compared to last year. Police wrote 4,385 citations last month, less than one-tenth the 47,211 in April 2019.

But traffic enforcement isn’t all about tickets. It also comes with the mere presence of police cars. Drivers usually slow down and pay attention. 

So why did it take until April 25 for the Massachusetts State Police to implement a “speed reduction initiative” that put more troopers on the road to watch for speeders? According to state police spokesman David Procopio, troopers have written 271 citations for speeding and issued 111 warnings to drivers since the initiative began. It appears it took more than a month for state police brass to recognize there were a lot of speeders and preoccupied drivers on the roads, leading to a higher rate of fatalities. Before the “speed reduction initiative” put more troopers on patrol, one might ask what the troopers had been doing. No one is trying to conjure an image of idle police during this difficult time. But when state officials release information pointing to speeding and/or distracted drivers killing themselves and others at much higher rates calls, it calls for a crackdown – one that could have taken place much earlier.

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