‘Really pushing the boundaries’: Police ask drivers to reduce excessive speeds as more return to roads

MADISON, Wis. – Since the state shutdown began, Madison police are noticing an increase in excessive speeders in the city – a trend reflected elsewhere in the nation.

As the state reopens, police have concerns the speeders could be even more hazardous, and are asking drivers to adjust their habits before traffic patterns return to normal.

“We noticed pretty quickly that speeds were getting a little out of control,” said Lt. Tony Fiore, MPD’s Traffic Enforcement Safety Team leader. “Really pushing the boundaries. The excessive speeds have really gone up.”

He said that started in mid-April, perhaps due to a combination of lower congestion and an assumption police would place their focus elsewhere during the pandemic.

“Certainly the speeds we’re seeing are well beyond what I’ve experienced in my career,” Fiore said, adding that speed was a factor in most significant late winter and spring crashes this year.

“The dangerous driving behavior is what drove us to get back into operations,” he said.

That includes grant operations like those on the Beltline and John Nolen Drive over the weekend, which led to 44 stops total. According to police, of the 27 drivers stopped by officers on the Beltline in a three-hour period Saturday night, the average speed on the 55 mph road was 75 mph, with the highest being 88 mph.

Fiore said on Wednesday morning, a car was stopped going 96 mph on the Beltline.

“Certainly the Beltline is not intended to go those speeds,” he said. “There’s no forgiveness when you get up going 90 to 100. If any mistake is made, it’s going to be catastrophic.”

Madison police also worked with Wisconsin State Patrol troopers on a continued initiative to reduce speeds and reported racing on the East Washington corridor, issuing 65 warnings and 64 citations. A state trooper noted a driver in a 55 mph zone going 126 mph.

“It’s the same traffic issue, different day,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Lt. Nate Henriksen, adding that pandemic or no pandemic, he’s used to dealing with reckless driving.

Henriksen said they don’t have data yet showing drivers are going faster, just that crashes have been down with less drivers on the road. Regardless, he said it’s a good time to talk about safety ahead of Memorial Day, especially as more drivers get on the road.

“We just as usual would remind drivers to pay attention to their speed, pay attention to other drivers around them, and especially during this time. It’s construction season,” he said. “When there’s more cars on the road or let’s say going through a work zone where some of the lanes of travel may be restricted or maybe a shoulder’s closed, those are the types of things where there’s more chances for errors to occur.”

Henriksen recommends drivers who may not have driven in a while make sure their car is in good shape before leaving, remember only hands-free use of devices is allowed in construction zones and watch out for motorcyclists also returning to the roads.

As Madison returns to typical traffic patterns, Fiore hopes congestion will naturally slow people down, but he asks drivers do their part to reverse the trend, as well.

“Habits and behaviors take a little bit to adjust,” Fiore said. “Somebody going 96 on the Beltline is not going to have any room for error. People aren’t anticipating those types of speed or driving behavior … We’re hoping people share our goal of having a safe Madison.”