With roads far emptier than usual during the first national lockdown in Britain, more drivers broke speed limits than a year earlier, official records have confirmed today.
The Department for Transport’s speed compliance statistics for January to June found evidence of a sharp year-on-year increase in motorists breaking limits from mid-March, just as restrictions were put in place.
It found that 30mph zones were most commonly exceeded by drivers, rising to 63 per cent during the lockdown compared to 56 per cent over the same period in 2019.
Confirmed: New figures released today by the DfT shows that there speeding in 30mph zones rose by 7% during the first Covid-19 restrictions between April and June
UK traffic levels during the first restrictions fell to as low as 25 per cent of the normal as people were forced to stay home or walk and cycle more often to get around.
Despite this, MPs, councils and police reported at the time reported a growing number of excessive speeding cases, with accusations that drivers were using deserted roads like their own private race tracks.
Reports in June said that traffic officers caught eight speeding drivers doing more than 130mph during the initial restrictions – including a Porsche doing 163mph on M1.
Another motorists was also pursued by authorities after posting a video of his Audi reaching an indicated speed of 200mph in Kent.
The DfT’s analysis of speed compliance isn’t based on the number of offences and drivers caught breaking limits.
Instead, it is measured using traffic speed data collected from a sample of Automatic Traffic Counters put in place across the country by the department.
ACT sites count traffic continuously as well as recording the speed at which the vehicles travel.
UK traffic levels during the first lockdown fell to as low as 25% of the normal as people were forced to stay home when the pandemic first hit the UK
During the second quarter of 2020 – the height of the first lockdown – speeding on all road types increased compared to the same period a year earlier, the DfT records show
As well as more cases of speeding, there was a spike in extreme cases of breaking limits. Exceeding the speed limit by 10mph went up from 13% to 15% on motorways
The new report published this morning shows that 30mph zones were most often exceeded, though cases of speeding on 60mph single carriageway roads between April and June also increased from 10 per cent in 2019 to 17 per cent.
Breaking the speed limit on motorways during the lockdown period also rose by one per cent to 53 per cent during the same three-month period.
As well as more cases of speeding, there was a spike in extreme cases of breaking limits.
Exceeding the speed limit by 10mph went up from 13 per cent to 15 per cent on motorways, one per cent to three per cent on single carriageway roads and six per cent to eight per cent on 30mph roads,
The DfT figures show the spike in speeding cases in 30mph zones when the pandemic struct. That’s despite far fewer cars being on the road
The records show that speeds in 30mph zones were much higher in April to June 2020 than the same months in 2019
Speeding on single carriageway roads also rose during the first national lockdown, though like other routes began to fall to 2019 levels as lockdown measures were eased
The stats for April to June show that fewer drivers were travelling below the speed limit in 2020 than a year earlier, with more motorists taking advantage of deserted roads to travel at higher speeds
There was only a nominal increase in speeding on motorways during the lockdown period of April to June, despite the horror stories of motorists reaching speeds of up to 200mph
Motorway speeds were relatively consistent year-on-year, though there are more cases of extreme cases of 90mph-plus in 2020 than in 2019
Once the lockdown started to relax, breaking the speed limits returned to normal levels even though there was still much less traffic on the road – down to 80 per cent by the end of June.
Jack Cousens, head of AA Roads Policy said the DfT’s published figures were ‘worrying’.
‘Also of great concern was the increase on 30mph roads, given there were more pedestrians and cyclists exercising or avoiding public transport during the first lockdown,’ he added.
RAC’s head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said the new data confirms what the motoring group had previously suspected, that ‘lower traffic volumes sadly led to some shocking levels of speed limit disobedience’
However, Mr Cousens say that despite some high-profile law breakers, UK roads did not turn into race tracks during the first Covid-19 lockdown.
‘Early in the lockdown, there were incidents of extreme speed on motorways, main roads and even residential streets, particularly around London, as offenders thought the police would be busy enforcing the lockdown.
‘However, through a series of high-profile “collars” and social media, the police made it clear they were still on the case and that extreme speeders would be targeted.
‘Additionally and carrying on through the second lockdown, rural police forces have had to crack down on speeding along quieter country roads and villages.’
RAC’s head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said the new data confirms what the motoring group had previously suspected, that ‘lower traffic volumes sadly led to some shocking levels of speed limit disobedience, particularly on 30mph limit roads’.
He told This is Money: ‘This dangerous behaviour unnecessarily put lives at risk during the first national lockdown when more people were walking and cycling.
‘Empty roads should not be an excuse to drive dangerously and it would be frightening to think one of the legacies of the lockdown is a complete disregard for speed limits and other road users’ safety.’
The highest speeds clocked by the UK’s police forces during lockdown
Freedom of information requests revealed the highest speeds recorded by forces from March 23-April 13. In brackets are the speed limits.
Metropolitan Police: 163mph (unknown)*
West Yorkshire Police: 151mph (70mph)
Suffolk Constabulary: 140mph (70mph)
Northamptonshire Police: 138mph (70mph)
Gwent Police: 136mph (70mph)
Staffordshire Police: 135mph (70mph)
Kent Police: 132mph (70mph)
Humberside Police: 130mph (70mph)
Police Scotland: 128mph (70mph)
Lancashire Constabulary: 120mph (70mph)
Merseyside Police: 115mph (70mph)
North Wales Police: 111mph (70mph)
Norfolk Constabulary: 110mph (70mph)
Derbyshire Constabulary: 108mph (40mph)
South Wales Police: 108mph (50mph)
West Midlands Police: 108mph (70mph)
Gloucestershire Constabulary: 106mph (70mph)
Bedfordshire Constabulary: 104mph (40mph)
Devon & Cornwall Police: 101mph (70mph)
Hampshire Constabulary: 101mph (70mph)
Cheshire Constabulary: 95mph (70mph)
West Mercia Police: 92mph (60mph)
Cumbria Constabulary: 89mph (60mph)
Dyfed-Powys Police: 88mph (60mph)
South Yorkshire Police: 88mph (60mph)
Cleveland Police: 86mph (70mph)
Northumbria Police: 86mph (70mph)
Dorset Police: 73mph (50mph)
Leicestershire Police: 58mph (50mph)
Durham Constabulary: 44mph (30mph)
*Case revealed separately by the Metropolitan Police