As COVID-19 spread this spring, speeding tickets dropped in Champaign-Urbana and across the state.
According to data requested by The News-Gazette, the Champaign, Urbana and University of Illinois police departments issued 161 speeding tickets in February. Two months later, they handed out just two.
Similar drops were seen by Rantoul and Illinois State Police — and it wasn’t because drivers suddenly stopped speeding altogether.
Instead, police officials attributed the downward trend to fewer vehicles being on the road, particularly during the statewide stay-at-home order and on campus when students left.
Another factor: temporary policies to reduce the spread of COVID- 19 by stopping fewer people for minor infractions. That’s what happened with Champaign police’s Strategic Traffic Enforcement Program, department spokesman Tom Yelich acknowledged.
“While we were in the early stages of understanding COVID-19 and its impact, we did reduce enforcement for minor traffic violations in the interest of public health and for the well-being of our own officers while proper protocol adjustments were being made in response to the pandemic,” he said.
Minor traffic accidents also weren’t investigated unless there was an injury or a tow truck was needed, he said.
Urbana police Chief Bryant Seraphin also attributed the decline in speeding tickets to the pandemic.
“In March, we really restricted traffic stops,” he said. “Any way to minimize the amount of contact we were having with citizens — and we made a variety of other changes, as well, whether it’s taking reports over the phone or referring people to the website for some low-level issues.”
In Rantoul, 188 speeding tickets were issued from March 1 to Oct. 1. That’s down from 293 during the same period last year, Chief Tony Brown said.
“Initially, we had really asked the officers to look at limiting exposure and contact with people, and that included traffic stops,” Brown said.
He said speeding tickets are not a significant part of Rantoul’s budget.
At the UI, police spokesman Pat Wade said there weren’t any policy changes responsible for the reduction in speeding tickets, but they still decreased once students left town.
UI police typically hand out about 20 speeding tickets a month. Their early pandemic totals: nine in March, one in April, two in May, four in June, 14 in July and five in August.
“With students and staff going remote, we were basically in summer mode, as far as the campus population, beginning in March,” Wade said. “Even now, we’re not fully back to the traffic we would normally see.
“Officers are still out there doing the same traffic enforcement, but there just are not as many cars on the road speeding. Not on campus, anyway.”
Illinois State Police saw a similar drop in tickets, both in local District 10 and statewide.
From March 16 to May 6 last year, 13,885 speeding tickets were issued across the state, 451 of them in District 10. During the same period this year, 1,396 were issued statewide, including 60 in District 10.
“During the governor’s shelter-in-place order, there are far fewer cars on the road,” Trooper Mindy Carroll said in May. “When there is less traffic, there may be a temptation to exceed the posted speed limit. The Illinois State Police is asking the motoring public to fight this temptation. Slow down and pay attention to the road so first responders do not have to respond to a traffic crash or stop you for speeding.”
Lest anyone be tempted to drive fast, police say they’re no longer limiting enforcement of speeding.
From March 16 to Oct. 8, state police issued 2,218 tickets in District 10, just two fewer than a year ago.
“As we’ve learned about the virus and have officers with masks, we have started to re-initiate some of these efforts,” Seraphin said. He said the city regularly gets complaints about speeding, so “we started pushing out some of our selective traffic control.”
Champaign, Urbana and UIPD speeding tickets