Traffic data shows there are significantly fewer vehicles on Clark County’s major roads, but the Vancouver Police Department says it appears there are more people deciding to speed.
“Anecdotally, our traffic unit and patrol officers are seeing increases in traffic citations despite the lower volumes of traffic on the roadways,” spokeswoman Kim Kapp said.
Washington State Department of Transportation communications manager Tamara Greenwell says there has been a steady reduction in highway traffic since the beginning of March, when the novel coronavirus began to prompt warnings and closures.
In Clark County, the triangle of Interstates 5 and 205 and state Highway 14 is seeing an average of about 40 percent fewer vehicles, according to the data.
“Weekends are consistently lower than weekdays, this is due to the fact that those types of trips are largely discretional,” Greenwell said.
The traffic counts are helpful for decision-makers and public health officials in understanding if there is an effect with stay-at-home orders and social distancing practices, Greenwell said. While there are still many unknowns, the measures being taken are helping keep people safe and reduce the spread of COVID-19, she said.
However, law enforcement says many drivers on the road are being unsafe.
On April 9, the Vancouver Police Department posted on social media, lamenting that some motorists had gotten the idea that the stay-at-home order meant they could ignore speed limits, or mistakenly believed traffic officers weren’t on the roads.
The police department shared a picture with the post, showing a $917 ticket one driver received for speeding 32 mph over the limit. The cropped picture of the citation does not indicate where in Vancouver the driver was pulled over.
“We are out there looking for traffic violators and by looking we mean citing,” the post reads.
The police department put up another post on Thursday stating “ALL traffic laws are still in effect and the stay-at-home order doesn’t apply to our traffic unit.” Accompanying the post was a picture of an officer’s radar clocking a vehicle at 83 mph. That person received a $426 citation.
Dispatchers at Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency record calls about speeding under two categories, “reckless” and “DUI,” so the total number of speeders is unclear.
However, data provided by the agency shows 208 reckless driving calls and 79 DUI calls were taken from March 29 to April 12. During the same time period last year, the total for those kinds of calls were 251 and 108, according to the data.
Although there were fewer calls in both categories, that doesn’t take into account that there are approximately half the amount of vehicles on the roadway. And, there was no spring break this year, which generally increases call volumes. So, the decrease in calls is not as dramatic as might be expected.
According to data provided by Vancouver police, 56 drivers were cited for speeding more than 20 mph over the speed limit between March 1 and April 8. Nine of those drivers were speeding 30 mph or more over the limit. One driver was ticketed for speeding 42 mph over the speed limit; another, 44 mph over.
Across the Columbia River, weekday traffic on all four major interstates in the Portland area is down 46 percent from levels last year, according to data from the Oregon Department of Transportation, as reported by The Oregonian. Interstates 5, 405, 84 and 205 are all seeing significant traffic declines, and the freeways are becoming less congested as the weeks stretch on, according to the newspaper.
Meanwhile, average speeds within the Rose City are increasing. Average speeds on I-5 northbound in Portland during what used to be the afternoon rush hour were up to 60 miles per hour. On the week of March 1, the average speed was 33 mph, according to The Oregonian.
Additionally, street racers are once again reportedly causing havoc. A large group of drivers blocked southbound Interstate 405 on the upper deck of the Fremont Bridge on April 12. The Portland Police Bureau said in a news release that it received reports that the group raced in various spots around the city for the next couple hours. No arrests were made.