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As life slowed down, cars sped up – and police want to know why

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Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll is concerned about the increase in speeding during the pandemic.

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As social distancing and various business restrictions were imposed, crime overall decreased. In an interview with InQueensland, Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll suggested that was due to a reduction in high-volume crime, such as burglaries and car theft, because people were at home more and more vigilant.

However, by contrast, there was an increase in traffic violations and fatalities during the same period.

“So not only were more people speeding but the speeds were exponentially higher,” Carroll told InQueensland.

While fewer cars on the road might create an environment in which motorists could speed more easily, Carroll said researchers would investigate all contributing factors and police were keen to know more.

The need to police the Queensland-NSW border put a pause on some random breath tests and speed enforcement, which researchers suspect may be linked to the increase in speeding.

Researcher Natalie Watson-Brown from the Road Safety Research Collaboration at the University of the Sunshine Coast said she was working on a project looking at what makes a motorist decide whether to abide by the speed limit.

“We also have some preliminary results from a study that focused on drink driving in the wake of COVID-19 and also looked at changes in speeding behaviours during the lockdown,” Watson-Brown said.

“Given static roadside RBTs were suspended and participants in this study reported their intentions to increase engagement in drink driving, this suggests visible policing is important to reducing non-compliant driving behaviours.”

Researcher Lyndel Bates from Griffith University speculated on similar factors.

“It is possible that there was an increase in speeding on the roads for a number of reasons such as a reduction in traffic volume due to more people working from home, a perception that police weren’t undertaking traffic enforcement (because, for instance, they announced they weren’t undertaking as many random breath tests for health reasons) or those who were driving during the pandemic were more likely to take risks compared to those who stayed home,” Bates said.

In the interview with InQueensland, Carroll also predicted an increase in domestic violence cases, following an increase in breaches of domestic violence orders, as people emerge from isolation.

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