Speeding increased during the morning and afternoon commuting hours in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic — and drivers never slowed down, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

The chances that a Virginia driver was going at least 10 mph over the speed limit rose a little more than 50 percent during March-June 2020, compared with the same period a year earlier, a new study from the IIHS shows. Federal data collected since then indicate that the increase in speeding and other risky driving behaviors continued throughout 2020 and 2021.

“The empty roads probably tempted pandemic-stressed drivers to put the pedal down,” said Jessica Cicchino, vice president of research at IIHS.

“But information collected since the lockdowns ended and the roads filled back up suggests that risky driving has become the new normal.”

To investigate how pandemic lockdowns affected driving behavior, IIHS researchers analyzed data from more than 500 Virginia Department of Transportation speed counters and compared the proportion of vehicles exceeding the speed limit by at least 5 mph and 10 mph in March-June 2020 with the same period in 2019. They then estimated the change in the proportion of drivers speeding by the time of day, day of the week and type of roadway.

Overall, traffic volumes at the study sites fell by a quarter during Virginia’s lockdown over the same period, the proportion of vehicles exceeding the speed limit by 10 mph or more rose 30-40 percent on all roads other than rural arterials, where there was little change. On weekdays, the proportion of vehicles exceeding the speed limit by at least 10 mph rose 43 percent between 6 am and 8:59 am and 63 percent between 3 pm and 5:59 pm.

Crash deaths rose seven percent in 2020 despite a dramatic decrease in the number of miles Americans drove.