The year of driving dangerously is about to come to a screeching halt.

The Maine State Police, citing an increase in dangerous driving, including instances of excessive speed, speeding through construction zones and distracted driving, will announce plans Tuesday to crack down on those high-risk driving behaviors.

Maine State Police Col. John Cote, his commanding officers and Maine Bureau of Highway Safety Director Lauren Stewart have scheduled a news conference in Augusta where they will introduce plans for a new traffic enforcement strategy – targeted enforcement details – that will remain in place for the next several months. State police will operate the traffic details in conjunction with the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety. A targeted enforcement detail typically focuses on discouraging high-risk traffic violations.

“At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, as a way to keep Mainers and Maine State Police troopers safe, minor infractions, including, but not limited to expired registrations and inspection stickers were curtailed. That is ending now,” Shannon Moss, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said in a statement issued Monday. “Statewide, Maine State Police troopers are seeing a disturbing trend. Excessive speed, speeding through construction zones, and distracted driving. Citizen complaints about this dangerous behavior are also increasing.”

Moss said targeted enforcement traffic details will occur over the next several months and are designed to keep Maine drivers and state roads safe. She did not elaborate on what those details might look like or exactly when they would begin.

Tuesday’s news conference will begin at 11 a.m. at the Maine State Police barracks, 36 Hospital St. Cote and Stewart also will share their message for keeping drivers safe and talk about what their officers have been seeing on Maine roads during 2020, a year of COVID-19 travel restrictions that resulted in less traffic on roads, but more traffic fatalities.

Maine State Police say they have seen an increase in dangerous driving on Maine roads over the past year. At this time last year, traffic on the Maine Turnpike was running at about 50 percent of its normal volume in the spring. But fewer drivers on roads did not lead to a decrease in motor vehicle fatalities.

By the end of 2020, the state reported 165 road fatalities compared to 157 deaths in 2019. In Maine, the number of crashes was down in 2020 by roughly  22 percent or 9,000 – about 32,500 compared with 41,641 in 2019 – but the number of fatal crashes was up.  Speeding tickets also decreased in 2020, but the number of tickets for criminal speeding – driving 30 mph over the posted limit – grew by a third in the first nine months of the year compared to the previous year.

Law enforcement officials speculated that there was a false sense among some motorists that police were too busy or unwilling to stop drivers during the pandemic.

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