Speeding is so out of hand in Minnesota that the Department of Public Safety (DPS) on Monday launched an unscheduled enforcement campaign aimed at getting motorists to lay off the gas pedal.

Troopers cited more than 7,250 drivers for speeding in January, which continued an alarming trend that began last year when drivers ticketed for going 100 mph or faster doubled and the state saw the most speed-related deaths in more than a decade.

"Speeding is a public safety and public health threat," said Mike Hanson, director of the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety.

The state's annual speeding enforcement campaign typically takes place in July, but with too many drivers treating the highway as a raceway, DPS secured $1 million in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration funding to help the patrol and hundreds of agencies across the state begin a crackdown on lead-footed drivers.

"If you recklessly disregard speed limits in Minnesota, you can expected to get stopped," Hanson said.

Authorities noticed an uptick in excessive speeding last year when stay-at-home orders went into effect due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With schools and restaurants closed and many employers allowing workers to do their jobs at home, traffic levels dropped. That led to empty highways with "lanes to use and abuse," Hanson said.

In 2020, troopers issued more than 1,000 tickets to drivers going over 100 mph, up from 533 in 2019. The fastest driver was clocked at 153 mph in October. The dangerous trend has continued this year with 78 drivers tagged at over 100 mph in the first months of 2021, compared with 33 during the same period last year.

"Speeding is out of control on our roads and we will do something about it," said Col. Matt Langer, chief of the Minnesota State Patrol.

Speeding accounted for 30% of all traffic fatalities in 2020 and was partly responsible for pushing the yearly total from 364 in 2019 to 397 last year. Preliminary data show 120 people died last year in crashes in which speed was a factor, the most since 2008, when there were 125 deaths, according to DPS.

Six people have already lost their lives in 2021 in speed-related crashes, DPS said.

The patrol had already started to "double down" on speeding this year, Langer said, but the escalating problem led DPS to enact a heavy statewide effort that will run through summer. Langer surmised that many drivers believe police are not enforcing traffic laws during the pandemic.

A speeding ticket will typically cost a driver caught going 10 mph over the speed limit about $110, depending on court fees. Fines double for drivers caught going more than 20 mph over the limit and drivers can lose their license for six months for going 100 mph or more, DPS said.

The campaign asks Minnesotans to drive smart and slow down.

"We need to solve this problem now," Hanson said. "We can do this, Minnesota, but it takes all of us working together."

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768