BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The pandemic didn’t just bring about hospital overcrowding and shuttered businesses. It also brought new levels of danger to California highways  — tens of thousands of citations and arrests for hundred mile-per-hour speeders.

Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a local legislator are stepping up to do something about it.

You’ve seen them. Drivers zigging through freeway traffic. They break into the clear and they’re gone, like rockets, like everybody else on the road is standing still. Those are some of the drivers who kill people — themselves and other people. 

In California in fiscal 2018-2019, speeding drivers caused 36,000 crashes, killed 335 people and injured 53,000 more.

Though it may not seem possible, since April 2020 it’s been worse, at least in terms of extreme speeders. Over the past 18 months, the California Highway Patrol has issued more than 44,500 hundred citations to drivers going more than 100 miles per hour. Last December, one speeder in Sonoma County was cited after being clocked at 131 miles per hour. 

Now, the CHP has another tool at its disposal — a $2 million federal grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, through the California Office of Traffic Safety, that will support the California Highway Patrol’s campaign targeting dangerous driving behaviors. It’s known as RADARS 6, or Regulate Aggressive Driving and Reduce Speed., and it’s funded through Sept. 30, 2022.

Kern County CHP spokesman Robert Rodriguez attributes it the wide-open spaces created by the pandemic.

“A lot more citations have been issued,” Rodriguez said. “Clearly, when the pandemic first started, there were fewer drivers out there on the roadways, so a lot of motorists took advantage of that and drove more recklessly and at greater speeds. But now that things have reopened and there’s more commuters out there on the roadways, we’re still seeing that increased amount of speed. Moreover, there’s even more aggressive drivers as well.”

The federal grant will fund a campaign targeting speeding motorists and aggressive driving behaviors, including street racing and so-called sideshows, which have long been issues in Bakersfield, not just on state highways but on city streets as well.

And speaking of sideshows — another new tool in the safe-driving toolbox. Last week Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Assemblyman Vince Fong’s AB 3, which further cracks down on illegal street racing by allowing courts to issue driver license suspensions for exhibition of speed convictions, such as burning rubber, revving engines and other stunts, collectively known as sideshows, that often lead to street racing. 

The federally funded pushback against extreme speeders isn’t confined to California. The grant funds highway patrol offices in 11 other states — Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming  — all states that have seen a big uptick in extreme speeding during this pandemic.

The penalty for driving in excess of 100 miles per hour on California highways, in case you’re wondering, is a fine of between $500 and $1,000, 2 points on your driving record, a mandatory court appearance and, at the judge’s discretion, a possible 30-day suspension of your driver’s license. Now, speeding and recklessly evading — that’s a felony and potential jail time.