Drivers are putting the hammers down on interstates left open by shutdowns, FHP says.

The shutdown of restaurants and bars along with stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus pandemic are leading to fewer drunken drivers on the roads in Volusia County and Central Florida, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

“If one good thing is coming out of this, less people are getting in crashes,” said FHP Lt. Kim Montes. “They are not going out drinking and driving.”

The stay-home orders, bars closing, restaurants offering only take out and even curfews in some places have contributed to the decrease in drunk driving, Montes said.

But the open expanses on Interstate 4 and Interstate 95 are apparently proving too great a temptation as more drivers are rocketing down the road at higher speeds, Montes said.

“The one thing that’s gone up, though, is people are speeding at a higher speed,” Montes said. “The troopers are catching people doing 20, 30, 40 miles over the posted speed limit. Right now, because there’s not as much congestion and we are writing tickets and a lot of those are mandatory court appearances.”

But the good news is it appears people aren’t driving as much while intoxicated.

FHP statistics show troopers made 34 drunken driving arrests in 2018 from March 17 through March 27 in Central Florida, including Volusia County. That increased to 39 DUIs in 2019. But for the same period this year, troopers made just 15 such arrests.

Crashes were also down.The FHP investigated 1,936 crashes in that time period in 2018 and 1,415 in 2019. But troopers investigated 954 crashes during the same time this year.

Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly said his agency made 42 DUI arrests from Jan. 1, 2019 through March 31, 2019 compared to 34 arrests for the same period this year, a drop of 19 percent.

“The bars are closed, certainly, that would be part of it and hopefully we have done a lot of education over the last three years to not drink and drive,” Staly said.

Staly pointed to his special squad car which is painted half like a patrol car and half like a taxi, warning drivers to take the taxi home if they have been drinking or they may get a ride in a patrol car to jail.

Staly also said his deputies have been working hard to keep drunken drivers off the road. He said deputies made a total of 175 DUI arrests in 2019 or one nearly every other day.

Flem Whited, a Daytona Beach defense attorney specializing in DUI cases, said he has seen a “drastic drop” in arrests for all things, including DUIs.

But he said he is still getting his usual share of cases.

“I haven’t seen any drop in my case load,” Whited said.

Montes said many times people speed because they get stuck in heavy traffic and then try to make up for lost time. But that hasn’t been the case because there’s been none of the usual congestion.

“The troopers are kind of baffled,” she said. “It’s not like people are late for anything.”

She said tickets for going at such high speeds can cost a driver up to a $1,000 and may include a mandatory court appearance. They may also have to go to driving school.

“We don’t want to put a financial burden on people,” Montes said, “but those speeds are dangerous.”

This story originally published to news-journalonline.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.