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Police: More drivers caught under influence of drugs than alcohol, speeding spike this spring

Police say this year has been exceptional on Finland's roads, even before the pandemic.

Poliisilla kädessään pikahuumetesti.
A police officer administering a drug test (file photo). Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Last weekend police in the northern city of Oulu caught a netful of speeding motorists, including a van driver clocked at 207 kilometres per hour in a 100 kph zone, a 17-year-old driving 161 kph in an 80 kph area, and a motorcyclist racing at 167 kilometres, also in an 80 kph zone.

They also encountered a heavily intoxicated moped driver, suspended a number of drivers' licenses and removed the license plates off two cars in an effort to keep hazardous drivers from re-offending.

So was this an exceptionally busy weekend?

"No. Almost every weekend this year has been about the same," says Sgt Markku Nygård of the Oulu police department's traffic unit.

"The speeds are absolutely awful. Not just 20 or 30 kph over the speed limit, but even more than 100 kph over. There's no coherent way to rationalise that," he tells Yle.

Grim year, even before the pandemic

This year has been exceptional on Finland's roads.

Police say that the number of cases of aggravated endangerment of traffic safety has shot up to more than 2,900, compared to about 1,900 during the same period of last year.

They also report a marked increase in the number of people driving under the influence of illicit drugs. On the other hand, fewer motorists have been caught driving drunk.

For the first time ever, drugs surpassed alcohol in cases of driving under the influence. In the first half of this year, alcohol was involved in 4,767 cases while other intoxicants were implicated in 4,774 incidents. Both drugs and booze were involved in 724 cases.

On the plus side, there has been a sharp decline in pedestrian and cyclist deaths on Finnish roads this year.

Behavioural changes – and also more police surveillance

The number of cases has grown nationally, says Maria Hoikkala, Chief Superintendent of the National Police Board, with the biggest spike this past spring during the coronavirus state of emergency.

"During the spring police had more of a chance to monitor traffic. When traffic volumes are lighter, it's easier to pick out those who are speeding or under the influence. On the other hand, lower traffic volumes may also give them more of an opportunity to drive faster," Hoikkala observes.

Speeders are most often young men, but the proportion of women is rising, she says. Hoikkala also suggests that the rise in cases of exceedingly high speed driving is linked to higher-powered vehicles.

Police announced on Friday that they will be stepping up traffic surveillance next week, and especially looking out for drunk drivers in areas with many holiday homes.

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