Action Agenda

Forum participants reached consensus on a seven-step action agenda.

  1. Raise the priority of speeding as a traffic safety issue.

Speeding is not generally understood as a high priority traffic safety issue, even though speeding contributes to one-third of all traffic fatalities. Participants agreed that raising the priority of speeding is perhaps the most important step that can be taken and is critical to achieving the other action agenda recommendations.

Three necessary components are to:

  • clearly define the speeding problem, beginning with a working definition of “speeding” that all can understand and accept;

  • clearly identify the risks and costs of speeding; and

  • show grass roots support for controlling speeding.

Raising the priority of the speeding issue with the general public will require the following:

  • agreeing on a clear definition of speeding.

  • convincing the public that speeding is a problem, and that speeding-related crashes are avoidable.

  • overcoming public resistance, since “everyone speeds” and many drivers believe that they will not be ticketed for speeding unless they exceed the posted speed limit by 5 or even 10 mph.

  • marketing speeding as a serious social problem using well-designed messages. Message points to consider include:

    • beginning by addressing speeding on local roads and streets; building on the common public concern for local traffic issues, especially speeding;

    • personalizing speeding-related crashes, as Melbourne, Australia, has done so effectively; and
    • show how speeding can injure pedestrians and other vulnerable road users.

Raising the priority of the speeding issue also requires support from elected government officials.

  • Politicians listen to the “loudest” issues, so grass roots support is critical.

  • Good data and studies on the consequences of speeding, the costs of speeding-related injuries and fatalities, and the effectiveness of speeding countermeasures are essential. The data and results must be presented in an easily-understood form.

  • Marketing speeding to the political leadership as a serious social problem, just as it is marketed to the general public. Consider the methods used to market alcohol-impaired driving and safety belt use. Look for allies among people who wish to reduce speeding, such as parents of small children, retirees, and baby boomers. Convince political leadership that statutory speed limits are a method for improving highway safety, not a political issue.

  • Consider demonstration programs to reduce speeding in local areas where the political leadership is receptive.
  1. Set and achieve goals

Based on their data, States and communities should set goals that specifically address their identified problem. The basic goal is to reduce speeding-related crashes, injuries, and fatalities. It can be approached in two ways: by targeting the “extreme speeders” who drive well above the median travel speeds, or by targeting the entire driving population and reducing all travel speeds (“shift the speed distribution to the left”), as Melbourne, Australia, has done (see Ian Johnston’s presentation). The two strategies are not disjoint, and both may be long-term goals. In the short term, specific situations may suggest which goal is more appropriate.

  • Controlling extreme speeders is likely to be supported on roadways where there is a wide range of travel speeds.

  • Reducing all travel speeds is likely to be supported in specific high-risk areas such as schools and work zones.
  1. Improve speed-related data and research

In order to maximize the effectiveness of a speeding reduction strategy, practitioners need good data to define the problem and its consequences and to evaluate countermeasures. Two types of data are needed:

  • Travel speed data. This data have not been collected and reported consistently since repeal of the National Maximum Speed Limit. Travel speed data is in fact collected in many ways in various places, for example at red light cameras and in urban areas where traffic flow is monitored closely. A system to aggregate and report this data should be developed. The MMUCC provides model data guidelines. If necessary, a national travel speed sampling system could be designed and implemented for less than $1 million.

  • Crash data with accurate speed information. Crash data is needed to link speeding to injuries and injury costs, to determine the true role of speed and speeding in causing crashes, and to determine how crash risk increases as speed increases. Speed data cannot be limited to fatal crashes but must be collected for injury crashes and, if possible, for at least some non-injury crashes. Accurate pre-crash travel speed data is not easy to acquire. Current electronic data recorders give only the velocity change at impact, not the travel speed of the crashed vehicles. The travel speeds of other vehicles on the roadway at the time of the crash are even more elusive. Some commercial vehicles may be able to use GPS systems to provide pre-crash speeds.

Both travel speed and speed-related crash data are needed at State and local levels, to accurately define State and local speeding problems. Keeping track of the public’s perception of the speeding problem (through surveys) is also important.

Additional research is needed in three areas, all discussed in other sections of this report.

  • Methods to acquire accurate speed data in crashes. Accurate speed data are needed to link individual crashes to speeding, determine the overall consequences of speeding-related crashes, and raise the priority of managing speeding with the public and with political leaders.

  • Methods to educate the public on speeding-related issues. These include raising the priority of speeding as a social issue, the consequences of speeding, the effect of apparently small increases in travel speed on injury severity, and the rationale for speed limits. This will require market and communications research.

  • Methods to use “smart” vehicle and highway technologies to manage speeds. As these technologies are implemented, they will be able to inform drivers of posted speed limits or of dangerous road conditions. They also will be able to limit driving speeds either absolutely, through fixed speed limiters, or on specific roadways.
  1. Implement engineering strategies

Roadway design and engineering are the fundamental determinants of travel speeds. If a roadway is designed for high speeds -- a multilane, divided, limited-access highway with few hills or curves -- then travel speeds will be high regardless of enforcement and education measures to control speeds. On the other hand, speeds on a narrow, two-lane, winding village street will be low. Both short-term and long-term roadway design and engineering strategies can be used to manage travel speeds, as is done in the Netherlands (see Fred Wegman’s presentation below).

  • Short-term engineering measures include:

    • Speed humps or roundabouts on local streets;
    • Transitional signing at speed zone boundaries;
    • Pavement markings and roadside elements to provide visual cues that encourage slower speeds;
    • Better signal timing, to convince drivers that they will keep moving if they drive at or under the speed limit, while speeding only gets them to the next red light faster (a win-win design, since safe speeds equate to faster travel times); perhaps changing signal timing on weekends and evenings.

  • Longer-term measures should be based on designing roadways with safe speeds in mind from the outset, rather than attempting to manage speeds once the roadway is built (as an example of practices to avoid, many new subdivisions have wide, straight streets that encourage drivers to speed through residential areas with many small children).

  • Speed limits consistent with the roadway’s design and use (so that the roadway is “self-explaining” and the safe travel speed is apparent to drivers). Variable speed limits may be useful to adapt limits to varying road conditions.

The forum did not consider vehicle design and marketing issues but agreed that they are an important part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce speeding. Many vehicles are designed for speeds well in excess of any United States speed limit. Speedometers register speeds well above 100 mph. Vehicle advertising promotes high speeds. None of these practices helps manage travel speeds.

  1. Implement enforcement strategies

Speed enforcement must begin with reasonable speed limits that the public understands and accepts. These will require:

  • Public education on the rationale for setting speed limits, explaining that they are set to balance safety and mobility and are not set arbitrarily or to generate revenue through speeding tickets. Public education may require social psychologists and market researchers to develop effective messages, and perhaps even to overcome an apparent “decline in deference” and reduced concern for others in traffic and in society generally.

Speed enforcement then is the primary responsibility of states and communities. Effective speed enforcement must have:

  • A high priority with law enforcement, since increased speed enforcement requires law enforcement resources.

  • Vigorous and effective publicity. As with other traffic safety laws and regulations, the goal is not to detect and punish speeders but to deter speeding in the first place.

  • The active cooperation of prosecutors and judges. The courts must understand and support the speed limits, or else speeding offenses will be dismissed. Increased speed enforcement may affect court caseloads, so the courts must be consulted in advance.

  • A clear understanding by law enforcement, the courts, and the driving public of the “enforcement tolerance” above the speed limit: the speed at which citations will be issued and prosecuted. Complete “zero tolerance” enforcement probably is not feasible. A “margin of error for equipment” may be a reasonable definition that all can accept.

Automated speed enforcement using speed cameras is used successfully in many other countries and in a few U.S. jurisdictions. While a promising technique, it must be used carefully, in selected areas, as part of a comprehensive program to reduce speeding and not a stand-alone tool. Automated speed enforcement must consider:

  • Political realities: it generates controversy on grounds of government intrusiveness and individual privacy. It requires strong political support. Red-light-running cameras typically are supported more strongly than speed cameras and may be a useful first step (and red-light cameras help control speeds by reducing the tendency to speed through an intersection to avoid a red light).

  • Where to use: in areas with well-documented speeding and speed-related crash problems, and in areas such as school zones where public support is especially strong. The posted speed limit must be reasonable and must be accepted by the public.

  • Legal requirements: State laws explicitly allowing speed cameras are useful, but blanket statewide legislation may be hard to enact. If blanket legislation is not feasible, legislation for specific areas such as school and work zones may be possible.

  • Public acceptance: speed camera enforcement must be thoroughly justified and explained with good media, social marketing, and signage. It must be justified as a method to improve public safety, not a revenue generator. It must be part of a comprehensive speed management program.

Automated speed camera tickets are issued administratively so that they do not impact the courts. On the other hand, automated speed cameras may not be as effective in changing behavior as in-person enforcement by an officer, since speed camera citations are received days or weeks after the offense while officer-issued citations provide very immediate feedback.

D.C. officials indicate that the speed-camera enforcement program in the District of Columbia features:

  • reasonable and believable speed limits;

  • tickets issued by an officer using a mobile camera unit;

  • fine revenue allocated directly to speed control;

  • tickets issued to the registered vehicle owner, not the driver; and

  • a link to DC’s comprehensive traffic safety program.

Speed-camera enforcement has reduced both average and excessive speeds substantially at camera locations. Systemwide effects on speeds are being evaluated.

  1. Implement education strategies

Education is essential for gaining public and political support for a program to reduce speeding and also is critical for the engineering and enforcement components of such a program. Stand-alone education is not an effective strategy: Admonitions to slow down and obey the speed limit can be expected to have little or no effect.

  1. Consider longer-term strategies

While the forum did not concentrate on longer-term strategies, several approaches were suggested and discussed. It is important to keep in mind that reducing speeding-related fatalities and injuries, not merely reducing speeds, must be the goal.

  • Speed limiters for commercial vehicles: All large trucks and buses built in the last 10 years can be speed-limited. Most large truck fleets, accounting for perhaps 90 percent of the interstate trucking, limit speeds at 62-65 mph for safety and fuel economy. Few buses are speed-limited. It may be time to consider a national speed-limiting policy for commercial vehicles.

  • Smart-vehicle technologies and GPS locators could be used in the future to transmit speed limit and road condition information for each road segment to vehicles and even to limit vehicle speeds.

  • Speed-limit reductions, along with other measures, could be helpful in reducing overall travel speeds within a geographic area. The considerations discussed previously clearly apply: speed limit reductions would need broad public support; clear justification as a means to address well-defined problems, perhaps beginning in school or work zones or residential areas; political support; careful marketing; and active enforcement.

  • Improved road design, to incorporate desired travel speeds early in the design process.


Forum participants agreed that serious measures to reduce speeding require cooperative efforts across the disciplines of engineering, enforcement, and education, and across organizations - local, State, and Federal governments, private sector; all the organizations represented at the forum and others that were not able to attend. Many specific strategies require cooperative partnerships to plan and implement.

Forum participants also agreed that the day-and-a-half forum was far too short. While it produced broad agreement on general goals, principles, and strategies, it did not allow time for any specific activities to be developed and discussed. As a result, participants agreed that a smaller follow-up group, representing key organizations, should be created to define and oversee specific activities to implement this action agenda. FHWA, FMCSA, GHSA, and NHTSA agreed to take the lead in assembling and supporting follow-up communications on these issues with forum participants.