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ISSUE TWO: Culture Change: Transforming Speed Management

U.S. DOT Speed Management Team

The U.S. Department of Transportation's NHTSA, Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration formed a speed management team to help state and local governments develop strategies to reduce crashes due to speeding, including setting and enforcing rational speed limits, conducting research on speeding risks, exploring new technologies to address speeding, and implementing effective public information and education programs to deter speeding.

Seven demonstration projects are in progress to determine the extent to which speed limits that are enforced and publicized lead to higher compliance and improve traffic flow without reducing highway safety.    

The demonstrations are bringing to light that program effectiveness depends on the perceived risk of apprehension and the swiftness, certainty and severity of punishment, making the law enforcement and court roles vital to speed management programs.

The level of enforcement efforts must be sufficient to deter speeders, must consider ways of deterring high speed drivers, and use alternative enforcement methods to supplement traditional enforcement efforts. 

Judges must agree that speed limits are reasonable, ensure that treatment of violators is consistent, and minimize the time to trial and dismissal of cases.

Speeding, which is involved in 12 percent of all reported crashes, 31 percent of all fatal crashes, and costs the nation more than $40 billion annually, remains a significant public safety threat that warrants priority attention.3  Early Hardy, NHTSA Senior Highway Safety Specialist, provided an overview of the U.S. Department of Transportation's speed management team and its implementation strategy to address speeding and highway safety in this issue discussion.  His presentation facilitated discussions on the changes needed in the speed management culture and the obstacles that impede such change.

A major outcome of this discussion was the need for greater coordination and regulation of speed management efforts. 

Participants raised the following considerations for state and local speed management efforts:

  • Brief local judges on speed management plans.  Judicial considerations include the quality of cases brought to court, court resources, including access to driving history and adjudication records (to determine repeat offenders), and educating judges on speeding so decisions are more informed.
  • Consider a range of safe driving speeds when developing speed management strategies to address both the egregious violators who drive at excessive speeds and slow drivers.
  • Examine tying variable speed limits with automated enforcement programs, which studies have shown to be effective in deterring excessive speeding and red light running at intersections.
  • Determine any distinctions between jurisdictions on whether speeding is a criminal or civil offense.
  • Determine the effectiveness of laws to address aggressive driving and the frequency of speeding in aggressive driving.
  • Consider the role of state laws that mandate "chances" for violators (such as those that allow completion of traffic school as an alternative to penalty and points on driving records) in the adjudication process.
  • Consult with transportation engineers, including students, on road design and how this contributes to traffic flow.
  • Develop strategies to address traffic backups, including clearing accident scenes quickly and addressing slow drivers.

Speed management is a complex process that involves many factors and the problem must be addressed holistically.  The setting and enforcement of speed limits are local responsibilities and participants were urged to become active in addressing the problem of speeding in their jurisdictions.