SPEEDING AND HIGHWAY SAFETY:
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION'S
POLICY AND IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGY
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Federal Highway Administration
Travel at safe and reasonable speeds on highways promotes the nation's productivity.
Most highways and motor vehicles are designed and built for safe operation at
the speeds traveled by most motorists. Speeding -- exceeding posted limits or
driving too fast for conditions -- involves many factors including public attitudes,
personal behavior, vehicle performance, roadway characteristics, enforcement
strategies, and speed zoning (a safe and reasonable limit for a given road section
or zone). Nevertheless, speeding on the nation's roadways is a contributing
factor in as many as one third of all fatal crashes. Fatal crashes are only
a small part of the total safety picture. In addition, many people are injured
in speed-related crashes. The economic cost to society of these crashes was
estimated to be $27 billion per year in 1994.
Federal Policy on Speeding
Speeding is a significant threat to public safety and warrants priority attention.
The Department of Transportation's policy on highway speeds is to provide guidance
to State and local governments to set speed limits that maximize the efficient
and rapid transportation of people and goods while eliminating the unnecessary
risk of crashes due to unsafe speeds. This policy promotes the concept that
Federal, State, and local governments should have balanced programs that use
the most cost-effective strategies for decreasing crash risks from speeding.
These strategies include: (1) ensuring that posted speed limits are reasonable
and appropriate for conditions; (2) providing public information and education
on the risks associated with speeding; (3) understanding who speeds, where,
when, and why; (4) using a variety of techniques and technologies beyond enforcement
for speed management; and (5) targeting enforcement where speeding presents
the most serious hazard and accompanying it with public information and education.
Speed Management Program and Implementation
The following are the key elements of a balanced program to implement the speed
policy at the Federal, State, and local levels.
1. Speed Limits
Speed limits should promote safe travel, and should be perceived by the public
as safe and reasonable. If the public does not understand the consequences of
speeding to themselves and others, they are less likely to adjust speeds for
traffic and weather conditions, or to comply with posted speed limits. This
can place serious strains on the limited resources that are available for speed
enforcement and on the relationship between the police and the public. Voluntary
compliance with speed limits can also be improved through greater use of speed
management devices and techniques that can be built into the existing highway
system, as well as incorporated in the Intelligent Transportation System.
2. Education, Public Information and Enforcement
State and local enforcement should focus on the types of drivers and situations
where speeding has a significant impact on public safety. Speed enforcement
must be complemented by focused public information and education campaigns.
Research shows that compliance with, and support for, traffic laws can be increased
through aggressive, targeted enforcement combined with a vigorous public information
and education program. This approach has been successful in addressing impaired
driving, occupant protection, red-light running, and commercial motor vehicle
safety issues. Public information and education also contribute to public support
for speed management by increasing the awareness of the consequences of speeding.
3. Research and Demonstration
An effective and efficient program to address speeding as a highway safety
issue requires better definition and understanding of speeding and its management.
It is important to identify any specific characteristics or traits that can
be used to target drivers and situations where there is increased risk. Detailed
information on why these drivers speed can be used to develop more effective
countermeasures. Voluntary compliance with speed limits can also be improved
through on-going development of new speed management technologies.