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Speed Management to Reduce Crash Fatalities

Written by Janet Dewey-Kollen

Speed management is moving to the fore as a top strategic priority in the nation’s efforts to reduce motor vehicle crashes. In 2002, about one-third of the total 42,815 fatalities were speeding-related. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2002 speeding-related fatality count is the highest number since 1991. Speeding-related fatalities have increased every year since 2000.

The US Department of Transportation’s (DOT) goal is to reduce the nation’s highway fatality rate to 1.0 per 100 million vehicle miles by 2008 from the current level of 1.5 per 100 million. The agency hopes that by addressing speeding as a major crash contributor and by continuing efforts to reduce impaired driving and to increase safety belt use, overall highway fatality rates will continue to trend downward.

In order to accomplish this goal, the DOT and NHTSA, along with the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), recently released several detailed studies and analyses aimed at bringing national attention to speed management.

NHTSA’s Analysis on Speed Fatalities

NHTSA’s Analysis of Speeding-Related Fatal Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes (DOT HS 809-839), released in June 2005, considered numerous environmental, behavioral, and vehicular related factors in speed-related crashes from 1983 to 2002. They found driver impairment is highly correlated to speeding among drivers involved in fatal crashes. About 41% of drivers who were intoxicated (BAC of 0.08+), were also speeding as compared to 14% for sober drivers.

The geometry of the road also plays a vital role in speed-related crashes. In 2002, about 40% of speeding-related crashes occurred while the vehicle was negotiating a curve. Slightly less than 20% of non-speeding fatal crashes occurred under similar roadway geometry. A major proportion of fatal, speeding-related single-vehicle crashes occurred on local roads in rural jurisdictions.

Motorcycle operators had the highest proportion of speed-related fatalities, averaging 38% in 2002. The percentage of drivers who were speeding in fatal crashes in passenger cars, light trucks, and SUVs fell between 20-25% with each group showing increased fatalities from 2001 to 2002.

Interstate roadways and freeways have substantially lower crash rates than other roadways. Speeding in single-vehicle fatalities occurred primarily on major collectors and local road ways in both rural and urban areas, along with principal arterials in urban areas. Most speed-related crash fatalities occur between 3:00pm and 3:00am on weekdays versus weekends.

Survey of the States

The GHSA surveyed its state highway safety members to gain information on state-based countermeasures to reduce speeding-related fatalities. According to Jim Champagne, the GHSA chair, “We should have experienced a significant decline in speeding-related fatalities given the tremendous gains in safety belt use coupled with the increasingly safe design of vehicles. However, it appears that these benefits have been minimized by increasing speeds.” A survey of 50 GHSA jurisdictions showed increases in speed limits since 1994 in 38 jurisdictions. Congress repealed the National Maximum Speed Limit in 1995.

The GHSA survey revealed that some responding jurisdictions can isolate speeding-related fatal and injury crashes in their traffic records. The ability to isolate and capture this information is important in targeting funds to address specific problem areas. Furthermore, 32 of the 48 jurisdictions surveyed maintain speeding-related citation and/or conviction data.

However, many of the states reported that citation information only comes from state police agencies and not all local enforcement agencies. According to the GHSA survey summary, “Maintaining both citation and conviction data for comparison purposes is one means of identifying problem areas related to adjudication.”

Forty-two responding jurisdictions indicate the existence of a cushion of 5 to 10 mph, not only in the minds of the public, but also in enforcement practice. Champagne stated, “This cushion truly exists across this country and in some cases is more than 10 mph above posted limits. Law enforcement needs to be given the political will to enforce speed limits and the public must get the message that speeding will not be tolerated.”

Photo Enforcement

The IIHS paper, “Q&A: Speed – Law Enforcement,” is a primer on the various techniques and technologies for enforcing speed limits. There are two principal approaches for the enforcement of speed limits. According to the paper, “The traditional approach involves police officers observing traffic speeds and then chasing, stopping, and citing drivers observed speeding. A second approach involves the use of speed cameras, also known as photo radar, to record images of speeding vehicles. Information in the images is used to determine whether to send a violation in the mail to the vehicle owner.”

While traditional enforcement can be effective in speed enforcement, an IIHS representative testified before a Maryland General Assembly committee as follows: “On multilane roads with heavy traffic moving in both directions, it is often dangerous for police to make traditional traffic stops. And if an officer can safely pull a violator off to the side of the road, a potentially hazardous distraction is created as other drivers going in both directions slow down momentarily, causing a ripple effect in traffic. The challenge is to find better methods of controlling speeds on these and other high-risk roads, and speed cameras can help accomplish this.”

Speed cameras are deployed in the following two ways. Mobile speed cameras are manned by police and moved among various locations, and fixed cameras are unmanned and photograph vehicles speeding at specific roadway locations. Cameras have been used all over the world for more than 30 years in countries including Australia, Canada, Taiwan, South Africa and eight European countries. In the US, cameras are currently in use in Arizona, California, Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, and the District of Columbia.

According to the IIHS, a 2002 Institute study reported that within six months of implementing speed cameras in the District of Columbia 2001, the proportion of vehicles exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph declined by 82%. In Utah, the speed camera system is credited with a reduction in a specific school zone from 36 to 22 mph. After eight months of installation, crashes were reduced significantly at the school zone where previously there were high numbers of crashes and injuries.

DOT Speed Management Strategic Initiative

In June 2005, the DOT released a speed management initiative to reduce speeding-related fatalities, injuries, and crashes. The primary reason for regulating individual speed choices is the significant risks drivers can impose on others. According to the Speed Management Strategic Initiative, reducing speeding will involve many factors including public attitudes, road user behavior, vehicle performance, roadway design and characteristics, posted speed limits, and enforcement strategies.

Consequently, the broad-based speed management will require a number of features: 1) Defining the relationship between speed, speeding, and safety, 2) Applying road design and engineering measures to obtain appropriate speeds, including the development of self-enforcing roads, 3) Setting speed limits that are safe and reasonable, 4) Applying enforcement efforts and appropriate technology that effectively targets crash producing speeders and deters speeding, 5) Effectively marketing communication and educational messages that focus on high-risk drivers, and 6) Soliciting the cooperation, support and leadership of traffic safety stakeholders.

A number of law enforcement-specific strategies to identify and promote effective speed enforcement activities are an integral part of the Speed Management Strategic Initiative. First, provide enforcement guidelines that promote drive compliance with appropriately set speed limits. Understanding that effective enforcement works primarily through the principle of general deterrence, the initiative calls for developing best practices guidelines for speed enforcement programs in combination with education and media activities.

Second, support speed enforcement operations. The initiative emphasizes that public support for speed enforcement activities depends on the confidence of the public that speed enforcement is motivated by safety concerns that are both fair and rational. Key actions include providing model-speed measuring device operator training programs, providing performance specifications, testing protocols for speed-measuring device technologies, and providing independent testing laboratories for ensuring the accuracy and reliability of speed-measuring device technologies.

Third, promote the appropriate use of automated speed enforcement. Public support of automated speed enforcement programs is dependent on it being used where there is a crash problem, perceived as fair and not used as a revenue raising strategy. Key actions for this strategy are 1) Identifying appropriate applications for automated speed enforcement technology and evaluating its safety effectiveness, 2) Providing implementation guidelines for automated speed enforcement systems, 3) Providing a model automated speed-measuring device operator training program, 4) Promoting the application of automated speed enforcement systems designed to effectively deter speeding and prohibit revenue generation beyond reasonable operational cost.

Fourth, promote enforcement activities that effectively target driver behaviors resulting in speeding-related crashes. Priority for enforcement should be on egregious and crash producing speeders. Key actions include, 1) Supporting high visibility enforcement efforts that strategically address speeders, locations, and conditions most common, or most hazardous, in speeding-related crashes, 2) Supporting speed enforcement activities that complement a comprehensive speed management program including traffic engineering, law enforcement, and the judiciary.

Over the past ten years, the efforts of law enforcement agencies across the nation have helped change American attitudes toward the need to wear safety belts and to use child restraints. Hopefully, some of the techniques and initiatives applied to the enforcement of these laws will be used in the effort to reverse the growing trend of speed-related crashes.

Janet Dewey-Kollen, the state executive director for Louisiana MADD, is a long-time traffic safety advocate. She is also a freelance writer and a child passenger safety technician. Janet can be reached at projplan@aol.com.
Photos courtesy of Christy Whitehead.


Approaches to Augment Speed Enforcement

States use a variety of approaches to augment enforcement efforts aimed at reducing speeding.

Stationary Patrol Vehicles

Average traffic speeds tend to be closer to the posted limit in the immediate vicinity of stationary patrol vehicles, some of which include manikins. Exposure to a stationary patrol vehicle over a five-day period had the greatest effect in suppressing speeds after enforcement ended.

Aerial Enforcement

Aerial enforcement is achieved by marking pavement at intervals so that a surveillance aircraft can calculate vehicle speeds. Research indicated that aerial speed enforcement programs have a generally positive effect in reducing highway speeds. One Australian study (Kearns and Webster, 1998) found that eleven months of aerial speed enforcement resulted in a 22% decrease in crashes.

Radar and Laser Speed Monitoring Equipment

A Federal Highway Administration research synopsis found that laser speed guns were significantly more effective in identifying speeding motorists than radar. There were forty-one speeding citations per 1,000 vehicles for laser speed guns as compared to 33 speeding citations per 1,000 vehicles for radar.

Automated Enforcement

These systems combine radar or laser-measuring technology and video or photographic identification to automatically detect and record speed limit violations. Generally, radar or infrared laser instruments detect a speeding vehicle, and trigger a pre-positioned camera to photograph the vehicle’s license plate and driver. The time of the violation and recorded vehicle speed are superimposed on the photograph. If the license plate number and driver can be clearly identified in the photograph, a speeding citation is issued and mailed to the registered owner. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, speed cameras are in use in six states plus Washington DC as of March 2005, including Arizona (Mesa, Paradise Valley, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe), California (San Jose), Colorado (Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins), North Carolina (Charlotte-Mecklenburg), Ohio (Toledo), and Oregon (Beaver, Medford, Portland).

Published in Law and Order, Sep 2005

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