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FHWA Home / Safety / Speed Management / Speed Management Workshops

Speed Management Workshops

June 12, 2002
Jacksonville, Florida

Opening Remarks

On Wednesday, June 12, 2002, more than 65 participants attended a Speed Management Workshop - Speed Management: A Multidisciplinary Forum to Discuss Setting and Enforcing Realistic Speed Limits. The Institute of Police Technology and Management (IPTM) hosted the workshop on the campus of the University of North Florida. The U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) - Co-Leaders of the U.S. Department of Transportation Speed Management Team - sponsored the program. Participants represented state, county, and local highway engineers, law enforcement agencies, and public policy organizations.

The workshop provided attendees a forum for identifying ways to restore credibility of speed limits in the U.S. They focused on issues such as:

The workshop is the first in a series designed to develop and test a guide for agencies interested in conducting local Speed Management Workshops. Organizers designed the agenda to address the multidisciplinary approaches of engineering, law enforcement, judicial, and public policy perspectives necessary to reduce speeding on all types of roadways. The workshop series builds on similar sessions conducted in 2000 at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, and in Dallas, Texas.

Earl Hardy, (NHTSA) Co-Team Leader, moderated the meeting. He welcomed participants and thanked the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for requesting the workshop. He then outlined the importance of communication and interaction among the various groups attending.

Dan Robinson, Assistant Director for IPTM, welcomed the group to the Institute. He introduced Everett James, Institute Director, and then discussed IPTM's mission as one of the nation's largest law enforcement training centers.

Mr. Hardy provided background for the session by reviewing issues associated with speeding as a significant threat to public safety. He underscored the need to understand who speeds - where, when, and why - and the importance of localizing setting and enforcement of reasonable posted limits.

He reviewed the history and role of the U.S. DOT Speed Management Team, a multi-agency initiative through the FHWA, NHTSA, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). He explained the Team's charter and its enforcement and public information initiatives.

Elizabeth Alicandri, FHWA Co-Team Leader, reviewed some expert systems developed in other countries that the FHWA is modifying for use in the U.S. The goal, she noted, is to have better, more consistent speed limits on all roads. Ms. Alicandri also provided the nonmotorist perspective and the need to balance the needs of different road users, including pedestrians and bicyclists.

Ms. Alicandri then spoke about efforts to set and enforce rational speed limits and the degree to which they are enforced and publicized. She talked about the formula that focuses on the 85th percentile speed and emphasized the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to solving the speed problem.

Mr. Hardy again emphasized the workshop goal of helping participants identify information they can use in their departments and communities to reduce crashes and save lives.

Morning Plenary Session

The plenary session featured speakers brought unique disciplinary insights into issue of managing speed.

Engineering Issues
Keith Harrison
Design Engineer, FHWA Western Resource Center

From an engineer's perspective, Mr. Harrison noted that speed management begins with highway geometric design, which encompasses the design driver and the design vehicle. The design speed depends on the type of facility and its function. For example, speeds differ for a freeway, two-lane rural road, or residential area. In selecting a "design speed," the highway designer establishes the physical characteristics of the roadway (for example, how sharp the curves or how steep the hills). These characteristics, in turn, provide the visual and tactile cues that help drivers choose a safe and comfortable speed.

The design speed is also intended to reasonably accommodate the driving skills and behavior of the vast majority of drivers. In practice, this vast majority has come to mean 85 percent, and that value (the 85th percentile speed) is often used as an initial benchmark in setting realistic speed limits.

Mr. Harrison then discussed how design elements and roadside safety features not only provide the basic cues that help drivers perceive a safe and comfortable speed, they also alert drivers to the need to change speed. He illustrated how traffic-calming elements can subconsciously cause drivers to reduce speeds. He also discussed problems associated with setting speed limits in work zones and emphasized the need for consistent application of methods and safety features to protect drivers and workers. He encouraged participants to "practice consistency," to apply the same logical thought process to implement all speed zones.

Several questions followed Mr. Harrison's remarks. For example, how can design engineers accommodate the change in roadway features from rural to suburban areas? Mr. Harrison noted the importance of context-sensitive design and recommended that road agencies conduct periodic reviews to ensure that speed limits are appropriate. He also urged agencies to listen to public concerns and then make informed decisions based on professional experience, driver behavior, and public opinion.

Another question concerned design speed versus posted speed - roadways designed for higher speeds, but posted at lower speeds. Mr. Harrison recommended posting limits more near the design speed, circumstances permitting. "Posting a six-lane facility at too low a speed is a red flag that invites speeding," he said. "As designers of highways, every time we provide drivers with inconsistent information, we collectively shoot ourselves in the foot."

Enforcement Issues
Sergeant Vincent Aurentz, Dallas (TX) Police Department

In addressing "why enforce speed limits," Sergeant Aurentz rejected the theory that officers "just want to write tickets" by referring to the more than $27 billion annual economic cost of speeding and the direct correlation between speeding and roadway fatalities. He also considers the 85th percentile "a mythical concept" because 85th percentile tests are conducted after construction, with posted speed limits, but without an enforcement presence.

 He noted that the elements of the deterrence process involve:

Sergeant Aurentz also addressed ways that engineering activity affects enforcement activity. For example, efforts to install high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes or add lanes to increase capacity without widening the roadway can essentially eliminate the areas (right and left shoulders) traditionally used for law enforcement activities. "There's simply no safe place for the officer or violator to be," he said.

The challenge from the enforcement and adjudication perspective is that regardless of the posted speed limit, law enforcement officers have to prove the speed was unreasonable and imprudent for current road conditions.

 Judicial Issues
Judge Sharon Hatten, Municipal Court of Midland, TX

Judge Hatten told attendees that regardless of circumstances, judges are required to apply all laws fairly and without bias. However, she noted, people have a tendency to look to an entity or branch of government to blame when there is a perceived deficiency in the operation or enforcement of a law, such as violations of our speed laws. She then reviewed and discussed the role of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.

She also reviewed population, crash statistics, and adjudication alternatives allowed by law in Texas. She questioned whether compliance dismissals were helpful or harmful to deterring speed violators in any state. Participants were surprised to learn that 24 of the 48 contiguous states have laws allowing jail time for speeding.

Judge Hatten next examined the reasons that judges dismiss speed violations, including those allowed as a result of laws passed by the Legislature. She also identified, from a judicial or executive perspective, how speeding violations can be dismissed for inaccurate paperwork, offenses cited under the wrong statutes, plea bargain, officer not present for trial, and the prosecutor's failure to meet the burden of proof.

Judge Hatten used a video of a motorist stopped for speeding (Texas routinely videotapes all traffic stops) to illustrate some of the issues. Among the judge's recommendations to improve enforcement and adjudication were abolishing or reducing laws that permit withholding points or withholding an adjudication of guilt so that convictions are reported to the department of public safety for license suspensions and/or higher fines. She proposed closer monitoring and public scrutiny of judicial dispositions, graduated penalties, and providing monetary rewards for safe drivers. She also emphasized that all three branches of government play important roles in improving enforcement and adjudication of speed violations. 

"For the sake of traffic safety and the justice system overall," she noted, "the legal system must appear to be fair." To have compliance, there must be a balance between enforcing penalties (that actually deter speeding) and punishment (that causes only minor economic inconvenience to the speeder). Minor fines or classes can be ineffective at deterring violators, however, fines and punishments considered too severe will not stand public scrutiny.

When questioned about unreasonable posted speed limits or speed limits set without an engineering study, Judge Hatten responded that judges are required to enforce the posted limit when there is an existing study or statute to support the limit.

Public Policy Issues
K. Craig Allred, Transportation Specialist, FHWA

Mr. Allred stated the twin transportation challenges of moving traffic safely and efficiently. Accordingly, he encouraged participants to examine areas that they can affect and create dialog to find shared solutions. He also maintained that the public has little information about how speed limits are set. The dominant speeding issue for most people is "speeding in my neighborhood."

He observed that effectiveness of roadway safety features decreases as speed increases, and he reviewed factors associated with speeding-related fatalities on roadways, including driving too fast for conditions, speed differential and diffusion, work and school zones, inexperience or unfamiliarity with the roadway, driving conditions, and equipment problems.

 Mr. Allred next addressed how political pressures can affect policy makers, including constituents unhappy with receiving speeding citations or negative responses to using unconventional police vehicles for enforcement. He reviewed some of the obstacles to better, more accurate enforcement, for example, the privacy issue associated with photo radar enforcement and the call for less government intrusion into people's lives. He also stated that speed enforcement must be safety related rather than revenue enhancement for communities.

Finally, Mr. Allred addressed the issue of speed versus aggressive driving and noted that the best deterrent for speeding is effective enforcement with public and political support.

 Breakout Group Sessions

Attendees participated in concurrent breakout groups for the afternoon session. All attendees were assigned to groups to ensure a representative cross section of law enforcement, engineering, and public policy perspectives. The groups' charge was to "create the product" of the meeting by sharing experience and concerns about enforcing credible speed limits and developing an action plan to reduce speeding-related fatalities.

The breakout groups devoted 15 minutes each to address the engineering, enforcement, judicial, and political aspects of managing speed. Representatives from the Florida Conflict Resolution Consortium, under contract to FDOT, facilitated the sessions. At the conclusion of the session, each group identified the top three actions in each category:

Common Threads

Three recurring themes emerged in each session:

The following observations by participants provide insight into issues affecting the ability of partner organizations to reduce speeding:

Engineering Issues. Comments in all breakout groups pointed to the need for better cooperation and communication between design and traffic engineers when setting speed limits. Many participants said that the design speed should correlate with the operational speed. They pointed to the need for more consistent standards regarding setting speed limits for toll plazas, at traffic signals, and in high pedestrian-use areas. There were questions about the AASHTO "Green Book," which doesn't consider human performance factors during the design process. Concern was also raised about the need to update standards and to allow more state and local modification of standards.

Several participants felt that the legislature should adopt the 85th percentile, which would help engineers counter local efforts to change limits. Others called for better crash data to support design and engineering practices.

Participants also voiced frustration at the need to respond to the directives, and often whims, of a broad range of constituents, including local politicians, residents and visitors to the state, and the public. Engineers should get out into the community and actively seek public input on problems and projects and to build credibility for traffic calming measures.

Several engineering participants also felt that there was a need to raise the credibility of their profession with politicians and policymakers, who like to "act like engineers," but who don't have the training, the license, or the adherence to professional rules and regulations.

Enforcement Issues. Participants were concerned about the decreased numbers of law enforcement officers and the competing responsibilities for personnel to perform security versus traffic duties. One suggestion was to better use Florida's Community Traffic Safety Teams (CTSTs) as a complement to enforcement activity and to educate the public about speeding issues. Many participants felt the state legislature should approve the use of new technologies for enforcement efforts, including photoradar, intelligent transportation systems (ITS), and video. There were several ideas about funding additional law enforcement positions and improving equipment, including actively pursuing federal and state grants. Another opportunity for interagency cooperation is that law enforcement officials regularly the data for crash records, but the data usually omits engineering issues that may contribute to a crash.

The plenary session segment on enforcement raised the awareness of the need for engineers to accommodate enforcement in roadway design. Officers should also be carefully trained in judicial procedures to reduce the possibility of reduced or negated sentences or fines for speeding. Participants noted that the cost of a speeding ticket isn't a deterrent; but points on a license are.

Other concerns addressed the discrepancy between posted versus enforced speeds, the fact that Florida is a basic speed law state (as opposed to an absolute speed law state), and inconsistent enforcement and adjudication of speed limit violations.

Judicial Issues. Participants would like greater uniformity in speeding laws and in penalties assessed for speeding. Many felt that judges don't view speeding as a high-priority issue and that they give very little support to officers during hearings. They also felt that judges have very little appreciation of the engineering standards used to set speed limits and suggested education programs (including continuing education units) for lawyers and judges concerning engineering and enforcement issues.

Several participants felt that Florida's current system of using traffic-hearing officers to adjudicate speed tickets should be reassigned to judges.

Public Policy Issues. Participants agreed on the need for stricter ordinances and educating the public about speed limits and safety consequences. This could reduce politicians' tendency to circumvent design, enforcement, and adjudication issues and curtail the tendency to respond to unsafe and unnecessary demands. National standards endorsed by a national body would support this effort.

All three groups identified the need to team engineering and enforcement representatives as a productive way to change public opinion about speed limits and safe driving behavior. Education also plays a vital role in building community support and participants noted the value of using the media to target high-risk drivers (teenage drivers and others).

Several participants noted the importance of working with metropolitan and regional planning organizations to bring a broader perspective to traffic and safety problems. They also believe that the state should mandate driver education courses.

Plenary Reporting Session

Following the breakout group sessions, volunteers presented each group's action plan priorities:

Red Team

Engineering Action Items

Enforcement Action Items

Judicial Action Items

Public Policy Action Items

Yellow Team

Engineering Action Items

Enforcement Action Items

Judicial Action Items

Public Policy Action Items

Green Team

Engineering Action Items

High Priority

Medium Priority

Low Priority

Enforcement Action Items

High Priority

Medium Priority

Low Priority

Judicial Action Items

Public Policy Action Items

High Priority

Medium Priority

Low Priority

Following the breakout session plenary, Mr. Hardy thanked participants for their time and thoughtful insights and concerns about the speed management problem. He urged everyone to continue the discussion and to share ideas with each other.

Conclusion

Florida Workshop participants explored a variety of institutional and communication barriers to speed-setting and enforcement issues. Workshop evaluations demonstrate that discussions and presentations raised participant awareness and reinforced the value of a multidisciplinary perspective to speeding. They cited opportunities for implementing a coordinated approach, including fostering better communication and cooperation within the FDOT organization, improving relations with the law enforcement community, and enhancing collaboration between public agencies and policymakers about speed-setting practices and procedures.

Page last modified on October 15, 2014.
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