U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Skip to content
Facebook iconYouTube iconTwitter iconFlickr iconLinkedInInstagram


FHWA Home / Safety / Speed Management / Speed Management Workshops

Speed Management Workshops

Download Version
PDF [89 KB]

March 20, 2003
Boston, Massachusetts

Opening Remarks

More than 100 participants attended the March 20 th Massachusetts State Transportation Building in Boston. The Massachusetts Governor's Highway Safety Bureau hosted the session, which attracted law enforcement personnel, public works and highway engineers, and Selectmen and officials from towns and cities throughout the State. The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Speed Management Team sponsored the workshop, Speed Management: A Multidisciplinary Forum to Discuss Setting and Enforcing Realistic Speed Limits . The Speed Management Team represents the U.S. National Highway Traffic Administration, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The workshop was designed to explore the interrelationship of various components necessary to effectively reduce speeding on state and local roads. Topics included how road design influences driving speed, the relationship between enforcement and adjudication of speeding violations, and the role of local decision makers in changing speed limits in their jurisdictions.

Earl Hardy of NHTSA, a U.S. DOT Speed Team Co-Leader, moderated the workshop. He welcomed all participants, and thanked the Massachusetts Governors Highway Safety Bureau for hosting the workshop.

Mr. Hardy introduced Edward Silva of the FHWA's Massachusetts Division Office. Mr. Silva added his welcome and emphasized that safety is a priority for his agency. He added his commitment that only a joint effort will accomplish the goal of reducing speeding-related fatalities.

Diane Krause, NHTSA Region 1 Senior Program Manager, added her welcome to participants and thanked them for their commitment to reducing speeding and increasing safe driving on area roads and highways.

Charles Sterling welcomed participants on behalf of the Massachusetts Highway Department. His remarks addressed the national philosophy of the 85 th percentile and talked about speeding as a generational issue. He noted that the National Mandatory National Speed Limit legislated in the mid-1970s shaped today's generation of drivers who grew up watching their parents disregard an unrealistic 55-mi/h limit.

Carolyn Hymoff of the Massachusetts Governors Highway Safety Bureau thanked attendees for attending and underscored the Bureau's mission to save lives by reducing injuries, fatalities, and economic loss by crashes on Massachusetts roadways. The Bureau hosted the workshop.

As a preface to the plenary session speakers, Mr. Hardy noted the professional diversity represented by attendees. He reviewed the mission of the U.S. DOT Speed Management initiative and emphasized the importance of distinguishing the roles of engineers, enforcement, and educators and the importance of their collaboration in effective speed management programs. He particularly stressed the importance of cooperation of the law enforcement and engineering communities in this effort. Mr. Hardy highlighted the Team's and workshop host's optimism that the workshop would accomplish its goal of initiating communication among all the disciplines involved in speed management and give participants the necessary tools to return to their communities with workable action plans to start their own speed management programs.

Return to top

Morning Plenary Session

Engineering Issues
Keith Harrison
Safety & Design Engineer, FHWA Western Resource Center

Keith Harrison said that his perspective is that of an engineer, but he stressed the importance of "thinking outside the box" when addressing the problem of speeding. He also reinforced the need for an interdisciplinary approach to the problem.

Mr. Harrison first discussed how drivers and vehicles affect road design. Drivers range from young, inexperienced drivers to older individuals who can better judge situations on the roadway, but whose response time can be slower. The range of vehicles sharing the road is equally as diverse, from small sedans to tractor-trailers. An engineer's job, he noted, is to design roads to accommodate all roadway users, including pedestrians and bicyclists.

The design speed of a roadway, Mr. Harrison explained, involves the physical characteristics (for example, how sharp the curves or how steep the hills). These are the cues that help drivers choose the speed that "feels right" on different roads. He illustrated this concept with a visual of a rural, winding roadway, noting that any participants driving the roadway, even without a posted speed limit to guide them, would probably choose a speed appropriate to drive the road safely.

The problem, Mr. Harrison continued, is drivers who rationalize the need to exceed posted limits or normal traffic flow "just this once." He referred to the "Soccer Mom Syndrome," drivers distracted by other concerns, such as being at a destination or event by a certain time. He also noted that many crashes result from drivers who speed on unfamiliar roadways, fail to adjust speed to weather conditions, or encounter unexpected conditions or work zones.

Mr. Harrison next addressed reasons for setting speed limits. For example, densely populated urban areas, roads with many driveways or intersections, or winding roads with limited sight distance are posted at speed limits lower than roads with limited access or on Interstate highways. The legislated National Maximum Speed Limit was the result of legislation intended to maximize fuel economy. More than 60 years ago, the National Safety Council first recommended a maximum safe speed as one at or below which 80 or 90 percent of drivers would be traveling under normal conditions. The Transportation Research Board, in its 1998 Special Report, Managing Speed , suggests setting reasonable speed limits at a level that is largely self-enforcing.

Most engineers set speed limits at or near the 85 th percentile speed"”the speed at which 85 percent of drivers travel. The 85 th percentile is often near the upper boundary of the "pace speed," a 10 mi/h range of speeds that usually takes in 70 percent of all drivers, and one statistically safer than speeds falling outside the pace. He noted that the more a driver strays from the 85 th percentile, the higher the risk and crash rate goes. Mr. Harrison also cited Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) standards and its role in setting speed limits.

In closing, Mr. Harrison stressed the importance of the disciplines to "speak with one voice" in speed management initiatives.

Enforcement Issues
Sgt. Mary Rennie
NHTSA Liaison, California Highway Patrol

Sgt. Rennie first addressed the issue of why there are speed limits. She noted that the simple answer is that we control driving speeds because of basic physics - speed correlates both to the probability of a collision and the severity of injury suffered in a collision. Basically, in a crash, a vehicle's forward motion stops suddenly, but occupants continue to move at the vehicle's pre-impact speed until stopped by impact with an object such as a seatbelt, dashboard, or pavement. Thus, the higher the speed, the more serious the injury in a vehicle crash. In 2000, the last year for which NHTSA has data, 593,000 people sustained minor injuries, 71,000 sustained moderate injuries, and 39,000 people were seriously or critically injured in speeding-related crashes nationwide. Speed is a factor in more than 30 percent of all fatal crashes. Also, 40 percent of intoxicated drivers were speeding.

Sgt. Rennie noted that it is impractical to eliminate all risk by regulating speeds and the balance between risk and mobility is subjective at best. For example, residents, commuters, the business community, law enforcement, local decision makers, and traffic engineers may all have different views on what is an appropriate speed limit because they each have a different interest. Residents want calm, quiet streets, while commuters want uninterrupted traffic flow. Businesses need speedy deliveries, and law enforcement wants controllability. Civil leaders and judges may just want to be reelected.

In terms of why people speed, Sgt. Rennie observed that people have various tolerances associated with the risk of speeding, but too often, drivers underestimate the roadway, they overestimate their own driving ability, and they're in a hurry. The need for enforcement counters the reality that simply posting a speed limit sign will ensure compliance. A major component of the problem is that many drivers do not view speeding as a serious traffic offense (such as driving under the influence or running a red light). The role of enforcement then becomes one of deterrence.

From an enforcement perspective, for motorists to be cited for speeding, the behavior must be:

The deterrence process must also include swift punishment. Studies show that successful deterrence campaigns are highly visible and sustained for more than a year.

Sgt. Rennie also addressed the budgetary and personnel-shortage problems facing enforcement agencies. She noted that automated enforcement may offer an answer for areas difficult to enforce, however, there are problems with the technology and some privacy issues that may exclude its use. She emphasized that when a jurisdiction institutes automated enforcement, it is important that the enforcement agency work closely with community leaders to identify high-risk areas based on safety history and to provide adequate notice to the community so as to avoid charges of entrapment.

Sgt. Rennie concluded her remarks by noting that traffic enforcement provides a vital link to the community. It can foster a positive image for law enforcement, and she noted that a 1994 study in Texas revealed that 27 percent of all arrests were through traffic enforcement. She also referred participants to NHTSA's Look Beyond the Ticket Program , which emphasizes that law enforcement's role in traffic enforcement is more than that. She observed that Ted Bundy and Timothy McVeigh were originally apprehended through traffic stops.

Moderator Earl Hardy added to Sgt. Rennie's comments by noting that younger drivers' contact with law enforcement is primarily through traffic stops. He cited data that 52 percent of drivers aged 16 and older contact with law enforcement is through traffic stops; 27 percent was during a speed stop; and 1 of 4 drivers' contact with law enforcement is through a traffic stop.

Judicial Issues
Judge Louis H. Schiff
Broward County (Florida) Courts

Judge Schiff first discussed the perceptions judges and the enforcement communities have of each other. He noted that 95 percent of traffic citations are not contested, which is a testament to the law enforcement community and its success in identifying unsafe drivers. Judges are not the adversaries of the enforcement community, and he urged the need for cooperation between enforcement and the courts to get speeders off the roadways.

He noted that law enforcement officers appearing in court gain the respect of judges by being candid. For example, officers who admit they are unable to cite specifics of a particular traffic stop are more credible to a judge than those who invent details that are later refuted. Judge Schiff also cautioned officers not to argue with a judge in court. He noted that when an officer has an issue with a decision, that discussion is best held by making an appointment and meeting outside the courtroom, only after the case is over, and there are no appeals pending.

Judge Schiff addressed the problem of young offenders and discussed at length programs he has instituted to address their particular situation. When a youthful offender is under the age of majority, more times than not he will require the youthful offender to appear before him with that person' s parent or attorney. To help them better appreciate the responsibility that accompanies the privilege to drive, Judge Schiff may direct young offenders to undertake a project. For example, he may require the offender to research the local paper for 30 or 60 days and record the injuries and deaths resulting from local traffic incidents. For the project, the offender must prepare a scrapbook of articles about the incidents, locate the site for each incident on a map, and analyze the cause of each crash and what may have prevented it. He may also assign an offender to photograph roadside memorials for people killed while driving or walking. "It requires them to stand on the exact location where someone lost a life; that's a powerful lesson." Judge Schiff then reviews each scrapbook with the offender, noting that the project not only raises the awareness of the offender about the effect of unsafe driving, but it also requires the young person to appear in court twice.

Judge Schiff also considers a youthful offender's academic performance as part of determining an appropriate sentence. He will often suspend a youthful offender's driver's license until the student brings proof of completing a grading period with at least a 3.0 average, with no grades lower than a C. Or, he may suspend the young person's driving privilege until that child is 18 years of age, or graduates from high school, which ever occurs first.

In conclusion, Judge Schiff spoke about the change and general "lack of respect" for the judicial system. An offender's demeanor and appearance are subtle factors that can affect a judge's ruling. The same caution about attitude also applies to enforcement officials whose demeanor may demonstrate lack of respect for the court, the process, and the ruling.

In response to a question about the number of repeat offenders in his court, Judge Schiff answered that there aren't too many. If they do return, he may simply take away the license. He also has a program for senior citizens where he may require an older person to retake and pass the written and road test within 30 days. If the senior driver can pass both within that timeframe, the driver may maintain the license. If unable to pass both tests, the driver's license is revoked for failure to pass the tests.

Judge Schiff was asked about the number of judges operating similar programs, but he noted that he and a Hollywood, Florida, judge are the only ones advocating this type of program in Broward County. He encouraged law enforcement officers to talk with their local judges and encourage them to start similar programs.

Public Policy/Political Issues
Christine Sicinski
Coordinator, Massachusetts Safe Communities Program
Governor's Highway Safety Bureau
University of Massachusetts - Amherst (UMass)

Ms. Sicinski first discussed the role of the Massachusetts Governor's Highway Safety Bureau (GHSB), which coordinates safety programs throughout the State and supports a variety of education, engineering, and enforcement efforts, including those targeting speed management. She then talked briefly about the Massachusetts Traffic Safety Research Program (MassSafe), which focuses on helping communities evaluate strategies for reducing traffic-related injuries, fatalities, and economic losses. The MassSafe program uses extensive crash data analysis, human factors research, laboratory, and field test in its programs.

Ms. Sicinski focused her remarks on the importance of community program in addressing speed management issues because speeding is perceived as a local problem. People get angry about traffic problems when they occur where people live. Thus, the key to solving speeding is to involve community leaders and officials to identify a local solution, which can "turn a community's anger to action."

In talking about an individual's perception of speed versus the reality of speed, Ms. Sicinski discussed how community programs such as SpeedWatch help concerned residents get involved. Using the example of South Hadley, MA, the SpeedWatch program there used citizen volunteers working with local enforcement officials to conduct speed-monitoring activities in areas residents identified. Officials instructed volunteers in using radar unit to monitor vehicle speeds. They also located a portable LED radar unit, which records the speeds of passing vehicles and shows the actual speeds on a large display unit. As part of the research initiative, the town used traffic-counter classifiers. Among the results of these activities, Ms. Sicinski discussed how people's perception of 'speeding' often changed once they began to document speed violations. The 'outsiders' who use their local streets as shortcuts often were more likely to be their neighbors who disregard the posted limit.

In 2002, SpeedWatch funded grants to 20 communities, evaluated four communities. In reviewing successful SpeedWatch activities, Ms. Sicinski emphasized the need to continually evaluate the effectiveness of each program area, essentially creating a 'keep-n-toss' list of what did or did not work. She also noted that it is the small steps that can make a difference - research shows that reducing speeds by as much as 2 mi/h will reduce crashes.

Ms. Sicinski then described the GHSB award of a 2002 FHWA/NHTSA Rational Speed Limit setting Demonstration Project grant to evaluate a cooperative 3-E's approach - engineering, education, and enforcement - to manage traffic speeds. The project focuses on the Boston suburb of Natick. The two-year project involves engineering studies, strictly enforced speed limits based on the 85 th percentile, reevaluating posted speed limits, and education programs for the community and judiciary on how speed limits are set and enforced.

In response to a question about whether speed limits are being strictly enforced for the Natick study, Ms. Sicinski responded that all Natick officers must enforce at the 85 th percentile, which conforms to the Police Department's written policy. She noted that part of the project is also to study what allowances or leeway officers may give violators.

In closing, Ms. Sicinski observed that once the community understands that the intent is not to increase speed limits in a community, residents then become concerned about what is being enforced. She also encouraged participants to visit the program's Web site at msc.massghsb.com.

Return to top

Breakout Group Sessions

After a lunch break, participants adjourned to four, 2-hour facilitated breakout groups. To ensure a representative cross section of law enforcement, engineering, and public policy perspectives, participants were pre-assigned to Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue Teams. Moderator Earl Hardy charged each group to use the breakout sessions to develop an action plan: "Create the product" of the workshop by sharing concerns and experiences on how communities and regions can identify potential solutions to better enforcement of credible speed limits.

In the breakout sessions, facilitators directed 30-minute discussions to each issue of engineering, enforcement, and judicial/public policy. Based on concerns identified, the groups used the balance of the time to identify three high-priority actions they felt were crucial to the success of implementing speed management efforts that could be instituted in the near term.

Common Threads

Each breakout group explored a wide range of issues central to effective speed management. While each team's action items reflected their concerns, all four teams identified common themes:

Return to top

Afternoon Plenary Session

Following the breakout sessions, all participants reconvened for the report-out session. Each team identified a spokesperson to present the team's priority action items and discussed the ideas that shaped their priorities.

Engineering Issues

All breakout groups addressed the need to set practical, consistent, and enforceable speed limits. The groups agreed that the 85 th percentile is a good starting point for setting realistic limits. The problem is that most town officials, the judicial community, and citizens don't understand the 85 th percentile concept. One group advised that communities must first establish whether or not there is a problem with speeding. Several groups advocated mandating that town officials set speed limits according to MUTCD standards and in accordance with AASHTO's Green Book . Groups, however, saw involving engineers, town selectmen and officials, and citizens in identifying problem areas and conducting speed studies as an important way to open the discussion and make them partners in the process of restoring credibility to posted speeds. Community Traffic Safety teams of enforcement, officials, and residents were cites as a good vehicle for starting the discussion and addressing the issues from a community perspective.

Several groups noted that once realistic limits are set, they should be evaluated on a regular basis, for example, every 5 years. One team recommended using community volunteers to inventory signs. Groups addressed MassHighway, the state agency authorized to post enforceable speed limits, and its response time to a community's request to conduct a speed evaluation. The process can take up to 2 years. Participants also understand MassHighway, like all state agencies, has limited funding and personnel, which reduces its ability to conduct timely studies. Likewise, there is little money for local roadway improvements. While participants want the state approval process streamlined, several members observed that providing MassHighway with the engineering information can significantly reduce the response time to determine whether current limits are appropriate. Examples cited include collecting and providing speed data to accompany the submission, hiring an engineering consultant to conduct studies, using roadway tubes to monitor speeds at problem areas, or using radar or lidar (not from a police vehicle) to observe 100 free-flowing vehicles.

Because of residents' frustration with perceived speeders, some communities are resorting to using traffic control devices, especially stop signs, to reduce speeding on neighborhood streets. Participants said that this practice directly counters the MUTCD, which specifies signs are not to be used to regulate speeds. A traffic safety officer in the Red Team noted that he will write a letter to the local Board of Selectmen about the placement of unwarranted traffic signs, underscoring the fact that the enforcement community can assume no liability for the consequences of the placement.

Groups also advocated using traffic-calming devices to reduce speeds. Several participants observed that communities often don't want to consider these devices, but if they see it works, the "public support will change." Participants also emphasized that speed management should be one of the first issues addressed, "not an afterthought," when new facilities are designed.

Breakout group reporters identified the following high-priority engineering action items:

Red Team

Yellow Team

Green Team

Blue Team


Breakout teams identified several issues that they felt would make them more effective in managing speeding. For example, as noted in the engineering section, there is little rationale or uniformity to the state's speed limits and signage. Patrol officers are reluctant to enforce unrealistically low limits. Several officers also said that they don't like to write tickets for large fines that comply with the state's graduated fine structure. Rather, they would like the flexibility to target egregious and repeat offenders rather than the occasional driver who speeds and whose insurance rates would increase because of the ticket. Group members also cited the need for speed offenders to "pay with their time rather than their wallet." A fine doesn't necessarily lead to long-term driver behavior change, which is the goal of speed management. What the officers envision is a system of enforcement focused on areas of high incidence and severe crashes. As one officer observed, "Listen to your residents, they'll tell you where they think the problem areas are."

Officers felt that their colleagues should be educated about the 85 th percentile speed on roadways, what it means, and how limits are decided. This would help them better target enforcement activities. Because drivers don't respect posted limits, several participants advocated instituting absolute speed laws as a way to enforce limits that would be respected by the judicial community. In line with comments in the engineering section about communities' installing inappropriate stop signs or new speed limits, participants observed that they sometimes wouldn't enforce "suddenly placed" signs. One participant felt that a flat-rate ticket would be a more effective deterrent for speeding. Enforcement officials are also reluctant to issue citations they know the courts will disregard. Judges frequently look at the number of miles over the speed limit rather than at the driving behavior. This prompted discussions of the need to improve communication with the judicial community about issues of enforcement and how officers and the courts can cooperate to make speeding citations meaningful.

Several participants offered the concept of progressive enforcement rather than graduated fines. As noted, the issue of communication is common to all action items, and groups struggled with the idea of how to start the conversation with the public. Progressive enforcement could begin with officers using enforcement first as an education opportunity. The next offense would result in a written warning, and a finally a citation. Again, enforcement officials would like more flexibility in citing drivers for speeding.

Another part of the discussion of enforcement issues dealt with money. Several officers told of stopping people with the perception that speed enforcement is simply a money generator for the community. Money was an issue also concerned with the need for additional equipment, personnel, and overtime pay for court appearances. Participants were not optimistic that the state's economy would support that in the near future.

Breakout teams identified the following high-priority enforcement action items:

Green Team

Yellow Team

Blue Team

Red Team

Judicial/Public Policy

The recurring themes in breakout group discussions were education about enforcement practices, increasing communication with officials and citizens, and building coalitions to address speed management from a community-wide perspective. Ideas for promoting awareness included locating speed trailers that monitor and display vehicle speeds, using local shows to address speed issues, and conducting periodic opinion surveys to track awareness of community speed management initiatives.

Participants voiced frustration with inadequate and outdated signage. Part of their dissatisfaction is based in having to address speed management issues on streets that developed from wagon roads and often leave little opportunity for physical improvement.

The discussion built on Christine Sicinski's plenary presentation of MassSafe programs to make the community a partner in speed management. Several participants mentioned the success of local Traffic Safety Committees. Formed with law enforcement, local officials, and community representatives, the committees can foster information exchange and allow other members to see viewpoints from different disciplines. Additionally, they can serve as the focal point for citizen complaints and requests for information - away from elected officials.

The Yellow Team noted that community involvement in solving traffic problems is often a good way to understand local interest in roads, including pedestrian use, crosswalks, and signal timing.

Most participants saw community involvement as an ideal way to help local residents understand the process of setting speed limits and gaining their support for more realistic speed management initiatives.

The Blue Team discussed the idea of improving traffic safety education by requiring a written test to renew a driver's license. Also, the team recommended promoting speed awareness in the driver's manual and teaching the costs of speeding as part of driver's education programs. This would promote behavioral change in younger drivers.

Several judicial issues were raised, especially the need to involve the judicial community in speed management issues and encouraging their support for realistic enforcement practices. A specific recommendation was for judges to establish a traffic court or a specific time or day for adjudicating traffic citations.

The breakout groups identified the following high-priority judicial/public policy action items:

Blue Team

Red Team

Yellow Team

Green Team

At the conclusion of the breakout teams' presentations, Mr. Hardy congratulated the groups on their hard work, applauded their insights and actions to facilitate speed management initiatives, and thanked everyone for attending. He underscored the difficulties of addressing the speed issue at a time of reduced budgets and limited personnel. He also noted the resourcefulness of several of the action items and urged all participants to build on the spirit of the workshop by finding ways to collaborate with their engineering, enforcement, and community partners.

Return to top


The Boston Speed Management Workshop raised issues and concerns shared throughout local and state enforcement and engineering disciplines. Massachusetts has a well-developed enforcement network that is ideal for continuing the work of the workshop. Additionally, several communities have had success with local highway or traffic safety committees, success that can be replicated at communities throughout the state.

Workshop evaluations indicated that plenary session speakers and breakout group discussions helped the enforcement and engineering communities have a broader understanding of each other's concerns and opened communication among them. The workshop, indeed, generated a commitment to bring an interdisciplinary approach to the issue of managing speeding on state roads.

Finally, the Boston workshop is the last in a series designed to develop and test a how-to guide for agencies interested in conducting local, regional, or state speed management workshops. The guide will be available in print and online in fall 2003.

Note: The Boston workshop coincided with the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The majority of workshop participants represented local law enforcement agencies. Many participants were able to attend for only part of the day. Others sent colleagues in their place. The U.S. DOT Speed Management Team and the workshop organizers are grateful that so many of you were able to attend under these difficult circumstances. Our thanks for a very successful workshop.

Page last modified on October 15, 2014
Safe Roads for a Safer Future - Investment in roadway safety saves lives
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000