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FHWA Home / Safety / Speed Management / Speed Management Workshops

Speed Management Workshops

Opening Remarks

On March 6, 2000, more than 60 highway engineers, researchers, planners, and law enforcement representatives attended a Speed Management Workshop sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and ITS America. The workshop, Restoring Credibility to Speed Setting: Engineering, Enforcement, and Educational Issues followed a similar session presented January 9, at the 2000 Transportation Research Board Annual meeting in Washington, DC.

Attendees met in Dallas to identify ways to restore the credibility of speed limits in the United States, including:

Earl Hardy (NHTSA), co-leader of the U.S. DOT Speed Management Team, moderated the meeting.

NHTSA Region 6 Administrator Georgia Chakiris welcomed the group and encouraged participants to consider the issue of speed management from different angles. She noted that different States have pursued different approaches raising speed limits following repeal of the 55 mi/h speed limit — with varying results. Some States raised speed limits on all major highways, and the effect was often a corresponding increase in fatalities. Other States took longer and were more selective in raising limits, often accompanying the increased limits with public information and corresponding law enforcement efforts. In these instances, the fatality rate did not rise dramatically. She encouraged participants to learn from these experiences because they demonstrate that there are different ways to manage increasing speeds. Administrator Chakiris closed by encouraging participants to learn from each other how increasing speeds and improving traffic flow can also enhance safety. She concluded by noting that successful speed management will depend on the mutual support and participation of all transportation partners.

FHWA Division Administrator Dan Reagan added his welcome to the group and reiterated the importance of the session. He noted that the public policy, engineering, enforcement, and judicial issues that affect speed management are often conflicting elements. He urged participants to discuss the interrelationship of all the issues, work hard to find compromises, and to be mindful of the overriding concern for the safety of drivers. Administrator Reagan also pointed to the environmental, public health, and economic issues that affect speed management. As examples, he noted the role of taxes to support enforcement and judicial operations and the economics of goods and services delivered on the highway.

Plenary Session

Four speakers addressed the different factors affecting speed management.

Public Policy and Political Issues

Rick Collins, P.E., Traffic Operations Division, TxDOT

Mr. Collins relayed that the Texas legislature designates maximum speed limits in Texas and maximum speed limits reverted to 70 mi/h upon repeal of the 55 mi/h limit. TxDOT conducted studies on all State roadways and lowered the speed limit from the maximum of 70 mi/h where appropriate. Increased fatalities raised concern and TxDOT, in conjunction with the Department of Public Safety, conducted statewide town meetings to gather input on procedures and enforcement issues. As a result, TxDOT modified its procedures to allow for greater flexibility (such as further deviation from the 85th percentile speed) in establishing speed limits. This is based on factors such as roadway width, horizontal/vertical curvature, and driveway density on local streets and roads.

Mr. Collins also discussed the effect of other recent legislation on speed issues. For example, automated red-light enforcement legislation failed and tickets cannot be issued without this enabling legislation. Establishing speed limits based on air quality was also discussed. Mr. Collins concluded by identifying problems of setting speed limits in terms of accurately interpreting and using data and doing a better job of educating policy makers and the public about how and why certain speed limits are established.

Engineering Issues

Jerome Hall, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Civil Engineering
University of New Mexico

Dr. Hall is one of the authors of TRB Special Report 254, Managing Speed: Review of Current Practice for Setting and Enforcing Speed Limits. He discussed the research of the report, which considered what certain States are doing and the examination of relationships between safety and speed, and enforcement and compliance issues. The report looked at all types of roads, but focused primarily on higher speed roads. Panel members reflected all aspects of the speed issues, including psychology, sociology, and endorsement and judicial concerns. Dr. Hall then addressed some of the findings of the report and considered the externalities that affect regulating speed on the Nation's roadways.


View Dr. Hall's presentation visuals [PPT, 8.84MB]

In response to a question about ways to involve enforcement in the speed-setting process, Dr. Hall underscored the importance of engineering and enforcement representatives meeting together to compare notes and experiences. This is difficult, however, if established lines of communication do not exist.

Enforcement Issues

Sergeant Vincent Aurentz
Dallas Police Department

Sergeant Aurentz demonstrated how engineering and judicial choices affect the ability of law enforcement personnel to perform their duties safely. For example, he discussed how engineering alternatives to accommodate increased traffic volumes can essentially cancel the areas (both right and left shoulders) traditionally used by enforcement officials, which effectively eliminates enforcement activities on some roads, thus "there is no safe place for the officer to be." Sergeant Aurentz also discussed the practice of officers to cite only the most flagrant speeders because of the difficulty of proving the offense in court and the reluctance of the judicial system to punish offenders. Sergeant Aurentz voiced a lack of confidence in the 85th percentile as an indicator of safe speed because it is influenced by enforcement activities.

View Sergeant Aurentz's presentation visuals [PPT, 3.09MB]

Judicial Issues

Judge Michael O'Neal
Administrative Judge for the Dallas Municipal Court

Judge O'Neal commented that automotive civil engineers have created faster vehicles and smoother, safer roads, so that it is difficult to get the average driver to accept intellectually speed limits until they or a loved one is injured or killed. The Judge then addressed the constraints under which the judicial system operates, including the need for consistent enforcement of traffic control issues by enforcement agencies and legislation that overrides a judge's discretion on sentencing or alternative action. He reinforced Sergeant Aurentz's point that issues of traffic safety fall under the criminal umbrella of court and that accusations must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Judge O'Neal also repeated the need for all groups involved in making and enforcing public to be made a part of the issues and its resolution. He also reinforced the view that the Texas legislature is unlikely to enact automatic enforcement legislation.

Credibility Issues connected with Variable Speed Limits (VSLs)

Davey Warren
Research Engineer, FHWA
Office of Safety Research and Technology

Mr. Warren noted that safe speed depends on road and traffic conditions and the technology has changed how we monitor and enforce speed limits. He reviewed several VSL system applications on U.S. roadways, many of which are used as part of larger incident and congestion management, weather advisory — particularly the presence of snow, ice, and fog, and traveler warning systems. Examples of VSL applications in the United States include the New Jersey Turnpike (to address congestion), Tennessee (roadside sensors to monitor for fog), and Washington (seasonal display plus message for various environmental conditions). He also reviewed examples of Europe's use of VSL measures and their effectiveness. Mr. Warren then discussed a study of the FHWA prototype system tested in Albuquerque and discussed some of the issues affecting its performance, including visibility from all traffic lanes, the need for multiple stations, instances of power failure that can confuse drivers, and legislatures' reluctant to permit automated enforcement (often based on a photograph) because of privacy issues.

View Mr. Warren's presentation visuals [PPT, 5.32MB]

Breakout Sessions

In the afternoon, workshop participants were assigned to concurrent working groups. The groups were specifically designed to incorporate individuals who represented a cross section of engineering, law enforcement, and planning interests. Their charge was to "create the product" of the meeting by identifying future actions that restore the credibility of both static (posted signs with unchanging speed limits) and VSL (limits that change according to traffic and weather conditions) speed limits in the U.S.

During the initial part of each session, members focused on the engineering, enforcement, judicial, and political aspects of speed management. The last part of each session was devoted to identifying the top 3 actions in each category:

Although each breakout group identified its own issues, the groups noted the common themes. These include overcoming institutional and jurisdictional barriers to consistent speed limits and enforcement practices, coordinating more closely with all stakeholders across organizational and jurisdictional concerns to improve support for consistent speed management, and improving communication and education between the transportation disciplines and with the public about the importance of setting and enforcing safe speed limits. The following are the high-priority actions identified by each group in each area.

Breakout Group Results

Group 1 [PDF, 15KB]
Group 2 [PDF, 12KB]
Group 3 [PDF, 13KB]

Group 1: Rick Collins, TxDOT, Moderator

Engineering

Enforcement

Judicial

Political

Group 2: Terry Sams, Director of Transportation Operations, TxDOT, Dallas District, Moderator

Engineering

Enforcement

Judicial

Education (Group 2 did not specifically address Political issues)

Group 3: Sergeant Vincent Aurentz, Dallas Police Department, Moderator

Engineering

Enforcement

Judicial

Political

Closing Remarks

Moderator Earl Hardy thanked the breakout groups for their work and contributions. He noted that the findings of the Dallas workshop reflected those of the first speed-setting workshop held as part of the TRB Annual Meeting, especially the emphasis on the need for communication among the disciplines. Mr. Hardy commented that it is hoped that these workshops will move to the State and community levels and announced plans to develop a guide to support that effort.

The Dallas group also confirmed the need for better coordination between engineers and enforcement areas and better uniformity in how speed limits are set, enforced, and adjudicated.
Noting that it is hard "to fight the value of cooperation," Mr. Hardy reinforced the need for education between the agencies and disciplines. This reinforces the need for consistent, effective public outreach programs.

In closing, Mr. Hardy used 1997 and 1998 crash data to demonstrate that the number of fatalities and injuries on the Nation's roadways is declining. He also admitted that no one can point to factors that account for the reduction, but the results underscore the need to work together to continue the decline. He thanked participants in the day's workshop and assured them of the U.S. DOT Speed Safety Team's willingness to support their efforts.

Page last modified on October 15, 2014.
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