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FHWA Home / Safety / Speed Management / Speed Management Workshops

Speed Management Workshops

November 18, 2002
Columbia, Missouri

Opening Remarks

The Speed Management Workshop conducted in Columbia, Missouri, on Monday, November 18, attracted more than 65 transportation professionals. Attendees represented State, local, and county transportation departments, public works agencies, law enforcement organizations, public policy makers, planners, private sector engineering firms, and others interested in learning the latest speed-setting and enforcement techniques and issues. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and the Missouri Safety Center hosted the workshop, Speed Management: A Multidisciplinary Forum to Discuss Setting and Enforcing Realistic Speed Limits. The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Speed Management Team sponsored the workshop. Co-Team Leaders represented the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Participants explored how road design influences driving speed, concerns affecting enforcement and adjudication of speed limit violations, and the political and community pressures to change speed limits. A format of speaker presentations and group discussions gave attendees insight to different perspectives on the speed issue and helped them identify opportunities to collaborate and generate broad-based support to reduce speeding.

Issues addressed include:

Earl Hardy of NHTSA, a Co-Team Leader for the U.S. DOT Speed Management Team, moderated the workshop. He welcomed participants and recognized the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Missouri Safety Center for requesting and hosting the event. He then introduced Elizabeth Alicandri, the FHWA Speed Management Co-Team Leader, who added her welcome.

Mr. Hardy set the stage for the day's program by reviewing the rationale of bringing a holistic approach to speed management. He emphasized the importance of participants building and maintaining ongoing communication and collaboration among the various agencies and individuals involved in managing speeds on state and local roads.

Allen Masuda, FHWA Missouri Division Administrator, also welcomed the participants. He underscored the importance of multidisciplinary cooperation by citing the statistic that one-third of traffic fatalities result from speeding-related crashes. He described the physical effect of speed and its relation to severity of injury. He urged participants to use the workshop to build collaborative relationships with the individuals and organizations to manage speed and explore potential solutions to speeding in their communities.

As a preface to the four plenary presenters' remarks, Mr. Hardy provided background for the workshop by reviewing the public safety issues associated with speeding. He described the mission of the U.S. DOT Speed Management initiative, an interagency effort involving FHWA, NHTSA, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). He briefly reviewed the history of speed management initiatives and current projects under way. He emphasized the need to understand who speeds - where, when, and why - and the importance of localizing setting and enforcement of reasonable speed limits.

Mr. Hardy reemphasized the workshop goal of helping participants identify information they can use in their communities to reduce speeding-related crashes and save lives. He then introduced the Plenary Session presenters.

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Morning Plenary Session

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

Advising that his presentation represented "an engineer's perspective," Mr. Harrison stated his belief that speed management begins with road design.

Mr. Harrison discussed considerations that affect road design, including the vehicle, drivers, and other issues. He addressed the variety of vehicles that roads must accommodate - from small sedans to tractor-trailers. He noted the difference in skills and styles between younger and older drivers. Mr. Harrison also encouraged engineers to consider other roadway users, including pedestrians and bicyclists, in roadway design.

The roadway's design speed, Mr. Harrison said, establishes the physical characteristics of the roadway (for example, how sharp the curves or how steep the hills) and is intended to accommodate the skills and behaviors of the majority of drivers. The design characteristics communicate the visual and tactile cues that in turn inform drivers "how to drive" on the roadway.

Mr. Harrison showed examples of traffic-calming measures designed to affect driver behavior. He referred specifically to the European practice of designing roads that use "self-explaining and self-enforcing" visual cues to help drivers choose speeds appropriate to road conditions.

He also discussed other factors affecting a driver's decision to speed, for example, failure to adjust speeds to weather conditions, such as rain or snow. He cited the "Soccer Mom Syndrome," drivers whose judgment may be impaired because of other concerns - such as rushing to be at a destination or event on time. Many crashes result from drivers speeding on unfamiliar roadways or encountering unexpected work zone conditions.

He next addressed different options for setting speed limits. 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. More recently, 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 currently set speed limits at or near the 85th percentile speed - the speed at or which 85 percent of drivers travel. The 85th percentile is often near the upper boundary of the "pace speed," a 10 mi/h range of speeds that usually encompasses about 70 percent of all drivers, and one that is statistically safer than speeds that fall outside the pace. Mr. Harrison also cited the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) standard for setting speeds and urged participants to use speed studies as a starting point for setting limits. In closing, he challenged the engineers present to "practice consistency" and apply the same logical thought process to implementing all speed zones.

Enforcement Issues
Sergeant Vincent Aurentz
Dallas (Texas) Police Department

Sergeant Aurentz first stated that he embraces the "concept of the 85th percentile." He then admitted that he also believes it to be a "fairy tale" because most speed studies are conducted after the speed limit is posted, which may affect the 85th percentile. In his experience, most speed limits are set by politicians who have little appreciation for roadway capacity or the level of police activity necessary to enforce posted limits.

A common public misperception, Sergeant Aurentz noted, is that traffic enforcement activity is a way to make money for the city. While acknowledging that enforcement does generate some revenue, he noted that any amount pales when compared to the NHTSA research that the annual economic cost of speeding-related incidents is more than $27 billion. That figure is not productivity lost to "sitting in traffic," rather, it is the "real cost" of roadway fatalities and property damage resulting from speeding-related crashes. An ancillary effect of this "real cost" is increased taxes and insurance rates.

Sergeant Aurentz's presentation included graphs depicting the relationship between speeding and fatalities. For example, vehicle occupants are twice as likely to die in a crash at 60 mi/h as they are in one at 45 mi/h. And, when a vehicle's speed doubles, the stopping distance quadruples.

From an enforcement perspective, Sergeant Aurentz cited elements of the deterrence process that determine whether motorists are cited for speeding.

In emphasizing the need for "Safety for All," Sergeant Aurentz illustrated how road agencies are reconfiguring freeway lanes to ease congestion by adding full-time or HOV lanes. The projects help traffic flow, but they can effectively eliminate shoulder areas officers traditionally use for enforcement activities. The consequence of having no safe place for the officer and violator to get out of the traffic flow could be that speed enforcement is essentially impossible on some roads.

Sergeant Aurentz then discussed the officer's role in adjudicating a traffic violation that comes before a judge. Officers must be prepared to testify about:

He then discussed the difficulty of enforcing speed limits on a roadway where posted limits change, usually as it passes through different jurisdictions. Citing comments made by Mr. Harrison during his presentation, Sergeant Aurentz reinforced the need to post consistent limits. This eliminates confusion by motorists about the proper speed. Additionally, when speed limits change for no discernable reason, some motorists will simply disregard posted speeds.

In closing, Sergeant Aurentz suggested that engineers involve enforcement personnel when planning road construction projects, prior to construction. Additionally, he urged attendees to help reduce the cost of speeding by setting self-enforcing speed limits.

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

Judge Schiff began his remarks by noting that 95 percent of traffic citations are not contested, and he congratulated the law enforcement community for its success in apprehending unsafe drivers on the Nation's roadways. Also, given the low statistic of adjudicated citations, he urged enforcement officials not to interpret a verdict against them as criticism of their work. He then asked that officers appearing in court help the judge understand the nature of the citation.

The Judge also addressed why violators get "deals" in lieu of fines or sentences, noting that even though a small percentage of cases come before the court, there are too many for all offenders to have a trial. Time constraints also require judges to make quick decisions about the outcome of the hearing.

Judge Schiff spoke at length about programs he has instituted for youthful offenders. He observed that American society has a cultural belief that individuals with the money to own a car should be able to drive, regardless of whether they have a license to do so. Younger drivers are especially vulnerable to this mindset. To help them better appreciate the responsibility that accompanies the privilege to drive, Judge Schiff may direct youthful offenders, as part of his ruling, to research the local paper and record the traffic injuries and deaths for 30 or 60 days. He requires offenders to prepare a scrapbook of the incident articles, make a locator map for each, and analyze the cause of each crash and what may have prevented it. He may require an offender to research and photograph the Florida roadside memorials marking the site of a fatal crash. Judge Schiff then reviews each scrapbook with the offender.

The judge also considers the youthful offenders' academic performance, often suspending an offender's drivers' license until the student brings proof of raising grades to at least a 3.0 grade point average.

Judge Schiff concluded by talking 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. He stated penalties can vary depending on the type of offense and the number of times the offender has been charged in the past. 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.

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 around the State and supports a variety of education, engineering, and enforcement efforts, including those targeting speed management. She then addressed the Massachusetts Traffic Safety Research Program (MassSafe), which focuses on examining strategies to reduce traffic-related injuries, fatalities and resulting economic loss. She described how MassSafe research uses extensive crash data analysis, human factors research, laboratory work, and field tests.

In discussing community-level programs, Ms. Sicinski said that speeding is perceived as a local problem, so the key to successful resolution is involving community leaders and officials to identify a local solution. Ms. Sicinski observed that people are angry about traffic problems because they occur where the people live, and the key, she noted, is to turn that anger to action. She urged workshop participants to develop professional partnerships - "ask the community what the problem is" - to enhance cooperation and make change happen. She used several examples to illustrate how transportation and law enforcement agencies can essentially "make the community a partner that will work for you."

She also reviewed the SpeedWatch program, which involves education and data collection, and uses citizen volunteers working with local enforcement officials to conduct speed monitoring in specific areas. SpeedWatch monitoring activities involve targeted enforcement, including using a portable LED radar unit, which records the speeds of passing vehicles and displays the actual speeds on a large display unit. SpeedWatch also trains volunteers to use police department radar units so they can monitor the speeds of vehicles traveling on specified streets. Ms. Sicinski discussed how people's perception of 'speeding' often changes once they begin to document speed violations. She observed that the speeders, usually thought to be 'outsiders' using local streets as short cuts, are more likely to be neighbors disregarding the posted speed limit.

Ms. Sicinski then reviewed previous years' SpeedWatch activities and talked of the need to evaluate each effort for effectiveness, essentially create a "keep'n toss" list of what did and did not work. She discussed how data are collected and evaluated and noted that research shows that reducing the mean speeds by as little as 2 mi/h can reduce crashes.

Ms. Sicinski 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 Natick, a Boston suburb. The two-year project will reevaluate posted speed limits through engineering studies on targeted roads, strictly enforce revised speed limits, and educate the community and the judiciary on how speed limits are set and enforced.

Ms. Sicinski noted that these programs may not change traffic speeds, but they do change the perception of speeding. She said she usually cautions people who request lower speed limits to reduce speeding in their neighborhoods that a speed study may result in raising speed limits, not lowering them.

In a question regarding the consistency between communities, Ms. Sicinski said that the demonstration project in Natick will base speed limits on the 85th percentile, and that it should serve as a test case for consistent limits.

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Breakout Group Sessions

Participants spent the first part of the afternoon in three facilitated breakout sessions. All attendees were assigned to Red, Yellow, and Green Team breakout groups to ensure a representative cross section of law enforcement, engineering, and public policy perspectives. Moderator Earl Hardy charged each group to use the breakout sessions to develop an action plan: "Create the product" of the meeting by sharing experiences and concerns about enforcing credible speed limits and identifying potential solutions.

Each group devoted about 20 minutes to exploring issues and developing action items relating to the engineering, enforcement, and judicial/public policy concerns. At the conclusion of the breakout group session, each group identified the top three high-priority actions critical to the success of speed management efforts, which must be initiated in the very short term.

Common Threads

Each group's discussion addressed a wide-ranging view of issues and obstacles to effective speed management; however, all three discussion groups raised common themes:

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Afternoon Plenary Session

Participants reconvened for the report-out session following the breakout group discussion and volunteers shared the groups' priorities. In addition to identifying priorities, the spokespersons discussed some of the ideas leading to their priorities.

Engineering Issues. All groups discussed the importance of setting practical, enforceable speed limits and reinforced the need for individuals and community leaders to understand how those limits are set and why they should be enforced. They spoke of the need to educate local and regional decision makers and judicial system representatives about engineering perspectives behind road design and speed limit decisions. Engineers must be able to explain the rationale for using 85th percentile as the basis for establishing speed limits. Many participants spoke of the need to conduct periodic traffic studies to ensure that speed limits remain appropriate for specific locations and use as areas develop. Participants also endorsed using more consistent signage to reduce driver confusion.

In terms of road design and construction, all groups cited the importance of reaching out to community decision makers, businesses, enforcement officials, and residents to involve them in the project-planning process early to potentially diffuse potential disagreements throughout the project. Participants specifically wanted to work more closely with developers on issues of access management and setting appropriate speed limits.

Participants identified the need for better communication within and among agencies, decision makers, and with the public that lowering the limit is not always the answer to speed problems. Similarly, they cited the need for better education about traffic-calming devices as an alternative to changing speed limits. Several participants had had experience working with community groups to conduct speed-monitoring programs.

All groups addressed the need to collaborate more closely with law enforcement officials when planning new road construction or rehabilitation projects.

Safety education in the schools was also seen as a way to raise awareness and respect for speed limits before students become drivers. Participants thought students should also know about the process for setting speed limits. They were especially interested that drivers' education instructors should be better prepared in this area.

The breakout groups' reporters identified the following high-priority engineering actions:

Red Team

  1. Identify opportunities to help decision makers understand the engineering perspective on factors involved in road design and setting appropriate speed limits.
  2. Enhance communication to build trust among engineering, enforcement, public policy makers, and the public about speed-setting decisions.
  3. Set realistic speed limits based on engineering principles, not in response to political motivation.

Yellow Team

  1. Initiate programs to increase communication and credibility for realistic speed limits by coordinating more closely with community planning organizations, the public, and the media.
  2. Develop better communication methods, enhanced with visual aids, to help the general public understand project options.
  3. Involve law enforcement, county/community officials, business leaders, and other parties in the planning stages of engineering projects.

Green Team

  1. Promote better communication to enhance problem solving and further mutual understanding with law enforcement, the general public (source of complaints), public officials, incident managers, and other jurisdictions.
  2. Research traffic studies, including 85th percentile, and crash history, environmental issues/design to apply to own situation and share with speed-setting and -enforcement partners.
  3. Educate public affairs representatives to help them understand the collaborative role of engineers, law enforcement officials, public policy makers, and the general public in setting and respecting speed limits.

Enforcement Issues. All three breakout-session teams cited the need to improve communication and collaboration between the engineering and enforcement communities. In addition to cooperating on project design issues, one group suggested joint ride-along programs - enforcement officials with engineers conducting traffic studies, and engineers accompanying officials during enforcement activities. They also agreed that better data collection and access could improve engineers' ability to mitigate design flaws and reduce crashes. Unfortunately, much valuable data gathered by law enforcement officials during a crash investigation is unavailable to engineers. In some areas, no reports are made for minor traffic incidents.

All groups identified the lack of funding and reduced police numbers as deterrents to effective speed enforcement. Some alternatives included more targeted enforcement initiatives and using new enforcement equipment, such as computers, photoradar, and GIS technologies to improve enforcement, incident response, crash reconstruction, and data collection. Officers should also receive better training on recording information for later use in adjudicating traffic offenses.

Much of the discussion in this area centered on funding problems affecting law enforcement agencies. Participants felt that too little money was directed toward safety programs and that police agencies were increasingly unable to capture grants necessary to upgrade programs and equipment. Participants also discussed alternatives that might allow revenues from tickets to be targeted to support enforcement activities rather than going into the general fund. One group suggested imposing an infraction penalty on offenses such as speeding or drinking and driving, the proceeds of which would be targeted to support enforcement agencies and programs.

The breakout groups' reporters identified the following high-priority enforcement actions:

Yellow Team

  1. Encourage MoDOT District traffic engineers to share information with law enforcement agencies and traffic safety advisory commissions.
  2. Maximize enforcement resources and encourage research into alternative funding resources for enforcement activity and equipment.
  3. Institute grassroots community awareness programs to educate communities about enforcement problems and enlist their help to identify solutions.

Green Team

  1. Research potential funding resources to support more officers and enforcement activity.
  2. Educate decision makers and communities on the link between traffic enforcement and crime enforcement.
  3. Use enforcement technologies (GPS, photo enforcement, crash reconstruction) to enhance enforcement.

Red Team

  1. Initiate reciprocal ride-along programs with engineers and enforcement personnel to create better understanding and better communication to solve problems.
  2. Advocate stricter enforcement of existing speed limits.
  3. Seek opinions of law enforcement personnel on engineering projects and studies to change speed limits.

Judicial/Public Policy Issues. Education and communication continued to be the dominant themes in all three groups. Participants felt strongly that there should be a concerted effort to help decision makers, particularly elected officials, understand how engineers conduct the traffic studies that result in recommended speed limits. Transportation agencies should use workshops, government agency work sessions, or presentations at public meetings to help public policy makers better appreciate the professional expertise involved in speed limit decisions. Decision makers should be familiar with traffic-calming technologies and other alternatives to address the speed issue.

Some type of information about speeding - workshops, briefings, written materials - should also be incorporated into training new judges and as part of continuing professional development for current judges. Training should review the role of engineering design studies, the 85th percentile, and enforcement issues. Judges often fail to view speeding as a high-priority issue and therefore give officers very little support during hearings. Participants felt that "practicing consistency" should also apply to judges as they rule on traffic offenses. They should also advocate better communication and data sharing among jurisdictions so judges can access records of speeding offenders.

Participants endorsed a ride-along program for judges to give them a better perspective on engineering and enforcement practices in setting and enforcing speed limits. They also urged that judges adopt tougher penalties and higher fines for speeding offenses.

All breakout groups supported the need to build grassroots support for initiatives to create awareness of speeding as a safety problem and enforce more consistent speed limits. Participants identified groups such as MADD, insurance companies, and other safety organizations as potential partners. They also proposed developing information packets for the media about issues related to speeding, enforcement, and adjudication.

Participants believe that the State should mandate drivers' education as a requirement for high school students.

The breakout groups' reporters identified the following high-priority judicial/public policy actions:

Green Team

  1. Educate the public about the need to increase funding for speeding-related programs.
  2. Educate elected officials, judiciary, and the general public about speeding-related issues and seek their support for enforcing posted limits.
  3. Increase communication between engineers, law enforcement, and local DOTs by initiating traffic studies and sharing study results and data.

Red Team

  1. Help managers and neighborhoods identify outside resources (insurance companies, MoDOT brochures, public meetings) to increase cooperation and identify solutions to speed problems.
  2. Involve public affairs representatives of enforcement agencies, emergency responders, and engineering concerns in the policy process so that they can communicate more effectively with communities.
  3. Encourage public policy makers and judges to standardize policies and penalties concerning speeding.

Yellow Team

  1. Work with policy makers and community concerns to help constituents understand the mechanics of speed setting - help them make your case.
  2. Conduct workshops to help decision makers and constituents understand the issues and potential solutions to speeding.
  3. Reinstate drivers' education in high schools.

At the workshop's conclusion, Mr. Hardy thanked participants for their hard work and insights and applauded their shared concern and commitment to addressing the problem of establishing and enforcing realistic speed limits. He noted the difficulties of addressing the problem of speeding in an era of increasing responsibility, but with limited funding and reduced budgets. He then urged workshop attendants to continue the spirit of the workshop by finding resourceful ways to collaborate to solve problems.

Before participants left the workshop, they were given post-it notes, asked to write their own action items, and leave them on flip chart pages marked Engineering, Enforcement, and Judicial/Public Policy near the exit. The following are actions that participants felt they could accomplish within 6 months of the workshop:

Engineering Actions

  Initiate/improve communication with police and public officials

  Involve enforcement agencies more in speed management

  Communicate, communicate, communicate

  Promote traffic signal coordination

  Consistency in speed limits

  Clearly defined school/work zones

  In response to customers who feel motorists drive to fast, I plan on using speed trailers to help enforcement (for educational purposes, public support, and better compliance)

  Work with City of Marshall to determine the necessity of whether or not to install traffic signal to maintain traffic flow at current speed limit on business route 65

  Review Project Development Manual for guidance issues pertaining to speed

  Reevaluate appropriateness of existing speed limits

  Coordinate posted and design speed

  Meet with law enforcement to discuss changing of existing speed limit policy and which county roads they think have unreasonable speed limits

  Ride-along, to understand the enforcement side of traffic and speed management

  Recommend that law enforcement be added to the regional planning commission

Enforcement Actions

  Work more closely with engineers and city officials

  Communicate better with engineers

  Inform/educate new legislators on the seriousness of highway conditions, deaths and injuries from speed, and lack of law enforcement resources

  Meet with local law enforcement and public entities to explain our process of setting speed limits to help them understand our rationale behind the existing speed limits. Also, discuss any speed management issues with them.

  Review funding possibilities for selective enforcement: speed enforcement/awareness/education

  Improve lines of communication with law enforcement

  I plan to engage a local law enforcement officer to discuss their perspective on speed-related issues, including crash histories. I also want to request a ride-along.

  Call law enforcement and ask if I can ride along for a few hours

Judicial/Public Policy/Political Actions

  Speak at a local school talking about how speed limits are set

  I will contact all governmental agencies in municipalities before raising speed limits; also, I will attempt to educate public of proposed speed limit through media releases

  Contact law enforcement and political personnel to discuss opportunities

  I would like to see DOT public information department take a positive, proactive approach to educating and communicating with the public; should include engineering background

  Educate management about speed study process

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The Missouri Speed Management Workshop raised shared concerns and issues regarding the need for better communication and cooperation among the agencies involved in setting and managing speed limits. Missouri has an established network of regional safety committees and cooperative relations within each MoDOT District, which provide ideal opportunities for acting on issues raised during the workshop. In addition to communication and cooperation, participants endorsed the need to find creative alternatives to fund increased enforcement activities.

Workshop evaluations indicated that plenary session speakers and the breakout group sessions raised participants' awareness of the need for an interdisciplinary approach to the issue of speeding on Missouri roads.

Finally, the Missouri workshop is one in a series designed to develop and test a guide for agencies interested in conducting local Speed Management Workshops.

Page last modified on October 15, 2014
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