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Highway Safety Initiatives

The Importance of Developing Speed-Measurement Device Policies

Robert Maynard, Chief, California Highway Patrol, Enforcement and Planning Division

Speeding is a significant traffic safety concern. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that, in 2009, speeding was a contributing factor in 31 percent of fatal crashes, and that on average, 1,000 Americans are killed every month in speed-related crashes.1 The 2011 NHTSA National Survey of Speeding Attitudes and Behavior found that nearly half of drivers surveyed said speeding was a problem on U.S. roads, and it was very important that something be done to reduce speeding. An overwhelming 91 percent agreed with the statement that “everyone should obey the speed limits because it’s the law.”2 With 86 percent of total traffic fatalities in 2005 occurring on non-interstate roadways, traditional enforcement such as vehicle pacing is often impractical or imprudent, and other enforcement methods must be employed.3

Radar was first tested for vehicle speed detection in 1947 and used for enforcement by the Connecticut State Police in 1949. By the 1970s, handheld radar units were readily available to many state troopers across the United States. The 1980s saw the introduction of directional radar, and with the 1990s, came laser technology. Today, radar and lidar (laser) have become some of the most popular and effective speed-measuring technologies used throughout the United States.

Because the use of radar and lidar is widespread and has been used for so long, it seems commonplace to many in law enforcement. In the early days of radar, courtroom challenges often focused on accuracy of the underlying technology, which is a much less common concern today. However, suggestions on how to beat a radar ticket are widely available by doing a simple Internet search. Many of the defense arguments suggest questioning officer training, improper operation, improperly maintained equipment, outdated equipment certifications, and lack of field and laboratory calibration. Many of these arguments are easily countered if the law enforcement agency has sufficient policies, controls, and record keeping in place.

Officers must be properly trained to operate the speed enforcement technology they are employing. They must know how to conduct self-checks in the field to ensure the equipment is working properly before issuing citations, and just as important, they must be able to identify when the equipment may not be working properly. All training should also include a practical exam for the officer to demonstrate proficiency. Finally, the officer must be able to competently testify to all of the above if a citation is challenged.

Speed measurement devices should be recertified according to an established schedule that is contained in the department’s policies. The certification and any necessary equipment repairs should be performed only by a reputable laboratory. Any equipment outside of the established certification timeframes should not be used for any purpose. The first step, however, is to purchase only equipment that has been thoroughly tested and found to be in compliance with a uniform set of established performance specifications.

For more information on the Conforming Products List, or to download an equipment testing request form, visit the IACP website

Contact IACP Program Manager Sarah Horn at (703) 836-6767, extension 215.
To assist agencies, the IACP Highway Safety Committee, in a cooperative agreement with NHTSA, maintains a standing subcommittee, the Enforcement Technologies Advisory Technical Subcommittee (ETATS). ETATS meets several times a year, and comprises representatives from law enforcement, the National District Attorneys Association, National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), manufacturers, and NHTSA, as well as a technical expert. Among other responsibilities, the subcommittee evaluates minimum performance specifications for radar and lidar, which are published by NHTSA and maintained by the IACP. The minimum performance specifications are intended to help ensure that speed-measuring devices are both accurate and reliable when properly operated and maintained. Rigorous testing protocols are also established for each technology. The IACP publishes a Conforming Products List (CPL) consisting of device models that have been tested and found to be in compliance with minimum performance specifications in effect at the time of testing. It is strongly recommended that law enforcement agencies use the CPL as one of their criteria when purchasing radar and lidar equipment to give agencies confidence that the devices they purchase accurately capture information.

For many people, contact with an officer during a traffic enforcement action is perhaps the only law enforcement interaction they will ever have. Agencies must ensure that speed-measuring devices are operated by properly trained officers, that the equipment is properly certified and maintained, and that enforcement is applied properly, for the right reasons and in the right places. This, along with a comprehensive public education and outreach program, is essential to cultivate and maintain public trust. Speeding stops often lead to the detection of impaired drivers, stolen vehicles, and other criminal behaviors; thus, the trust and support of local judicial officials are also crucial.

NHTSA has developed many resources for agencies to consult when starting a speeding or general traffic safety program, including the Model Community Speed Control Program guide. Visit the NHTSA website for more information.?

1“Overview,” Traffic Safety Facts, 2009 Data, NHTSA, DOT HS 811 392,; “Speeding,” Traffic Safety Facts, NHTSA, DOT HS 811 636, August 2012,; and Think Fast, NHTSA March 2010, (all accessed April 8, 2014).
2Paul Schroeder, Lidia Kostyniuk, and Mary Mack, 2011 NHTSA National Survey of Speeding Attitudes and Behavior, DOT HS 811 865 (Washington DC: December 2013), (accessed April 8, 2014).
3”Speeding,” NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts, DOT HS 810 629, (accessed April 8, 2014).

Please cite as:

Robert Maynard, “The Importance of Developing Speed-Measurement Device Policies,” Highway Safety Initiatives, The Police Chief 81 (May 2014): 76.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXXI, no. 5, May 2014. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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