By Richard J. Ashton, Chief of Police (Retired), Frederick, Maryland; and Grant/Technical Management Manager, IACP
he Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) recently released the 2012 edition of the Survey of the States: Speeding and Aggressive Driving. The report is based on a survey to which all 50 states and Guam contributed; the report emphasizes, not surprisingly, that about one-third of crash fatalities on U.S. highways over the past 25 years have been speed related.1 Between 1985 and 2010, seat belt nonuse by drivers in fatal crashes decreased dramatically from 64 percent to 27.4 percent, and alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal crashes declined from 41 percent to 31 percent. However, speed-related fatalities dropped only from 35 percent to 31 percent.2
The GHSA report’s key findings follow:
- “[T]he public’s perception of the speed and aggressive driving problems are inconsistent at best and apathetic at worst.”3 For example, radar detectors are legal in passenger vehicles in 44 states.4
- Current speed enforcement emphasizes traditional radar and lidar (light detection and ranging) units rather than quite effective and omnipresent automated red light and speed photo enforcement cameras.5 At present, 26 states authorize the operation of red light cameras, but only 8 permit them in all areas of the state.6 Moreover, only 14 states allow some variety of automated speed enforcement, with only 2 permitting its use in all areas of the state.7 The GHSA recommends that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) promote best practices in the overall operation of automated enforcement strategies.8
- The overinvolvement of young males living in rural areas, coupled with a reduction of available law enforcement officers to undertake speed enforcement, is problematic.9 “In 2009, 39 percent of male drivers in the 15- to 20-year-old age group and 37 percent of male drivers in the 21- to 24-year-old age group who were involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash.”10 Eighty-eight percent of 2009’s speeding-related fatalities occurred on roads other than interstate highways.11 Despite overtime speed enforcement funding by 42 states and Guam and the funding of overtime aggressive driving efforts by 6 states, 35 states nevertheless reported overall decreases in the number of state and local law enforcement officers available to enforce speed and aggressive driving laws.12 The reasons provided for these reductions were budget cuts, staff cutbacks, military deployments, and the existence of other overtime shift assignments that are more desirable to work than speed enforcement.13
- Seven states—Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia—have increased speed limits on certain roadways since GHSA’s last speed survey in 2005, and only five states–Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming—have raised fines or created new fines (excessive speeder classification) for speeders during this seven-year period, with Connecticut being the only one to raise speeding fines across the board.14
- A refreshing trend is targeting, on the basis of historical data, speed violations through aggressive driving, and location-specific enforcement such as in school and work zones, which seem to be more acceptable to the public.15 Ten states—Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin—are using public awareness campaigns aimed specifically at aggressive driving,16 which NHTSA defines as occurring when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property”;17 and 48 and 49 states already have enacted statutes permitting speed enforcement in school and work zones, respectively.18 The GHSA recommends addressing speeding via aggressive driving enforcement, as well as in school and work zones.19
Notwithstanding staff and other reductions coupled with the assignment of new responsibilities in this post-9/11 world, law enforcement agencies still can improve the effectiveness and the efficiency of their officers, as well as the safety of all highway users, by harnessing the tremendous amount of information that their officers generate to pinpoint and then target specific incidents when and where they intersect. By focusing on these identified clusters of dangerous driving behaviors, agencies can allocate precious few resources to reduce fatalities and serious injuries. Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety is but one successful model that simultaneously addresses criminal acts and traffic crashes.20
As an example, almost 40 percent of males between 15 and 24 years old who were involved in fatal crashes in 2009 were speeding. Add to that deadly driving behavior the fact that 29 percent of speeding drivers less than 21 years old involved in fatal crashes in 2009 had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or greater, while 51 percent of drivers between 21 and 24 years old had BACs of .08 g/dL or greater.21 Now, factor into that deadly mix two additional qualifiers: The rate of alcohol impairment among drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2010 was four times greater at night than during the day (37 percent versus 9 percent),22 and 31 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2010 on weekends were alcohol impaired.23 Speeding plus alcohol impairment is a lethal recipe for the demise of young, male drivers. However, developing and implementing effective strategies aimed at young male speeders on weekend nights likely will save not only their lives but also those of other highway users with whom they might have collided. This will provide the greatest return on agencies’ personnel allocations.
GHSA’s underlying philosophy is that “speeding is a critical highway safety issue that requires and deserves high priority and adequate resources,”24 and that “effective enforcement is critical to changing almost any driver behavior.”25 To this end, it recommends that NHTSA sponsor a high-profile national meeting, like the National Forum on Speeding held in 2005, to examine speeding and aggressive driving together and to develop strategies—possibly including NHTSA-sponsored high-visibility enforcement and public awareness campaigns uniting into one nationwide movement the best efforts of existing state programs—to reduce the deaths and serious injuries that speeding and aggressive driving produce.26 The GHSA report provides much food for thought concerning a deadly highway safety issue. Now is the time to digest and act upon it. ♦
1Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), Survey of the States: Speeding and Aggressive Driving (March 1, 2012), 3, http://www.ghsa.org/html/publications/pdf/survey/2012_speed.pdf (accessed May 1, 2012).
10NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA), “Speeding,” Traffic Safety Facts: 2009 Data, DOT HS 811 397, June 2011, 2, http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811397.pdf (accessed May 1, 2012).
12GHSA, Survey of the States: Speeding and Aggressive Driving, 15.
17“Aggressive Driving,” NHTSA, http://www.nhtsa.gov/Aggressive (accessed May 2, 2012).
18GHSA, Survey of the States: Speeding and Aggressive Driving, 11.
20For additional information, see James H. Burch II and Michael N. Geraci, “Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety,” The Police Chief, 76 (July 2009): 18–23, http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display&article_id=1839&issue_id=72009 (accessed May 1, 2012).
21NHTSA’s NCSA, “Speeding,” 2.
22NHTSA’s NCSA, “Alcohol-Impaired Driving,” Traffic Safety Facts: 2010 Data, DOT HS 811 606, April 2012, 3, http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811606.pdf (accessed May 1, 2012).
24GHSA, Survey of the States: Speeding and Aggressive Driving, 6.
Please cite as:
Richard J. Ashton, "Speed Is Still Killing," Highway Safety Initiatives, The Police Chief 79 (June 2012): 74–75.