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Back to Archives | Back to May 2005 Contents 

Highway Safety Initiatives

Innovative Speed Management

Joel Bolton, Lieutenant, Lake Charles, Louisiana, Police Department

olice departments have found creative ways to enforce traffic laws. Ten years ago, police in Boulder, Colorado, increased compliance with speed laws by stationing a plainclothes officer with a radar unit in a lawn chair. Later, police in Gilbert, Arizona, surprised more than a few violators by placing an officer in a bucket truck.

Innovative Traffic Enforcement Ideas from Kissimmee, Florida

Entries in the IACP National Law Enforcement Challenge last year show that agencies continue to find innovative ways to enforce speed laws. The Kissimmee, Florida, Police Department highlighted speed enforcement efforts in its contest application, and it garnered an award for speed awareness.

The agency’s unconventional methods include having two plainclothes officers in the back of a pickup truck with the hood raised. After passing this supposedly broken-down vehicle on the roadside, violators find they have been identified and clocked and their description has been radioed to waiting marked units and uniformed officers. Kissimmee has used everything from lawnmowers to utility trucks as monitoring platforms.

The objective is not to be sneaky or conceal the police presence on the roadway but to achieve voluntary compliance with posted speed limits. By using highly visible and well-publicized enforcement efforts, police have created a perception of risk: speeding will get you ticketed. “We want people to think anything they see on the side of the road on a daily basis could be the police monitoring speed,” said Sergeant James Haddock of the Kissimmee Police Department. If that uncertainty makes motorists reduce their speed, the objective has been achieved.

A bucket truck is one vehicle Kissimmee police used that has several advantages. In addition to providing a less-than-obvious platform for speed measurement, the height of the truck lift allows officers to spot and stop aggressive driving by providing a clear view of vehicles approaching for some distance. Haddock said that officers were able to interrupt a street race in one case, a race that narrowly avoided striking a pedestrian.

We typically think of DWI countermeasures and increasing safety belt use as cornerstones of effective traffic safety programs, but speed is important, too. Kissimmee uses a multidisciplinary approach to speed management, identifying traffic safety problems and seeking solutions whether the issue is driver behavior or engineering considerations. Their traffic safety team also involves neighboring agencies, citizens, and community groups.

Speed Enforcement Is Vital to Safety

The facts are clear about excessive speed’s relationship to crash risk. About one-third of all fatal crashes involve speeding. The risk of death or serious injury doubles for every 10 miles per hour above 50 miles per hour.

Most of us don’t think about the longer stopping distance required at higher speeds or the longer distance covered by the vehicle while the driver reacts to an unexpected movement by another vehicle or a pedestrian in the roadway. Motorists also need to understand the effects of rain-slick roadways on braking distance as well as how dangerous the combination of a wet street, a curve, and too much speed can be.

Speeding is often accompanied by other risky behaviors. One study found that only 19 percent of drivers in speed-related fatal crashes were wearing safety belts, and 56 percent of drivers were impaired by alcohol.

Risk takers like those are not the only ones who drive faster than the posted speed limit. Surveys find that many people admit to driving 10 or more miles per hour above the speed limit and don’t think of speeding as one of the most dangerous driving offenses (unless it involves racing another vehicle).

Tips for Speed Enforcement

Implementing an effective speed management program in your jurisdiction can make a huge difference in safety. Here are a few steps to take:

•      Gather and analyze traffic crash data to determine where and why crashes are occurring. Include those areas that show speed-related crashes, as well as locations generating citizen complaints about speeding vehicles, in selective enforcement assignments.
•      Establish a schedule for enforcement activities that creates the perception of high levels of police presence at high crash locations but is varied enough to keep the public guessing about when officers will be there writing tickets.
•      Publicize the effort and report how many tickets are written.
•      Commit to the program for at least six months, and then take another look at     the data to evaluate your effectiveness. Include crime data from your selective      enforcement zones in your analysis. You will likely find improvement in those numbers as a welcome side benefit.


From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 5, May 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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