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Back to Archives | Back to June 2005 Contents 

Highway Safety Initiatives

Highway Safety Initiatives: Speed Management and the Three Es

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

rom the enforcer's point of view, speeding looks like a simple issue. Either a driver is obeying the speed limit, or he's not. But speed management can be quite complicated, and solutions to the problem of speed-related crashes, injuries, and death involve not only enforcement but also motorist education and traffic engineering. Improvements in each of these three areas has been helped reduce average speeds and minimize the toll from crashes.

Fear of being stopped and cited is a strong deterrent for most drivers. The most effective use of enforcement time will be directed not at the easiest places to write tickets but at those locations that are sources of injury crashes and those areas that generate citizen complaints. Officers know where they can go to write a ticket, but they need guidance as to where injury crashes are happening and where high-visibility enforcement will have the most impact.

Citizen complaints most often come from areas where motor vehicle traffic is not interacting smoothly with walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and children. Residents are concerned about speeders on their streets and are aware of the incidents that don't show up in police records, such as near misses and pets struck.

The level of fear residents feel for their safety in these areas likely will not show up in your analysis of crash data unless you look at it from a different perspective. Instead of examining the data strictly by location, try segregating it by street type: interstate highways, major arteries, collector and connector streets, and local roads. Analysis of national data shows that nearly half of all fatalities are occurring on the lower-speed collector streets and local roadways.

Establishing a well-publicized program of neighborhood speed enforcement can pay dividends in citizen satisfaction with your department. Supervisors will have to expect a lower volume of citations issued and the crash rate impact may be more difficult to discern, but proactive work in complaint areas will show up in citizen surveys in a positive way.

You may also consider launching a Neighborhood Speed Watch in response to residential speeding complaints. In place in a number of cities, these programs typically train residents of neighborhoods to operate speed-monitoring equipment. Two volunteers will work together, one operating the device, the other logging the vehicle license plate and description. That information is turned in to the police department, and the department then sends a letter to the registered owner of the vehicle encouraging them to observe speed limits in residential areas.

Ideally, drivers would voluntarily comply with posted speed limits and adjust their speed according to traffic and weather conditions. But public opinion surveys show that motorists do not consider speeding either a serious offense or a significant problem. There is little general understanding that speed increases both the likelihood of a crash and the seriousness of that crash.

Public education should have a goal of persuading drivers to maintain safe speeds at all times, not just when they perceive the risk of a citation.

Research has found that many drivers do not understand the relationship between higher speeds and longer stopping distances. They may believe that their experience behind the wheel, combined with safer vehicles and more forgiving roadways, will protect them. But police can raise awareness of the involvement of speed in crashes and the effects of additional energy from higher speed impacts on injury. And police can help the public understand that speed enforcement is about safety, not revenue collection, as some believe.

If you are meeting regularly with your jurisdiction's traffic engineer, you know that we have a common goal of moving traffic expeditiously and safely. Sharing information on problems and solutions with those responsible for roadway design and the determination of speed limits is the third component of a successful speed management program.

Traffic calming is a term used in the engineering community to describe a number of design modifications that can reduce average speeds in a limited area. These can include roadway markings that serve to make the street appear narrower or to supplement roadside speed limit signs with that information painted on the roadway. For instance, road humps-wider and not as abrupt as speed bumps-work for some residential streets.

Studies have found that a one-mile-per-hour decrease in the average speed on a given stretch of roadway results in a crash rate reduction of about five percent. Making carefully planned speed management part of our safety belt and DWI programs can have a significant impact on crash death and injury rates. ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 6, June 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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