Most states give 5-10 mph speeding ‘cushion’

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) today released a new survey of its member jurisdictions detailing their efforts to control speeding by motorists. The report comes nearly ten years after Congress repealed the National Maximum Speed Limit, which had required states to keep speed limits at a maximum of 65 miles per hour in rural areas and 55 mph in urban areas.

According to GHSA Chair Lt. Colonel Jim Champagne, “In addressing the speeding problem, we are where we were twenty-five years ago with drunk driving: there is a serious problem but we do not have an effective remedy.” To enhance state and federal efforts in reducing speeding-related fatalities and injuries, GHSA is coordinating a National Forum on Speeding later this week in Washington, D.C. The invitation-only meeting, which is being funded and co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, will make recommendations to enhance coordination of federal, state, local and private sector policies and programs as well as identify additional research and data needs.

Of the 50 GHSA jurisdictions that responded to the survey, 38 indicated a speed limit increase in their jurisdiction since 1994. Just as troubling is an analysis from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which reports that 31 states have raised speed limits to 70 mph or higher on some portion of their roadways. A 1999 IIHS study found that deaths increased an estimated 15 percent on interstates and freeways in 24 states that raised speed limits after the repeal of the National Maximum Speed Limit.

Nationally, statistics indicate speeding-related fatalities have remained level since the National Maximum Speed Limit repeal. According to GHSA Chair Champagne, “We should have experienced a significant decline in speeding-related fatalities given the tremendous gains in safety belt use coupled with the increasingly safe design of vehicles. However, it appears these benefits have been minimized by increasing speeds.” Given the trends, Champagne indicates that it’s not surprising that speeding-related fatalities continue to represent a third of overall highway fatalities. He says, “As a country, if we are going to reduce the carnage on our roadways, speeding must be given the same level of attention that has been given to occupant protection and impaired driving.”

The problem with speeding is not just the increased speed limits but also the fact that the public feels comfortable driving above the posted limits, even when road conditions are less than ideal. Of the 50 GHSA jurisdictions surveyed, 42 indicated there exists a “cushion” of 5-10 mph, not only in the minds of the public but also in enforcement practice. Champagne states, “This cushion truly exists across this country and in some cases is more than 10 mph above posted limits. Law enforcement need to be given the political will to enforce speed limits and the public must get the message that speeding will not be tolerated.”

GHSA’s Survey found that its jurisdictions believe increased enforcement of speeding-related laws has become very difficult because of uncertainty in highway safety funding and decreased numbers of officers due to retirements, as well as an increased emphasis on homeland security issues. One remedy to augment diminishing police enforcement is the use of automated enforcement, commonly known as “speed cameras.” These systems combine radar or laser-measuring technology and video or photographic identification to automatically detect and record speed limit violations. Despite the effectiveness of automated enforcement, GHSA’s Survey indicates that only six states and the District of Columbia have implemented speed camera programs. According to Champagne, “Clearly, more of our jurisdictions need to consider using these tools as part of their enforcement effort. I am hopeful that one of the recommendations of the National Forum on Speeding will be a strong endorsement for increased automated enforcement.”

Another area that requires additional focus is data collection. Of the 50 GHSA jurisdictions that responded to the Survey, 48 collect speeding-related crash data but only 31 jurisdictions have a statewide database to log speeding-related citation data. This makes it difficult to form undisputable conclusions about the frequency and effectiveness of enforcement efforts.

Champagne believes that despite grim statistics, there is hope. “While most states are struggling with the speeding issue, some GHSA jurisdictions have implemented innovative efforts to combat this problem.” He cites Georgia and some of the other states in the Southeast region that have had success with their summer “H.E.A.T. (Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic)” campaigns. These efforts combine massive corridor speeding-related enforcement along with paid advertisements warning the public about speeding. The Washington, D.C.-area has also developed a highly-visible “Smooth Operator” program which has increased attention to speeding in the area.

Champagne concludes that reducing speeding-related injuries and fatalities is a tremendous undertaking but one that must be done. He says, “ It is going to be difficult to make significant progress, but we must remember that in highway safety much progress has been made in increasing safety belt use and reducing drunk driving. With a similar commitment of energy and cooperation, progress can be made.”

From Governors Highway Safety Association

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