Washington D.C. (Governors Highway Safety Association news release) -- A report released last week by the Governors Highway Safety Association highlights the continued role speeding plays in traffic deaths and makes recommendations to address the problem.
According to the GHSA news release:
Despite progress in nearly every other area of highway safety, speeding continues to be a factor in approximately one third of traffic deaths every year. In 2010, 10,530 people lost their lives in speeding-related crashes in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, representing 31 percent of all traffic deaths. Since 2000, the share of traffic fatalities linked to speeding has increased by seven percent, even as seat belt non-use in fatal crashes dropped 23 percent and alcohol-impaired fatalities declined three percent. Speed remains the one highway safety area where progress has not been made in almost three decades.
The new report, “Survey of the States: Speeding and Aggressive Driving,” includes responses from highway safety offices in all 50 states and Guam. States were similarly surveyed on this topic in 2005. The survey revealed little improvement in state laws since that time, with some states in fact regressing.
Among the findings:
* Seven states (KS, KY, ME, OH, PA, TX and VA) have increased speed limits to as high as 85 mph on certain roadways. This occurred despite research showing that an increase in traffic deaths was attributable to raised speed limits on all road types after the 1995 repeal of federal speed limits.
* Only two states increased fines for speeders (CT for all speeders and WY for drivers of commercial vehicles). Three states (GA, HI and PA) created a new “super” or “excessive” speeder classification.
* Only one state – Indiana – enacted an aggressive driver law. Just eleven states now have these laws.
Survey respondents were asked to cite the largest obstacles to addressing speed. Seventy-eight percent selected “public indifference to speeding,” while 61 percent selected “public perception that speed enforcement is just a revenue generator.” Another 43 percent of respondents cited “lack of federal funding for enforcement.”
A major challenge to the enforcement community is a reduction in state and local law enforcement personnel available to conduct speeding and aggressive driving enforcement efforts. Thirty-five states reported overall decreases in enforcement personnel. Even while states get better at using crash data to determine locations most in need of speed reduction, enforcers may not be available to target these dangerous areas. The staffing decreases are attributed to budget cuts, military deployments and the existence of other overtime shift assignments that are more desirable than speed enforcement.
Troy E. Costales, Chairman of GHSA, noted, “Not having enough officers available to conduct speed enforcement, when this form of aggressive driving is so prevalent, makes it difficult to convince offenders that speeding is unacceptable.”
To address the challenges of speeding-related fatalities, the report makes two recommendations to states and three to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
* Explore addressing speed concerns through aggressive driving enforcement, since the public believes that aggressive driving is a more serious threat to safety.
* Target speed enforcement in school and work zones, as this approach has a higher degree of public support and is largely viewed as non-controversial.
* Sponsor a national high-visibility enforcement campaign and support public awareness efforts to address speeding and aggressive driving.
* Promote best practices in automated enforcement strategies. The survey revealed that only 14 states allow automated speed enforcement of some kind while only two (TN and UT) allow it in all areas of the state.
* Sponsor a National Forum on Speeding and Aggressive Driving similar to efforts undertaken in 2005 to bring experts together to develop an action plan and share tools and best practices.
According to Chairman Costales, “While the findings of the report are generally disappointing, it is encouraging to see promising approaches such as the Target Zero Team project in Washington State. Targeting speeders with data-driven enforcement and innovative educational efforts, speed-related fatalities were reduced by almost 45 percent over the previous five-year average. As the report describes, states can make real progress if speed is addressed in this manner.”
Costales concludes, “We need to bring the same level of federal and state energy to addressing speed that was brought to tackling seat belt use and drunk driving. More than 10,000 families are losing a loved one every year because of speeding-related crashes. It is time for action.”