Delaware was well-represented at the Speeding and Speed Management Peer Exchange in Lakewood, Colorado. For two days, representatives from municipalities, cities, counties, departments of transportation, LTAP Centers, and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) explored the difficult topic of roadway speeding in search of the magical solutions.
FHWA Office of Safety’s Rosemarie Anderson organized and led the peer exchange, which included representatives from Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Delaware, Indiana, North Dakota, Montana, Washington, Connecticut, and Missouri. Delaware was represented by Kristen Kotula, P.E. (Traffic Studies Engineer with Delaware Department of Transportation), Ann Marie Townshend, AICP, ICMA-CM, CC-P (City Manager for City of Lewes), and our own Matt Carter. The three contributed extensively to the discussions and brought home new ideas to ponder for Delaware.
Speeding is usually defined as traveling too fast for conditions or exceeding the posted speed limits, and it is a contributing factor in 29% of all fatalities. For example, in 2021, of the 42,939 roadway fatalities nationwide, 12,330 were speeding-related, an increase of 8% from the previous year, which was 11% higher than 2019. Despite what many assume, only 13% of speeding-related fatalities occur on interstate highways; 87% of speeding-related fatalities occur on non-interstate roadways.
Speeding is a complex issue involving engineering, driving behavior, education, and enforcement. The engineering community, imagining we can somehow design the perfect road, has aggressively attacked the issue for decades with better horizontal and vertical geometry, roadside safety techniques, surface friction materials, signage, pavement markings, pedestrian beacons, and a vast array of traffic calming tools. That work is far from complete, but it is clear that we cannot engineer our way out of speeding fatalities.
At its heart, speeding is at least a two-fold expression of human psychology. When the design of the road is inconsistent with posted speed limits, some drivers will (perhaps unconsciously) disregard the limit for lacking credibility. For other drivers, it can be a more basic and conscious risk assessment outcome – they want to go faster, they are blithely unaware of the risk of speeding for other roadway users, they view the likelihood of being pulled over as unlikely, and they expect that even if ticketed, a court will rule favorably with probation before judgement (PBJ) or the like. In gambling terms, they want to win and they like their odds.
All the engineering in the world can’t compete with badly established speed limits or drivers that don’t subscribe to societal norms.
At the peer exchange, there was plenty of discussion about context-sensitive approaches to establishing speed limits, which are catching up with the realities of a multi-modal roadway system where vehicles of all sizes, bicycles, scooters, skateboarders, and pedestrians must interact safely. A second large theme was the large toolbox of proven safety countermeasures and traffic calming. Another theme explored the role played by law enforcement and the courts.
One takeaway from the discussions was that a more deliberate exploration of speeding must actively engage all partners – engineering, planning, law enforcement, the courts – for a fuller understanding of the problem and more concrete commitments to correct risk acceptance among some drivers. The questions we ask each other should be direct and transparent, but respectful of the limits each stakeholder must work within.
So, magical solutions? No. Highway engineering doesn’t work that way. But the diverse representatives from ten states agreed that the hard questions they asked of each other for two days had a place in each state among those local stakeholders in an effort to find that collection of techniques that can manage both the engineering and the human psychology elements of speeding.
There is a great deal of talk about dramatically reducing roadway fatalities, but it is increasingly clear that bumper stickers won’t carry the day. Program slogans and illustrative graphics have their place, but real reduction in roadway fatalities will require that all stakeholders sharpen their pencils and explore anew what their particular part of the field can bring to the table in a meaningful way.
The Delaware T2/LTAP Center’s Municipal Engineering Circuit Rider is intended to provide technical assistance and training to local agencies and so if you have roadway safety concerns or other transportation issues, contact Matt Carter at email@example.com or (302) 831-7236.