Automated speed enforcement study finds public support in Minnesota

Automated speed enforcement (ASE) is proven to be an effective strategy for reducing speeding and improving road safety. Its use in the United States, however, has been limited in part because of a perception by policymakers that it is unpopular and controversial. As part of a recent study, U of M researchers asked Minnesotans what they think of ASE. They found strong support—particularly for ASE in work zones and school zones and if revenues from fines are dedicated for road safety programs.

Frank Douma, associate director of the State and Local Policy Program in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, shared findings of the study at the Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths Conference in October (see related article).

ASE uses radar and cameras to identify a speeding vehicle and capture images of the license plates, and, in some systems, the driver. Citations are then mailed to the vehicle’s registered owner or, alternatively, the identified driver. ASE has been deployed in 14 states and in many countries, especially in Europe, Douma said.

In a survey of more than 600 Minnesotans this past spring, the U of M team found that a majority (56 percent) either are very supportive (20 percent) or somewhat supportive (36 percent) of the concept of ASE, which is in line with national surveys. Support is even higher for using ASE in specific, limited locations, such as construction zones where workers are endangered (83 percent net support), on roads near schools (82 percent net support), on roads where many have died (77 percent net support), and on roads where many people violate speed limits (69 percent net support). However, support for using ASE on all Minnesota roads falls just below the majority threshold, at 48 percent net support.

In addition, about seven in ten Minnesotans indicated they would be more likely to support ASE if the money raised from speeding tickets were used for local road safety improvements or if tickets were issued only to those driving at extreme speeds, Douma said.

The researchers also examined the legal and related political obstacles for deploying ASE in Minnesota, including a state supreme court ruling that invalidated a Minneapolis red-light photo enforcement ordinance. The court’s ruling was narrow, Douma explained, and did not bar automated enforcement generally or the concept of owner liability.

Moving forward, Douma said deploying ASE in Minnesota would require authorizing legislation, particularly to clarify liability issues and the role of local authorities. The researchers recommend that if legislation were drafted to authorize pilot testing of ASE, it should focus on school zones and MnDOT work zones.

State Senator Kathy Sheran said the research findings and recommendations provide the groundwork for shaping potential legislation. “We’re beginning to work on the design of legislation in order to do what we need to do [to authorize a pilot],” she said. “We’re exploring, and we’re learning from other states.” (See a related article about systems in Illinois and Iowa.)

The study was funded by the Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute (a part of CTS).