Automated speed enforcement study provides guidance for Minnesota

The discussion and debate about speed photoautomated speed enforcement in many states—including Minnesota—is both complex and puzzling. On one hand, studies have shown that automated speed enforcement (ASE) increases roadway safety when deployed in certain settings, and public opinion polls show Minnesotans overwhelmingly support ASE in certain locations.

On the other hand, only 14 states and Washington, D.C., employ ASE; Minnesota is one of the 36 states that do not use automated speed enforcement. The perceived lack of public support is often cited as the primary reason ASE isn’t used in more states.

Prompted by the gap in Minnesota between state policy and the safety benefits and strong support for ASE, researchers at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs designed a study to investigate scenarios for an ASE pilot program in Minnesota.

“Our aim was to develop a blueprint that would inform policymakers about the potential for an ASE pilot project in work zones and school zones,” says lead researcher Frank Douma, associate director of the State and Local Policy Program at the Humphrey School. “We chose work and school zones due to the strong public support for ASE in these locations and the experiences in other states showing that ASE is an effective tool for reducing speed in these locations.”

First, the research team documented the legal and political environment surrounding ASE in Minnesota and analyzed available data for speed-related crashes in Minnesota school and work zones. Next, the researchers investigated and cataloged the possible solutions to a number of considerations and questions involved in developing an ASE pilot project. These questions include:


There is public support for using ASE to reduce speeds in Minnesota school zones and 
work zones

  • Who is responsible for the violation—the vehicle owner or the driver?
  • Should penalties be civil or criminal?
  • To what extent should automated warnings be used?
  • How is evidence of an ASE violation authenticated in court hearings?
  • What should law enforcement’s role be in operating the program?
  • How should ASE fine revenue be allocated?
  • What should the goals of an ASE pilot project be?
  • How should the success of an ASE pilot project be measured?
  • What should the penalties be for non-payment of ASE fines?
  • What role should private contractors play in the ASE ticketing process?

Finally, researchers set out to develop a “blueprint” of preferred scenarios for ASE in Minnesota—and came face-to-face with several obstacles. “While making choices about some of the design elements for an ASE pilot project was relatively straightforward, we found that many decisions require weighing multiple and interdependent considerations that create difficult political and policy tradeoffs,” Douma says. Tradeoffs generally fall along three dimensions:  politics or public acceptance, operational challenges and cost issues, and effectiveness.  “Even in an environment with apparent strong public support for ASE, and with strong evidence from other states that ASE improves roadway safety, we determined that these tradeoffs create substantial operational and political challenges to an ASE pilot program in Minnesota at this time.”

Despite these obstacles, policy experts say an ASE program in Minnesota is possible. “We’ve seen other states overcome similar challenges,” Douma says. “To move an ASE program forward, we’ll need consensus among government stakeholders that ASE is a worthwhile tool, and agreement as to what an ASE program should look like operationally. In addition, we’ll need policymakers to champion ASE as a valuable roadway safety tool in order to provide the political and policy momentum needed to work through these challenges.”