Toward Greater Understanding of the Relationship between Public Perceptions of Speed, Speed Laws, and Safety


Frank Douma, Frank Alarcon

February 2018

Report no. CTS 18-02

Speed continues to be a leading factor contributing to traffic fatalities in the U.S., implicated in over 9,500 deaths in 2015. Despite this, in recent years, some states have moved toward more lenient speed enforcement regimes. A public choice problem may be to blame: voters may not be demanding effective speed enforcement regimes of their elected officials. To explore this dilemma, this project attempts to ascertain whether there is a relationship between state speed laws, roadway fatality rates, and public perceptions of speed. Better data are needed for definitive conclusions to be made regarding a possible relationship between these three bodies of knowledge. This report suggests that by improving data on the role of speed in crashes and public perceptions regarding speed, developing a standard measurement of speed law enforcement in each state, and adopting more consistent speed laws across states, a virtuous cycle can be initiated that helps dismantle the public choice problem, thus enabling the establishment of more effective speed enforcement regimes throughout the U.S.

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