Speed Limits

A number of states use traffic cameras to catch speeders and red light runners. While supporters say cameras have the potential to aid law enforcement, improve safety and bring in revenues from ticketed violations, they are increasingly controversial. Critics say they invade privacy, serve to administer backdoor tax increases, benefit for-profit companies more than safety and actually cause accidents in some cases. These debates have created a hodgepodge of wildly different state and local statutes around the country and a variety of re-evaluations of the merits of cameras in traffic enforcement.

Autonomous vehicles—self-driving cars—hold the promise to one day change the very nature of travel in the United States. For the moment, they remain mostly in the realm of science fiction, although significant developments are expected over the next decade. In 2013, Michigan became the latest state - joining California, Florida, Nevada and the District of Columbia - to enact legislation to allow automakers and others to continue to conduct autonomous vehicle research. But even as the industry and states contemplate a future for such vehicles beyond the research and development stage, some question whether these types of legislation may be premature while we still know so little about exactly what that future will look like.

On May 22, 2013, Illinois became the fourth state since March where the legislature has sent a bill to the governor’s desk either ordering or permitting a speed limit increase on some roads.  Governor Pat Quinn has been coy on the measure but the overwhelming support by the legislature would seem to make the initiative veto-proof. Ohio, Iowa and Maine have all passed similar measures since March and 34 states already have speed limits of 70 miles per hour or greater on some roads. With initiatives working through the North Carolina and Nevada legislatures and with bills being introduced in at least eight more states, it appears more of America’s roadways will permit higher speeds. States raise speeds on some toll roads, like America's fastest road, as an inovative funding mechanism and congestion measure. Higher speeds are sold to the consumer as a premium service.  Some question the timing of and rationale for these actions, coming as recently released preliminary traffic fatality analysis data for 2012 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed a 5.3 percent uptick in motor vehicle fatalities nationwide. But a review of the research on speed and safety isn’t as cut and dried as one might think.

I’m about to head to Washington, D.C. for the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting (more on that below). But before I hit the road, I thought I would leave you with a few links to some recent transportation-related reports and articles that might be worthy of your time. I have items on mileage-based user fees, the future of tolling, speed limits, the road building industry forecast for 2013, transit-oriented development and how to communicate the value of preserving infrastructure.

We have several new transportation-related publications here in the Knowledge Center this month. Here are a few updates and additional resources on the topics they address.

Stateline Midwest ~ September 2012

If a driver in North Dakota gets stopped by police for driving 65 miles per hour in a 55-mph zone, he or she leaves the scene with a $10 fine. That amount is too low, an interim legislative committee has decided, as are many of the state’s penalties for speeding.

Illinois lawmakers have paved the way for speed cameras to be used in designated safety zones in the city of Chicago.

Transportation Demand Management incorporates various policy strategies to reduce traffic congestion by shifting transportation away from single-occupancy vehicles, shifting travel out of peak periods or shifting it to less congested roads or modes of transportation. Though many states have successful transportation demand management programs, the future of these programs may be in jeopardy unless dedicated funding for them can be found and unless state agencies continue to demonstrate their value in addressing policy objectives like congestion reduction and air quality improvement.

Rural highways provide many benefits to the nation's transportation system. But rural areas face numerous transportation challenges including a looming highway capacity crisis. Their challenges are similar to those experienced by urban areas but different enough that they need to be carefully considered as officials in Washington debate a new long-term authorization of federal transportation programs. This brief examines some issues those officials should take into account regarding rural road capacity, congestion, road safety, connectivity and mobility and public transit. It also examines how policies addressing livability and transportation funding may impact rural communities.