Highway Safety:

Monitoring Practices To Show Compliance With Speed Limits Should Be Reexamined

RCED-88-93BR: Published: Mar 31, 1988. Publicly Released: Mar 31, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO examined states' monitoring of motorists' compliance with the 55 miles-per-hour (mph) national speed limit.

GAO reviewed six states' speed monitoring programs and found that: (1) the programs generally complied with monitoring requirements and regulations; (2) the states generally located their monitoring sites appropriately; (3) the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) decreased its participation in the development and implementation of state monitoring programs; and (4) there was little relationship between states' speed limit enforcement activities and the compliance level. GAO also found that the: (1) states' speed monitoring programs did not meet the speed limit's objectives of improving highway safety; (2) states' enforcement activities were insufficient to ensure compliance with the speed limit; (3) federal criteria for judging states' compliance were inadequate because they failed to consider the differences in road quality and design; and (4) states' transportation officials believed that a comprehensive program should consider speed-related fatalities, enforcement levels, and road types in determining states' compliance.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Transportation (DOT) does not believe that flaws of the compliance criteria will be eliminated merely by changing the criteria. DOT recommends reforming the law to keep the requirement for the states to certify that they have posted the correct speeds, but repeal compliance criteria, sanctions for noncompliance, and mandated monitoring and reporting requirements.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to undertake a study of the feasibility of instituting a weighting scheme that places greater weight on high-speed violations and violations on roads of lower design quality in assessing whether to sanction a state for noncompliance with the 55-mph national maximum speed limit. The Secretary should report the results of this analysis to Congress along with any recommendations for legislative changes necessary to improve the compliance monitoring system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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