NTSB priority: Roadway speed management

By Eric Sundquist

When it comes to speed, delay and congestion usually get more attention than the flip-side problem of excessive speed. Under statute, for example, the federal government requires agencies to track speed reliability and delay. There is no similar requirement for tracking excessive speed, even though the data set provided for monitoring slow traffic could be used for fast traffic as well.

This issue is on the radar federally, however, via the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB’s new 2019-2020 Most Wanted List, which it identifies as its “premier advocacy tool” in advancing transportation safety improvements, includes highway speed management in its Top 10 list.

NTSB says:

Speeding increases the likelihood of being involved in a crash and intensifies the severity of injuries sustained in a crash. Speeding-related crashes kill more than 10,000 people and cost society more than $52 billion annually. Proven countermeasures—including automated enforcement technology, vehicle technology, infrastructure design, and education campaigns—must be used more broadly to reduce speeding-related crashes.

NTSB includes 21 recommendations under this heading, covering the topics listed above. Five recommendations address automated speed enforcement, urging states that ban it to remove the bans and states that permit it to do so with fewer restrictions.

NTSB also weighs in against the outdated 85th percentile speed standard. (See this blog post for the summary of a recent critique.) Instead it recommends use of tools such as FHWA’s USLIMITS2, which allows for lower speed limits in places where vulnerable users are present.

Specifically, NTSB urges FHWA to make this change in section 2B.13 of the Manual of Uniform Control Devices. FHWA has told NTSB it is considering including this amendment in the next edition of the MUTCD. Plans for a new edition have been announced but without a release date.

States, of course, need not wait for FHWA to act in order to update their own statutes and guidance.

Eric Sundquist is Director of SSTI.