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Public Roads - Spring 2024

Spring 2024
Issue No:
Vol. 88 No. 1
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Speed Safety Cameras

by Jeffrey King, Abdul Zineddin, Emily Thomas, and Keith Williams

A blurred view of a crash between two cars to indicate motion and speed. Image: © Panumas /
Over the past two decades, speeding has been a contributing factor in nearly 30 percent of all motor vehicle crashes.

A crash is defined as speeding-related if the investigating officer indicates the driver involved in the crash was driving greater than the posted speed limit, driving too fast for conditions, or racing. Speeding can contribute to both the severity and frequency of motor vehicle crashes and has been a leading contributing factor in fatal and serious injury crashes for several decades in the United States—and continues to be a growing problem. This problem is especially grievous when vulnerable road users (VRUs), such as pedestrians and bicyclists, are involved.

While much can be done to address speeding through non-enforcement strategies, speed enforcement as a traffic safety countermeasure has been proven effective when deployed appropriately. Traditionally, speed enforcement has been conducted by law enforcement officers, through roadside traffic stops. However, with the increased focus on social justice involving traffic stops and a growing shortage of traditional law enforcement resources, traffic safety practitioners are increasingly looking to automated solutions, such as speed safety cameras (SSCs). SSCs are one of the 28 Federal Highway Administration’s Proven Safety Countermeasures and is identified as a five-star countermeasure that works by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In January 2023, to assist practitioners considering the use of SSCs, FHWA and NHTSA jointly published the Speed Safety Camera Program Planning and Operations Guide (Guide).

Why is Speeding a Concern?

In 2021, 42,939 fatalities occurred on the Nation’s roadways, of which 12,330 were speeding related—a 7.9 percent-increase in speeding-related crashes over 2020. That increase followed a 17 percent increase in speeding-related crashes from 9,592 in 2019 to 11,258 in 2020. Speeding has played a role in more than a quarter of traffic deaths, killing nearly 100,000 people over the past decade.

Speeding can be dangerous on all types of roads, but particularly on non-interstate rural and urban roadways. In 2021, 35 percent of speed-related fatalities occurred on non-interstate rural roadways, 52 percent on non-interstate urban roadways, 9 percent on interstate urban roadways, and 5 percent on interstate rural roadways.

Drivers speed for a variety of reasons. A 2019 telephone survey conducted by the American Automobile Association (widely known as AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that nearly half of drivers said they had exceeded the speed limit on a freeway by at least 15 miles per hour (mph, 24 kilometers per hour (kph)) in the past month; over 40 percent of drivers reported exceeding the speed limit by at least 10 mph (16 kph) on residential streets. Of those surveyed, only 55 percent perceived speeding 15 mph (24 kph) over the speed limit on freeways as extremely or very dangerous. Additionally, 63.5 percent of respondents perceived speeding 10 mph (16 kph) over the speed limit on residential streets as extremely or very dangerous. In contrast, 92 percent indicated that in general, switching lanes or following too closely was extremely or very dangerous.

Speeding behavior can be categorized as intentional or unintentional. When speeding behavior results from an intentional decision, the behavior is often rationalized based on perceptions of peer behavior, time-saving convenience, or an unrealistic perception of driving ability. Speeding can also be unintentional and influenced by prevailing traffic conditions and cues from the built environment.

Evidence of speeding has most commonly been measured based on an officer pacing a vehicle or using LiDAR.

Filling the Compliance Gap

Evidence of speeding has most commonly been measured based on an officer pacing a vehicle or using LiDAR.
A law enforcement officer wearing a helmet with a motorcycle holds a radar to his face. Image: © moodboard /

In an ideal transportation environment, compliance with speed limits and adapting to changing roadway conditions would occur voluntarily based on a driver’s perception and understanding of the risks involved. However, that is not always the case as drivers may choose to accept the risks of speeding based on their personal beliefs and driving abilities. Other drivers may not realize they are speeding due to distraction or inattention, and some may not consider the risks and abilities of those with whom they are sharing the road. “Safety is our top priority at the U.S. Department of Transportation, and we know that safer roads and safer speeds have a significant impact on reducing fatalities and serious injuries on our Nation’s roadways, especially for children in school zones, roadway construction workers, and other vulnerable road users who are outside vehicles,” says Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt. “Speed safety cameras are a proven safety countermeasure supported by FHWA that have shown significant benefits in reducing crashes and improving safety on our roads.” Failure to recognize the risk to themselves or the presence and risks to others, including VRUs, requires intervention to mitigate those risks and improve safety for all road users.

To address this gap in compliance, traffic safety practitioners often use traditional speed enforcement methods. Traditional speed enforcement is accomplished by law enforcement officers conducting roadside traffic stops on drivers who violate speeding-related statutes. Traffic enforcement can be deployed much quicker than infrastructure-related solutions, and when deployed appropriately with safety and equity in mind, it is a proven, effective strategy. Law enforcement officers use a variety of methods to determine vehicle speeds. Evidence of speeding has most commonly been measured based on the officer pacing the vehicle or using technology such as radar, light detection and ranging (widely known as LiDAR), and various other equipment to measure the time and distance of the vehicles to calculate their speed. This evidence is then recorded and presented by the officers for use in adjudicating speeding violation cases.

The Introduction of SSCs

As technology evolved over time, it was combined with photography and automation to build SSC systems. SSC systems collect evidence of speeding violations remotely, eliminating the need for officers to make personal contact with drivers on the roadside, and increasing officer safety by reducing the risk of struck-by crashes. To capture evidentiary proof of a speeding violation, SSCs utilize technology similar to that of traditional enforcement, and when a violation is detected, evidence is recorded that includes the speed of the vehicle and an image of the vehicle at the time and location of the violation. This photographic evidence is used by officers or other personnel authorized to issue enforcement action to identify the person to be held responsible for the violation. Responsibility varies among communities using SSCs: some legislation holds the owner of the vehicle responsible, while others hold the driver at the time of violation responsible. “Speed enforcement is among the most common traffic enforcement strategies conducted by law enforcement. When implemented properly, SSCs can be a safer and more equitable strategy to change speeding behaviors,” states Nanda Srinivasan, NHTSA’s associate administrator for Research and Program Development.

A line graph depicting an upward trend in U.S. communities using speed safety cameras from less than 50 in 1995 to more than 200 in 2023. Image: Data © Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Graphical representation source: FHWA.
Currently, 209 communities across the Nation use SSC programs.

In 1987, the Paradise Valley Police Department in Arizona became the first agency in the Nation to utilize SSCs. At that time, the town council authorized the use of SSCs (then referred to as photo enforcement) in direct response to a steady increase of traffic crashes in town. That year, over 400 reported collisions occurred. After SSCs were deployed, the town realized a 42 percent decrease in collisions. Traffic safety has always been one of the top concerns expressed by residents. Therefore, in 2013, the Public Safety Task Force—a committee composed of 50 residents—requested an expansion to the town’s SSC program. That expansion was completed, and in 2017, only 208 collisions were reported. This decrease, a 50 percent overall reduction of traffic collisions from the numbers reported 30 years ago, was a staggering accomplishment, especially considering the growing population, corresponding traffic volumes, and increasing driver distractions.

As chief of the Paradise Valley Police Department, “my top priority is ensuring the safety of every individual within our community,” states Freeman Carney. “A significant aspect of this commitment lies in prioritizing traffic safety. In response to the expressed needs and desires of the community we serve, implementing photo enforcement is a vital tool in safeguarding lives. Photo radar is a proactive measure designed to induce positive behavioral changes among our residents and visitors. It serves as a powerful deterrent, encouraging adherence to speed limits and traffic regulations, ultimately contributing to the overall well-being of our community.”

“It’s important to emphasize that photo radar is not imposed upon our residents but implemented for their benefit,” adds Chief Carney. “By prioritizing safety through technology, we are actively working towards creating a secure environment where everyone can thrive. Our commitment to utilizing photo enforcement shows our dedication to the welfare of those who call our community home and those who choose to visit. Photo radar reflects our responsibility to support a culture of safety, respect, and responsible driving habits.”

Nationwide, the use of SSCs is not new. From that early deployment by one community in 1987, the deployment of photo enforcement has continued to rise through 2008, when there were 49 communities using SSCs. This increase coincided with the year FHWA and NHTSA published the Speed Enforcement Camera Systems Operational Guidelines in 2008. These guidelines were developed based on lessons learned in programs that went well and many that did not go so well, it also provided a high-level overview of the technologies available at that time. In recent years, an increase in speeding-related crashes has been noted, along with a reduction in traditional law enforcement resources and an increased number of communities deploying SSC programs. Currently, 209 communities across the Nation use SSC programs, an increase of 39 percent since 2019. Although the use of SSCs has accelerated, the number of communities using them remains very small as the problem associated with speeding spans the Nation. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that as of 2022, the Nation was composed of 19,493 incorporated communities.

A stationary SSC unit sits behind a rail on the side of a roadway. Image: © Paradise Valley Police Department.
SSCs are not biased based on race, ethnicity, or the type of vehicle someone drives.

Tested, Tried, and Proven

In 2021, SSCs were added to FHWA’s list of Proven Safety Countermeasures. This list of 28 countermeasures—including “appropriate speed limits for all road users,” “speed safety cameras,” and “variable speed limits”—have been proven to work through extensive research yet remain underutilized by traffic safety practitioners across the Nation. Many studies support the addition of SSCs; a few of those study results are highlighted on the Speed Safety Camera Proven Safety Countermeasure fact sheet, including a 54 percent reduction in overall crashes and 48 percent reduction in injury crashes using fixed cameras in Scottsdale, AZ; a 37 percent reduction in fatal and injury crashes using point to point cameras in Italy; and a 20 percent reduction in fatal and injury crashes using mobile cameras in Edmonton, Canada.

USDOT issued its National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS) in January of 2022; the NRSS adopts the Safe System Approach as the manner by which to achieve zero deaths on the U.S. roadway network. Safe speeds is a core principle of the Safe System Approach since humans are less likely to survive high-speed crashes. For additional information on applying this approach to speed management, review the recently released FHWA publication, Safe System Approach for Speed Management. Key actions called out in the NRSS to enable safer speeds included updating guidance documents, promoting SSCs as a Proven Safety Countermeasure, and studying and piloting automated or other enforcement strategies focused on speeding that are designed to ensure their equitable application.

As part of implementing the NRSS, the Guide provides an update to the former 2008 Speed Enforcement Camera Systems Operational Guidelines. The Guide incorporates updated research and practices from the United States and international jurisdictions. The Guide emphasizes the need to consider SSCs as one component of a comprehensive speed management program and includes new case studies to describe how five different jurisdictions in the Nation have implemented or taken steps to implement SSC programs.

The purpose of the Guide is to provide information on the planning, implementation, operation, and evaluation of SSC programs. The update also adds new information on SSC technologies which are referred to as “section,” “speed-over-distance,” or “point-to-point,” enforcement. This type of system utilizes two camera sensors at each end of a corridor, capturing a vehicle’s average speed through the length of that corridor.

“We feel this new guide will provide communities interested in adopting speed safety cameras with the tools to avoid the pitfalls of the past and successfully achieve desired results while maintaining equity and transparency,” says Robert Ritter, PE, associate administrator of FHWA’s Office of Safety.

The Guide reiterates ideas from the 2008 guidelines while drawing on additional program experiences, evidence-based information on safety effectiveness, and other research published from 2009 to 2022.

The chapters in the new Guide were also restructured to address all parts of developing a program to include planning, policy, communications, administration, operations, and issues related to the deployment of SSCs. They contain instances of community involvement, transparency, and addressing equity concerns. Throughout the Guide, especially in Chapter 8, there are many examples that share lessons learned and noteworthy practices from current programs in a variety of different situations like school and work zones.

Reducing Speeding and Inequities

SSCs are not biased based on race, ethnicity, or the type of vehicle someone drives. However, camera placement and the program penalty structure can create inequities if demographics are not considered. Engaging stakeholders to include public health professionals, racial and social justice organizations and advocates, and the public—particularly members of underserved communities—is necessary to build and maintain support for SSC programs. Not unlike traditional enforcement programs, SSCs can generate revenue in the form of fines. The deterrent effects of enforcement will diminish if these fines are viewed as a “revenue generator.” To mitigate this issue, many programs put revenue from penalties back into other safety and education programs and longer-term infrastructure projects that can ultimately reduce the need for SSCs.

“We encourage cities that adopt speed cameras to engage with their communities, especially communities of color, to ensure these cameras are used fairly and not punitively. The goal must be safety, deployed equitably across all roadways in areas that have speeding problems,” explains Sophie Shulman, NHTSA’s deputy administrator.

Crash data have shown that underserved communities can experience increased fatal and serious injury crashes, including those involving VRUs, which could call for additional speed management activities in those areas. This disparity and possible burden from increased enforcement should be acknowledged when deployment of SSCs is considered by speed management practitioners. Many times, these locations could be prioritized for longer-term engineering solutions to address deficiencies in infrastructure as part of the broader comprehensive speed management program.

The goal of any speed enforcement program should be to reduce speeding and lessen the risk of crashes and severity. The penalty should be structured to accomplish that goal regardless of the age, race, gender, or socioeconomic status of the violator. However, the same penalties imposed on one demographic can have a more burdensome consequence to a person of a different demographic. For example, paying a $100 fine would likely not impact a middle- or high-income person’s ability to pay for primary living expenses. However, for a low-income wage earner, with little to no disposable income, this amount may mean choosing between paying the fine or putting food on the table or paying for their commute to work the next day. Not paying the fine could further result in a suspended driver’s license, and if the driver is caught again, additional fines and the possibility of arrest can ensue, depending on the laws in that jurisdiction.

Penalty structure should consider the impact to the individual while still achieving the goal of deterrence and future compliance. Innovative penalty structures such as progressive fines based on income, amounts lower than traditional fines, or allowing for alternatives to monetary penalties such as community service or attending road safety courses may be more equitable. Some programs discourage punitive measures related to driver’s license sanctions such as points, which can result in loss of license and a spiral into the cycle of poverty. Additional research is encouraged to find alternative penalty structures for underserved and impoverished communities, keeping the focus on safety without posing inequitable outcomes. An ideal speed management program would look to gain voluntary speed compliance without the need for ticketing, such as longer-term engineering and education programs to reduce the need for enforcement strategies.

A time lapse image of a busy urban roadway crowded with cars, buses, and pedestrians, and aligned with trees and buildings. Image: © VERTEX SPACE /
Speeding can be dangerous on all types of roads, but particularly on non-interstate rural and urban roadways.

Despite numerous surveys on driving behavior, it is evident that many drivers do not perceive speeding as a traffic safety concern comparable to impaired driving or distracted driving. Paradoxically, data reveal that fatal crashes related to speeding contribute as much, if not more, to traffic-related injuries and deaths over recent decades. To mitigate the escalating number of fatal and serious injury crashes, it is imperative to educate drivers about the perils of speeding and explore innovative approaches to encourage safer speeds. Traditional speed enforcement, when employed in isolation, has proven insufficient in addressing this issue. Achieving safer speeds, as outlined in the NRSS and the Safe System Approach, necessitates a collective responsibility involving a blend of strategies. These include educating drivers about the dangers of speeding and enhancing road engineering for better voluntary compliance. Until this comprehensive approach is realized, establishing appropriate speed limits for all road users, and ensuring compliance through enforcement will demand additional resources, with speed safety cameras emerging as a valuable tool in this regard.

For more on this topic, and be on the lookout for the Public Roads special issue on “Safer Speeds and Speed Management,” coming in 2025.

Jeffrey King serves as a safety specialist in the FHWA Office of Safety’s Speed Management Team. Prior to joining FHWA, he retired from the Arizona Department of Public Safety after 28 years of service. He is a graduate of Northwestern University’s School of Police Staff and Command as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy and has a bachelor of science degree from Arizona State University.

Abdul Zineddin serves as senior advisor to Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center’s associate administrator. Prior to this position, he led the FHWA’s Safety Operations Team in the Office of Safety where he provided oversight of safety issues related to speed management, intersections, and intelligent transportation systems. He has a bachelors, masters, and Ph.D. in civil engineering from Pennsylvania State University.

Emily Thomas is a highway safety specialist in NHTSA’s Office of Safety Programs, Enforcement and Justice Services Division. Her focus is enforcement and speed management. She has a bachelor of arts degree from North Carolina State University and a master of arts degree from the University of South Carolina.

Keith Williams serves as chief of NHTSA’s Enforcement and Justice Services Division and previously served as a highway safety specialist with FHWA’s Office of Safety. Prior to joining USDOT, he retired from the Anne Arundel County Maryland Police Department after 25 years of service. He holds a bachelor of science degree from the University of Baltimore.

For more information, see,, or contact Jeffrey A. King, 602-382-8991,

For More Information

Circle icon with camera and automobile. Image Source: FHWA.
Safety benefits of SSCs

Safety Benefits:

Fixed units can reduce crashes on urban principal arterials up to:

  • 54% for all crashes.
  • 48% for injury crashes.

P2P units can reduce crashes on urban expressways, freeways, and principal arterials up to:

  • 37% for fatal and injury crashes.

Mobile units can reduce crashes on urban principal arterials up to:

  • 20% for fatal and injury crashes.

In New York City, fixed units reduced speeding in school zones up to 63% during school hours.

P2P: Point-to-Point

For more information on this and other FHWA Proven Safety Countermeasures, please reference the: Speed Safety Camera Program Planning and Operations Guide.

The contents of this fact sheet do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This fact sheet is intended only to provide clarity regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.


A report cover with two icons of a speedometer and two icons of a speeding vehicles with the title “Speed Safety Camera Program Planning and Operations Guide.” Image Source: FHWA.
The 2023 Speed Safety Camera Program Planning and Operations Guide published by FHWA in collaboration with NHTSA.

The Guide is organized into eight chapters:

  • Chapter 1 introduces the rationale and benefits of using SSCs.
  • Chapter 2 outlines initial steps stakeholders should take to assess safety needs, the legal framework, and community and stakeholder engagement.
  • Chapter 3 guides SSC program developers through steps to implement SSC enforcement in a jurisdiction.
  • Chapter 4 details aspects of enforcement planning, including site selection and the strengths and uses of different SSC enforcement strategies and technologies.
  • Chapter 5 describes steps and potential issues for timely, reliable, and equitable processing of violations.
  • Chapter 6 details the final steps to implement the enforcement and violation processing plans.
  • Chapter 7 outlines program monitoring and evaluation, including data and methods that may be used in evaluations.
  • Chapter 8 presents four new case studies that describe implementation of SSCs in five different areas and jurisdictions.