Gotcha Speed Enforcement – Feds Are Complicit: NMA E-Newsletter #460

With great thanks to advocate Joe Bahen, the NMA played an active role in the development of the 2012-2016 Virginia Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP). With the SHSP for the next five years now moving into the implementation phase, Joe continues to work with state officials to craft a safety roadmap that is effective and fair to motorists. That is easier said than done, particularly with both state and federal authorities resisting those efforts.

Joe’s particular focus has been on curbing the use of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) funding for Virginia speed enforcement actions on roadways where the speed limits are demonstrably underposted. It is in these areas, where the natural flow of traffic moves several miles per hour over the posted limit, that ticketing operations are akin to shooting fish in a barrel. Virginia is not alone among states in playing the ticket quota game to secure federal funding.

Bahen’s efforts are consistent with the “Eliminate federally funded ticket blitzes” plank in the NMA’s 2017–2018 National Legislative Agenda. After attending the December 2016 kickoff meeting for the Virginia 2017-2021 SHSP, Joe expressed his concerns to a leading state highway safety official:

“Operating speed is a function of roadway geometry and roadside friction.  It cannot be changed by enforcement. Excessive enforcement of an underposted limit causes a larger percentage of motorists to drive too slowly, making the highway even more dangerous. Enforcement also infuriates motorists who believe they are the victim of a speed trap, something police do not need considering the current problems with police-community relations.

“Therefore, we (the NMA) recommend that the new SHSP state in clear, definite and certain language that properly engineered speed limits must precede enforcement, and that the use of federal grant monies for speed enforcement must be limited to roadways posted at their statutory maximum or reduced based on federal guidelines, i.e., within 5 mph of the 85th-percentile speed of free-flowing traffic.”

Joe supported the recommendation by presenting several speed studies conducted at popular enforcement areas where 85th percentile speeds (and therefore common vehicle speeds) were 12 to 16 mph over the posted limit. Fish meet barrel.

As the SHSP Steering Committee meetings continued into 2017, Joe was granted the opportunity to address the SHSP Speed Team in person and to present the NMA’s recommendation that the use of federal grant money to enforce speed limits that fail to meet federal guidelines be discontinued.

After the presentation, a Virginia Highway Safety Office (VAHSO) executive in attendance said she would discuss the NMA recommendation with NHTSA where the state ticket blitz grant monies originate. While we wish we could say we were surprised by the response, that would be disingenuous: “I (VAHSO executive) mentioned that general description and she (NHTSA official) indicated generally that enacting your recommendation was not something they would require.” In other words, the federal agency that distributes funding to the states to conduct high visibility enforcement actions has no compunction to protect the public from speed traps. Rather, it overtly supports such activities.

As promised during our legislative campaign this past spring, the NMA has launched a concerted lobbying effort in Washington. We have initiated that effort by focusing on two key areas: 1) strengthening civilian protections against government seizure of property, and 2) combating the overreach of enforcement efforts as signified by the National Transportation Safety Board’s call in July to blanket U.S. roads with speed cameras and to ramp up funding for the type of enforcement activities that Joe Bahen and the NMA are fighting to regulate in Virginia.

We will publish our position papers for both of those initiatives within the next few issues of this e-newsletter.

Clearly we have our work cut out for us to break the institutionalized “ticketing for money” mindset on both the national and state levels.

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