July 25, 2017 BY Kathleen Ferrierin News, U.S. Vision Zero Cities

Landmark National Study Urges Safety Over Speed

Vision Zero cities laud call for action to save 10,000 lives annually

We commend the work of the National Transportation Safety Board in issuing recommendations to dramatically reduce speed-related deaths and injuries and urgently raise public understanding of the deadly toll this under-addressed problem is taking nationwide.

Read the full press release from Vision Zero Network here.

In its landmark speed study, the NTSB, the nation’s leading authority on crashes and prevention strategies, called for stepped-up national leadership and modernization of speed practices, including a multi-modal approach to set speed limits and use of proven technologies such as automated speed enforcement, among other effective countermeasures championed by a growing number of Vision Zero communities.

"For too long, speed policies have been stuck in neutral, at the expense of more than 10,000 lives lost each year," said Leah Shahum Director of the national Vision Zero Network, a non-profit promoting the goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and severe injuries. "Attention to this problem is long overdue. This study should be a wake-up call to allow local communities the ability to manage speeds to save lives.”

NTSB identified dangerous speeds as an under-appreciated problem despite the fact that it is poses one of the greatest threats to public safety. More than 112,000 people died in speeding-related crashes in the U.S. from 2005 to 2014, averaging more than 10,000 deaths each year. This is on par with the number of drunk driving fatalities during the same time period, NTSB reported, yet receives far less attention. The impacts of speeding also come with an economic cost estimated at $52 billion in 2014, compared to $44 billion in losses from drunk driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"Proven policies to reduce speeding in our communities have been held hostage at the expense of more than ten thousand lives lost and many more lives permanently altered each year," said Shahum. "The real responsibility of prioritizing safety over speed falls not just on a driver’s behavior, but also on our policymakers and government institutions that have let this problem to fester for too long. If NTSB’s recommendations are implemented, many fewer people will suffer and die needlessly.” 

In its study, NTSB prevails on states to modernize speed practices and affirms the effectiveness of proven speed control technologies such as safety cameras, lower speed limits, and improved street design.

All of these tools are instrumental to reaching zero deaths and serious injuries. Where the majority of fatality crashes occur on local roads, local governments need the ability to set their own speeds. For too long, this hasn't been possible. Luckily, implementing recommendations outlined in the report will change this.

Download a synopsis of the NTSB speed study

Key Study Recommendations:

  • Encourage states and localities to authorize the use of automated speed enforcement, which is proven to be effective in managing speed, improving safety.
  • Revise traditional speed-setting standards to balance 85% approach with safe systems approach that better incorporates crash history, safety of pedestrians, bicyclists.
  • Incentivize state and local speed management activities.
  • Incorporate the safe system approach for urban roads to strengthen protection for vulnerable road users.
  • Increase federal attention, leadership and funding of speed as a national safety priority.

Vision Zero Communities Champion Speed Management Measures

Leaders in many Vision Zero cities know all too well the challenges to reduce and manage speeds on community streets. Overly restrictive policies have limited cities’ ability to prioritize safety over speed. State laws typically require states to establish speed limits on local roads, and many states deny the use of safety cameras on cities without state approval. Many states still establish speeds based on people’s behaviors, even when those behaviors include speeding.

Vision Zero cities are implementing speed management strategies at the local level and seeing results.

  • In New York City, officials installed speed cameras in 2013, and lowered the speed limit in 2014 from 30 to 25 mph after state legislators approved the change. Combined with other Vision Zero strategies, the city has cut roadway fatalities by 23 percent in the last 3 years. City officials report that an under-appreciated benefit of the speed limit change was driver education on speeding. Prior to the speed limit change and awareness campaign, only 30% of New York City drivers could correctly identify the city’s 30 MPH speed limit; afterwards awareness of the 25 MPH speed limit doubled to 60%.
  • In Portland, a speed camera program initiated in 1995 has lead to a 53% reduction in fatalities. 
  • Washington, D.C. installed speed cameras in 2001, one of the first programs in the U.S., and has seen speeding > 10 mph over the speed limit cut from 1 in 3 to 1 in 40. Further, they have reported a 70% reduction in fatalities.
  • In Seattle after mobile speed cameras were established at 4 school zones in 2012, the number of citations issued decreased by 34%, year over year, equating to approximately 10,000 fewer speeding cars each year across the zones.
  • More recently, Boston lowered speed limits from 30 to 25 mph with overwhelming city council support
  • Montgomery County, Maryland installed speed cameras in 2007 and has reduced by 59% the likelihood of a driver exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph and by 19% the likelihood of crashes resulting in fatalities or incapacitating injuries, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The study estimates that if all U.S. communities had speed camera programs like the one in Montgomery County, MD, more than 22,000 fatal or incapacitating injuries would have been prevented on 25-35 mph roads nationwide in 2015.

Local control over speed management is essential and the NTSB study gives credence to these cities' long time struggles to achieve this control.

Study Findings Support Vision Zero Approach

Deadly crashes 3 times more likely on local roads than highways, and surprise, speed management strategies are proven to be successful

A selection of report findings are listed below.

  • Speed increases the likelihood of serious and fatal crash involvement. This is why speed management and the ability for local cities to control speed is so critical to Vision Zero success.
  • Local roads bear brunt of severe crashes. Speeding-related fatality rates on local roads are 3 times higher than on highways: 3.8 deaths per billion VMT on local roads compared to 1.2 deaths per billion VMT on highways. This data point may be surprising at the national level, and it underscores the important work happening in Vision Zero cities to make changes.
  • Speed related crashes on par with alcohol. Between 2005 and 2014, even as the number of traffic fatalities decreased, speed-related crashes consistently accounted for 31%, on par with alcohol related fatalities which also accounted for 31%.


  • Automated Speed Enforcement technology is effective. States that permit automated speed enforcement have experienced positive results. Data in NTSB's report cites the review of 28 ASE studies, which collectively found the cameras reduced crashes 8-49%.
  • Historic, deadly speed setting practices may have unintended consequences. The study provides a history of the use of 85% to adjust speed limits in the U.S. and concludes it may have unintended consequences of encouraging higher speeds. Anyone familiar with the (somewhat wonky) 85% rule knows how frustrating it is. It establishes speed standards based on drivers' habits - allowing drivers who speed to set a higher speed limit for others, even at the risk of deadly crashes and life changing injuries. Imagine basing alcohol standards on alcohol use among 85 out of 100 drivers. The limit would keep increasing thereby allowing more and more people to drink and drive, and kill

"As local communities step up to save lives by managing speed on our streets, we call for state and national government to advance NTSB's recommendations. It's literally the difference between life and death,” says Leah Shahum.


Partner voices on Speed, NTSB Study

Assemblymember David Chiu, California, District 17

"You can change laws and increase speed limits, but you cannot change the laws of physics. Speed kills. And, it is causing 30 percent of all traffic deaths. Fortunately, proven strategies are available to address this neglected public health crisis, starting with setting speed limit policies that put safety first. Our communities deserve to have the ability to use the most effective tools to stop this senseless and preventable loss of life.”

* Assemblymember Chiu championed a bill in 2017 to pilot automated speed enforcement in the two Vision Zero communities of San Francisco and San Jose.

Safe Routes to School Partnership, Cass Isidro, Executive Director

“Safe Routes to School initiatives get kids and families walking more — but a major barrier is high-speed, high-traffic roads. Unfortunately, local communities are hampered by confusing or outdated engineering practices and state restrictions that rob them of the ability to lower speed limits to protect kids and families. We applaud NTSB for calling attention to the critical matter of reducing speeds and protecting people of all ages.”

Governors Highway Safety Administration, Jonathan Adkins, Executive Director

"GHSA thanks NTSB for studying and evaluating approaches to reduce speeding-related traffic crashes and raising awareness of this critical safety issue. This NTSB action should spur responses at the national, state and local levels to prioritize addressing excessive vehicle speeds along with other pressing traffic safety problems."

New York City, Polly Trottenberg, NYC Transportation Commissioner

“In New York City, our aggressive effort to reduce speeding on our roadways has helped save lives. But we need more action at the state level to achieve Vision Zero. Backed with the results of the NTSB report, we call on the Federal government to lead the way by encouraging state governments to allow their localities to use the proven roadway safety tools and strategies that save lives.”

Montgomery County Police Department, Traffic Division, Captain Thomas Didone, Director

"Speed cameras, when incorporated into an agency’s traffic plan and managed with integrity, being void of political influence, are a valuable tool to change driver behavior and effectively reduce speeding that will ultimately save lives."

Family advocate, Kathy Sokolic, Austin, Texas

"By not allowing for slower speeds and modernized street designs, our local communities are being limited in providing safe conditions in our neighborhoods. This puts us all in danger and doesn't need to be this way, as this new study shows."

*Kathy's 9-year-old nephew Ben was hit by a driver in 2016 in his Austin, Texas neighborhood. Ben suffered incapacitating injuries and requires 24-hour care. 

Family advocate, Jenny Yu, San Francisco, California

“Every day is a struggle for my mom physically, mentally and emotionally, and it is a daily challenge for my siblings and I to tend to her every need. Our government leaders say safety is their number one priority. They must make good on that pledge by taking action now to ensure our roadways are safe."

*In 2011, Jenny's mother Judy Yu, now 66, suffered severe brain damage when she was hit by a speeding car while walking in a crosswalk in San Francisco.

Bike Walk Tampa, Christine Acosta, Executive Director

"It is unacceptable that 228 people lost their lives on Hillsborough County roadways, and 2,945 statewide in 2016. Florida continues to be one of the most dangerous states, especially for those of us walking and bicycling. These are lives that will be saved when our elected leaders use this study and make safety their top priority. We urge them to choose safety over speed."

The League of American Bicyclists, Ken McLeod, Policy Director

"The League of American Bicyclists has long supported the enforcement of speed laws and efforts to lower speed limits through enforcement and roadway design in order to improve the safety of people who bike. In recent years, speed reduction has been identified by our constituents as one of their top priorities."




Recommended as Best Practices research on speed cameras:

NHTSA/ FHWA Speed Management Program Plan

Related News

Highlights & Inspiration for Winning Funds: Safe Streets & Roads for All
While recent data showing a 4% decrease in traffic fatalities nationally in 2023 over 2022 offers a glimmer of hope, we know that far more attention and resources must be focused on stemming the unacceptable number of preventable roadway deaths and severe injuries in the U.S. The recently announced new round of funding from the […]
Harnessing Public Health Principles for Vision Zero: Near and Long-Term Strategies
With increasing urgency, researchers, advocates and practitioners are asking the question: How do we make our roadway safety efforts in the U.S. more effective and equitable? And increasingly, the most promising responses draw inspiration from the strategies used by the public health profession.  While transportation and public health have long shared a symbiotic relationship, unfortunately,  […]
Equity in Action: Forging Inclusive Vision Zero Safety Strategies
To achieve Vision Zero, we’ve got to recognize and address the disparities in who faces the greatest safety risks on our roadways, sidewalks and bikeways. Today, Black people are killed in crashes at a 30 percent higher rate compared to the white people and those living in low-income communities experience a fatality rate 35 percent […]
Scroll to Top