Motorists Drive Too Fast or Do Not Yield to Pedestrians

Traffic speed can be critical to walkability and safety. While pedestrians may feel comfortable on streets that carry a lot of traffic at low speeds, higher speed traffic will discourage walking. Fast speeds increase the likelihood of pedestrians being hit and will make pedestrians feel uncomfortable. At higher speeds, motorists are less likely to see and react to a pedestrian, and even less likely to actually stop in time to avoid a crash. Higher speed crashes are much more lethal to pedestrians, with an 85 percent chance of a fatal injury to a pedestrian at 40 mph compared to a 5 percent chance of a fatality at 20 mph.2

Graph showing Pedestrian Fatalities Based on Speed of Vehicle

If you see cars speeding down your street or through your neighborhood, what can you do about it? There are several actions that can be taken, individually or together with your neighbors or city or town officials. These include:

  1. Talk to your neighbors — A solution will likely require involvement from others.
  2. Pursue education and enforcement — Educate others and work with other neighbors to set a good example.
  3. Pursue physical changes in your street or neighborhood — These will help to reduce speeds and encourage better road user behaviors.

Talk to your neighbors

A good first step is to figure out whether motorists are speeding are not. While this may not change what you want to accomplish (after all, perception can sometimes be as important as reality) this may impact the amount of assistance you can get from local traffic engineers or traffic enforcement officers.

Vehicle speeds can often seem high when you are close to the roadway, even when motorists are actually traveling under the legal speed limit. This is especially true on a quiet residential street. First, confirm what the speed limit is for the street where you see problems. This will not always be posted, as some towns and cities simply establish speed limits for arterial streets and residential streets. Your local traffic or police department may have radar guns that you can borrow and use to document speeds. They may also have a speed study program that they can use to check vehicle speeds.

Talk to your neighbors or neighborhood association (if you have one) to find out who else is concerned about speeding in your neighborhood and wants to help out. The more people you have that support your cause, the stronger your voice for change will be.

Pursue education and enforcement

In most cases, speeding results from habit and poor road design, not from an intentional decision to break the law. "Speeders" are not bad people from somewhere else—most are neighbors and friends. Their reasons for speeding aren't malicious either: in addition to perceiving that they can drive fast, people speed because they are behind schedule and trying to make up for lost time, they are unaware of the speed limit, or they are trying to keep up with other traffic. Others speed because they are so familiar with their own neighborhood that they do not realize how fast they are traveling.

Education: raise awareness of speeding

Though the effects are not immediate and may not be substantial, undertaking a neighborhood public education campaign to discourage speeding can change the social acceptability of speeding. Here are some ideas:

  • Install banners or yard signs reminding motorists to slow down.
  • Get to know more of your neighbors. Organize neighborhood events that get people out on the street and meeting each other. Motorists may be less likely to speed if they know the people they are passing on the street.
  • Start a Pace Car Program to set an example by always driving the speed limit yourself. See the Case Studies for more examples of these programs.

See the Education section for more detailed information.

Community enforcement: begin a speed monitoring program

Some communities have speed monitoring programs, such as a neighborhood speed watches, which train residents to use radar in their neighborhoods and provides free equipment for a certain period of time, often for a week. The information the resident gathers is usually matched with driver and motor vehicle records and then the city or town sends a letter to the vehicle's registered owner advising the owner their vehicle was seen speeding. The letter appeals to the owner or driver for voluntary compliance to slow down on neighborhood streets. Speeding tickets are not issued in this program. Though some residents feel that such monitoring is time consuming, people who have participated in such programs feel it is a worthwhile educational program, helping citizens understand the speeding issues in their neighborhoods and encouraging motorists to drive more slowly.

Police enforcement: request increased support from law officers

Enforcement, especially when combined with education and other speed reducing measures, can play a role in deterring motorists from speeding on some streets. When you call the police department, be prepared to provide details about speeding on the street. Let them know the specific location, the time of day, and the day of the week speeding usually occurs so that they have a good idea of what to expect. It is also best to provide your name and contact information, and ask for the enforcement results. Police will typically give more emphasis to a person who they can follow-up with rather than an anonymous caller. If you have not already performed speed studies on your street, the police department may begin with one.

Enforcement should not be seen as a complete fix, since officers will only be present on a temporary basis. A good resource which may help you and your police department identify your neighborhood's problem is the Department of Justice "Speeding in Residential Areas" guide. Also see the Enforcement section for more detailed information.

Speed trailers

Though expensive and sometimes prone to vandalism, mobile units that monitor and display vehicle speeds, also known as SMART Trailers or speed display boards, can also be effective in slowing down drivers and gathering data. Neighborhood associations or watch groups can agree to monitor the speed display board to minimize vandalism. According to the US Department of Justice "Speeding In Residential Areas" guide (pg. 18), "Speed display boards have been shown to reduce speeds and crashes, and appear to be at least as effective as speed cameras in reducing speeds, and do so more cost-effectively."

Call your town hall to see if they have such resources available for your use. If not, suggest to the proper town officials that they initiate these programs in your community. It is best to use a speed display board that flashes a red and blue light or white flashes or some other message instead of the high speed. This will discourage people from seeing how high of a number they can make the sign display. The police should be encouraged to conduct some speed enforcement downstream from the display board to increase the effectiveness of the device and educate motorists of some of the consequences they face if caught speeding.

Camera radar enforcement

Although not allowable in all states, some communities have found that camera radar enforcement systems have been effective. This program involves mailing a citation to a violator photographed speeding along a street after the speeder (or the vehicle owner) has been identified. Soon after a camera radar enforcement system was used in Fort Collins, Colorado, overall compliance to the speed limit rose from 17 percent to 38 percent. In some jurisdictions, the relatively inexpensive protective boxes in which speed cameras are placed are mounted in many locations, leaving drivers uncertain as to which boxes actually contain cameras at any particular time. As controversial as camera radar enforcement has been, there is no doubt that it has raised the awareness about speeding and its consequences. To make camera radar enforcement more acceptable to the public and elected officials, the speed limits must be reasonable and well-signed. The community must understand that the goal of this enforcement tool is to improve safety and not to spy or generate revenue.

Pursue physical change in your street or neighborhood

Sometimes education and enforcement efforts are not enough to reduce motorist speeds. This section discusses how the physical environment contributes to motorist speeds.

How to design a neighborhood that discourages speeding

Here are some concepts to keep in mind when thinking about how to reduce speeding in your neighborhood:

  1. Narrower streets or travel lanes will usually slow things down.
    • Motorists will have difficulty speeding on a 25-foot residential street with parking on both sides. Wider streets are typically desired by local Fire Departments, but a compromise is often needed to provide calmer streets which result in fewer crashes.
    • A 10-foot travel lane on an arterial street is wide enough to accommodate most traffic.
    • Lanes can be narrowed by installing a painted bike lane or striped shoulder along the street in addition to a centerline. This technique may also be used to preserve space along the street for bicyclists and create a separation between pedestrians and motor vehicles.
  2. STOP signs will not necessarily reduce speeding issues.
    • STOP signs are used to indicate who has the right-of-way. Placing STOP signs where there is no need for one leads motorists to lose respect for them. Traffic calming measures (see below and in Engineering section) are more effective in reducing motorist speeds than the placement of STOP signs.
  3. A neighborhood that is alive with people invites motorists to slow down.
    • Notice your own habits when driving. Do you naturally find yourself driving faster when there is no life on the street? Notice how you drive on a street that is filled with pedestrians. Getting more people out walking may have more of an impact on motorist speeds than you may think.
    • Don't discount the importance of streetscape. Seeing people on their porch or in their front gardens adds to the life of a neighborhood. Neighborhoods that are good for pedestrians are better at slowing motorists.

Other easy physical fixes to reduce speeding

A variety of physical improvements can reduce speeding. Since wide streets encourage motorists to speed, first look to see if there are any quick and easy solutions.

  • One question to ask before you explore expensive physical improvements is whether there is something else contributing to motorists using your street. For instance, does a parallel roadway often back up, sending frustrated motorists down your street as a cut-through route? The core of the problem may then be on a different street.
  • Are you or your neighbors parking too far off the street? When speed is perceived to be a problem, residents sometimes park partly off the street (onto the sidewalk or planting strip) to avoid their vehicle being sideswiped by a speeder. This only makes the problem more real. Encourage your neighbors to park correctly.
  • Is the edge of the street defined? Streets without curbs don't give motorists a cue about where to park. Work with your local government for long-term solutions, but in the meantime work with neighbors to determine where you should park.
  • Are there street trees on your block? Planting trees can change the visual feel of your street and make it appear narrower than it really is. Do some research into the best trees to plant in your location, taking into consideration roadway and maintenance issues.
  • Strobe light signals, flashing beacons, and pedestrian warning signs in eye-catching fluorescent colors can improve drivers' awareness of special conditions and the presence of pedestrians, and may reduce speeding.
  • Traffic calming devices typically cost money. If your community does not have funds to implement built traffic calming devices, suggest your community try starting with paint. Painting speed limits or "SLOW" on the road surface, in combination with posting roadside signs, may help reduce speeds. With guidance from your local traffic office, painted versions of traffic circles, chicanes and curb bulbs may be possible. There are also some innovative ideas of things to do with paint:
    1. Intersection murals
    2. Intersection repair
  • Your community may have a special approach for speeding in school zones. The creation or an extension of a school zone may involve signs, striping, signals, traffic calming devices, or enhanced police enforcement in the blocks immediately surrounding schools.

Work with your city or town to slow motorists through construction of traffic calming devices

Motorists commonly speed on streets that are too straight and wide open. Traffic calming devices can slow the speeds of motorists on such streets in two ways:

  1. Horizontal changes: motorists must do something besides go straight (for example, going around a traffic circle or diverting around a chicane).
  2. Vertical changes: motorists must go up and down (for example, going over a raised crosswalk or speed hump).

While speed reductions can greatly increase pedestrian safety, the safety benefits of reduced speeds extend to motorists and to cyclists as well. If city or town officials determine that a traffic calming device is appropriate for your neighborhood, then the width of the street, the amount and speed of traffic, and the type of street will help determine what alternatives are possible for your street.

What is "traffic calming?"

According to the Institute of Traffic Engineers (ITE), "Traffic Calming is the combination of mainly physical measures that reduce the negative effects of motor vehicle use, alter driver behavior and improve conditions for non-motorized street users." In essence, traffic calming is an approach that communities can undertake in neighborhoods to:

  • Slow down motor vehicle traffic
  • Reduce the frequency and severity of crashes
  • Increase both the actual safety and the perception of safety for pedestrians and bicyclists
  • Reduce the need for police enforcement
  • Enhance the street environment
  • Increase access for all modes of transportation (especially bicyclists and pedestrians)
  • Reduce cut-through motor vehicle traffic

The approach involves the installation or construction of road treatments which include raised devices (such as speed humps and raised crosswalks), roadway narrowing, horizontal shifts in the roadway, or planting trees along the street.

What kind of traffic calming devices are there?

For a brief overview of the type of traffic calming devices that may be appropriate for your neighborhood, visit the Traffic Calming section.

Depending on the characteristics of your street, neighborhood, and corresponding traffic speeds and volumes, your community's traffic engineering department may determine that a specific traffic calming device or a combination of traffic calming devices may work best for your street. According to PEDSAFE, areas where traffic calming devices are present should be adequately signed, marked, and lit to be visible to motorists and a series of devices may be needed to have the desired effect so that motorists won't speed up between devices.

How can I find out if traffic calming is available for my neighborhood?

Most cities have a procedure for requesting the construction of traffic calming devices. It is usually necessary to make an official request and have the support of other residents in your neighborhood for the traffic calming device. In most cases, requests are reviewed and ranked on an annual basis according to established criteria, such as the speed and amount of traffic, and a number of other safety concerns. The areas in the most immediate need of traffic calming — those with the greatest safety concerns or most excessive traffic conditions — will be treated first.

Who pays for traffic calming?

The city or town may cover part or all of the cost of the traffic calming device depending on how serious the speeding problem is and how expensive it is to fix it. Likewise, it is also possible that you and your neighbors may be asked to cover part or all of the cost of the device. Your homeowner's association (if you have one in your neighborhood) or some other neighborhood association may be able to cover the expense if it decides the issue is important enough. Because many localities have more requests for traffic calming than funds to implement them, if your neighborhood is able to raise some funds on its own, then your city or town will be more likely to provide matching funds to construct traffic calming in your neighborhood.