This study should be viewed as a broad, general measure of activity relating to traffic law enforcement by the participating law enforcement agencies. It should not be read as a measure of effectiveness of any particular law enforcement agency in protecting public safety on the roadways, nor is it meant to address the effectiveness of any traffic safety laws. Crash and injury data were not collected, nor was any information gathered on public education efforts regarding traffic safety issues. Types of data collected during this project included numbers of citations and/or violations for traffic-related offenses, labor expended, budgetary information, funding information and general policies and special programs dealing with traffic enforcement issues.
Any comparisons between the project sites are difficult due to the differences in:
Due to the relatively small number of LEAs reviewed, the findings should be viewed as trends which might be representative among similar types of law enforcement agencies across the country.
When examining citation rates as a measure of traffic law enforcement effort, one must be careful to examine the contributing categories of citations whenever possible. Total citations may not be an accurate metric of enforcement emphasis. In most agencies, speeding citations are issued more frequently than other citations. These violations are relatively easy for the officer to detect and write-up and seldom involve court time. Conversely, DWI arrests are among the most time consuming of arrests to make, as well as frequently requiring court appearances. Where the data have permitted, we have broken down traffic citations by category so that the reader may gain more insight into the overall traffic enforcement effort.
Traffic law enforcement is still considered a top priority by most law enforcement agencies. However, generally there is an overall declining trend in the number of citations being issued for all types of traffic violations combined. Demands on budgets and personnel have taken a toll on the amount of resources which can be expended for traffic safety. The shortfall in resources has been magnified in recent years. In addition to dealing with increasingly complex criminal issues which law enforcement agencies face today, in most of the jurisdictions studied, enforcement resources have remained stagnant in the face of an increasing population and number of licensed drivers. Generally, with increased driver exposure there are greater numbers of crashes and the ensuing investigations. These can impact the resources available for other aspects of traffic enforcement.
Within the context of this study, the only category of law enforcement agency which exhibited increases in traffic law enforcement activity as measured by citation volume were sheriff's departments. Three of the four such agencies contacted demonstrated increasing trends of traffic citations. Most agencies of all categories reported that emphasis on traffic enforcement was stimulated by citizen input, rather than other reasons, such as the public good, or reducing the toll in injury and deaths due to traffic crashes. However, it is interesting to note that the only agencies actually exhibiting increasing activity were those where the top administrator was an elected official, possibly feeling a more immediately compelling impetus to respond to public sentiment.
Command emphasis is obviously essential to sustaining traffic law enforcement levels. During times of budget shortfalls or a public safety problem, traffic enforcement is one of the first areas to be cut back. Without the support of senior staff and officials, efforts may decline. And, while dedicated traffic departments and units within an agency may provide a certain enforcement level and continuity to traffic law enforcement efforts, agencies which promote traffic law enforcement duties agency-wide (and among supervisory personnel as well as officers), also can maintain a fairly high enforcement level, as well as endorse the importance of highway safety within the agency.
Many of the jurisdictions we studied used grants to supplement local resources for traffic law enforcement. However, some indicated that the grant process was burdensome and that some grant requirements directed enforcement resources away from direct enforcement.
While the rates of traffic-related injuries and fatalities have been declining across the country in recent years, this decline can be attributed to a number of factors: safer vehicles and roads, stronger laws, better public information and education campaigns, as well as law enforcement efforts. However, this decline may have been greater had law enforcement efforts remained steady or had been able to increase to keep pace with the increased number of drivers and miles driven on our nation's roadways. Traffic law enforcement efforts on the roadways must be increased, but not at the expense of other worthwhile system components. In order to accomplish this and based on the conclusions drawn from this project, we offer the following recommendations.
While motorists are responsible for driving safely, law enforcement agencies are the only means of ensuring that traffic laws are obeyed. Their dedication to promoting safe driving and apprehending dangerous drivers assures safer roads. Falling enforcement levels will ultimately threaten public safety. Therefore, it is important that the prevailing downward trend be reversed. For its part, NHTSA intends to share the findings of this and other reports with members of law enforcement, as a part of the agency's ongoing dialogue with LEAs to encourage the agencies to enforce traffic safety.