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NHTSA People Saving People

Technology Transfer Series

Number 252 July 2001

Trend Analyses Of Traffic Law Enforcement

In recent years, the demand for law enforcement services has increased, while the resources available to provide those services have remained relatively constant. There is a perception in the traffic safety community that, in many instances, relatively fewer resources are being allocated to traffic safety enforcement as law enforcement agencies strive to meet the many demands placed on them by society.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sponsored a study by Mid-America Research Institute to use objective measures of enforcement activity, such as numbers of traffic citations issued and the average number of citations per patrol officer by year, to describe the actual trends in traffic law enforcement activity over the past decade.

Law enforcement agencies (LEAs) with state, county, and municipal jurisdictions were recruited for this retrospective study. Eleven LEAs across the country that could provide data on moving traffic violations participated. Three of the LEAs were statewide agencies, one was a county agency, three were city, and four were full service sheriff's departments.

Statewide agencies

California Highway Patrol, Delaware State Police, Florida Highway Patrol

Countywide agencies

Douglas County Sheriff, Colorado; Orange County Sheriff, California; Seminole County Sheriff, Florida; Guilford County Sheriff, North Carolina; Fairfax County Police, Virginia

Participating sites provided the following information:

Traffic Law Enforcement is a Priority, but there is a Declining Trend in Numbers of Citations

Traffic law enforcement is still considered a top priority by most law enforcement agencies. There is, however, 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 that can be expended for traffic safety and the shortfall in resources has been magnified in recent years. At the same time, America's population is increasing and there is a corresponding increase in the number of licensed drivers. Generally, more drivers on the road means increased driver exposure leading to more crashes and more ensuing police investigations. These demands can impact the resources available for other aspects of traffic enforcement as well as for dealing with increasingly complex criminal issues.

Sheriff's Departments Show Increases

Within the context of this study, the only type of law enforcement agency that showed an increase in traffic law enforcement activity were sheriff's departments. Three of the four sheriff's agencies showed increasing trends of traffic citations. Most agencies of all categories reported that citizen input stimulated their emphasis on traffic enforcement, rather than other reasons (such as the public good, or reducing the toll in injury and deaths due to traffic crashes). It is interesting to note that the only agencies actually increasing traffic enforcement activity were those where the top administrator was an elected official.


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 result in safer roads. Falling enforcement levels will ultimately threaten public safety.

Traffic law enforcement efforts must be increased, but not at the expense of other worthwhile system components. Based on the conclusions of this project, the following suggestions may prove useful for increasing traffic law enforcement:

The report includes detailed information, graphs, and charts for different types of agencies and their communities. It describes traffic law enforcement activities by type, labor hours in some jurisdictions, population changes, and the ratio of officer to licensed drivers. It also documents the strategies agencies used to allocate scarce resources in the face of rising demands.

Limitations of Study

This study attempted to identify trends in activity relating to traffic law enforcement by the participating law enforcement agencies and was not intended to evaluate the effectiveness of the activities in the jurisdictions studied. Due to the relatively small number of LEAs reviewed, the findings should be viewed as trends which might be representative of similar types of law enforcement agencies across the country.


To order a copy of A Trend Analysis of Traffic Law Enforcement in the United States (92 pages), write to the Office of Research and Traffic Records, NHTSA, NTS-31, 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20590, or fax (202) 366-7096, or download from Patty Ellison-Potter, Ph.D., was the contract manager.

U.S. Department
of Transportation
National Highway
Traffic Safety

400 Seventh Street, S.W. NTS-31
Washington, DC 20590

Traffic Tech is a publication to disseminate information about traffic safety programs, including evaluations, innovative programs, and new publications. Feel free to copy it as you wish.

If you would like to receive a copy contact:

Linda Cosgrove, Ph.D., Editor, Evaluation Staff
Traffic Safety Programs
(202) 366-2759, fax (202) 366-7096