Traffic Tech
Technology Transfer Series
Number 187January 1999


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a telephone survey in the spring of 1997 to learn about the public's experiences and beliefs about speeding, unsafe driving, including aggressive driving, enforcement, and other sanctions to counter these dangerous driving behaviors. A total of 6,000 interviews were completed in this nationally representative survey of drivers 16 and older. Volumes I and II reported the methodology and driver attitudes and behaviors (See Traffic Tech 186, January 1999). Vol III, Countermeasures, is available now.

Law Enforcement About Right

A majority of drivers felt police enforcement was about right for all road types. One in four, however, felt there was too little police enforcement on interstate roads (27 percent) and two in five felt that way about residential roads (40 percent). Only a small percentage (4-5 percent) felt there was too much enforcement. Even drivers who said they "enjoy the feeling of speed" felt more enforcement was needed on residential roads. Over half of all drivers thought that tailgating (61 percent) and weaving in and out of traffic (58 percent) needed more enforcement. At the same time, a majority of drivers felt that enforcement was about right for running red lights, running stop signs, and failing to yield. Half (51 percent) of all drivers felt that they could drive up to 9 miles per hour over the speed limit without getting a speeding ticket and almost two-thirds felt there was at least a 5 mph leeway when enforcing speed limits.

Personal Enforcement Experience

About one in seven drivers (14 percent) report that they have been stopped by police for a traffic reason in the past year. Males (16 percent) were more likely to have been stopped than females (12 percent), and this varied only slightly by location; urban (15 percent), suburban (13 percent), and rural (12 percent). The most striking difference in the frequency of encounters with police, is by age. Nearly three out of 10 drivers aged 16 to 20 (29 percent) and 21 to 24 (28 percent) report being stopped by police last year.

Those drivers who had been stopped by police in the previous 12 months were asked the reason police stopped them. The most common reasons were speeding (62 percent), traffic signal violations (7 percent), no lights (8 percent), stop sign violations (6 percent), and drinking and driving (2 percent).

There is a relationship between the driver's unsafe driving score (a composite of frequently occurring behaviors such as running red lights, weaving, and speeding) and the likelihood of being stopped by police for traffic reasons during the past year. Among those who report no unsafe driving, only 5 percent say they had been stopped in the past year. This increases to 16 percent for those whose driving scores are between 13 and 103, to 28 percent for those between 208 and 313, and to 38 percent for those above 314. The bad news is that the majority (62 percent) of those who frequently drive in an unsafe and illegal manner (unsafe driving score over 300) have never been stopped by police for traffic reasons in the past year. Thus, the risk of being caught is relatively low even among the most flagrant violators.

Insurance or Financial Penalties for Unsafe Driving

Seven percent of drivers report that their insurance has been canceled or their premiums increased as a result of claims or points in the past five years, with males (8 percent) being more likely than females (5 percent), and drivers aged 21-24 (13 percent) more likely than any other age group.

Attitudes about Photo Enforcement Devices

More than 7 in 10 drivers thought it was a good idea to use photo enforcement devices to reduce speeding, running red lights and stop signs. Those who thought photo enforcement was a good idea said it would decrease these unsafe actions and that it would provide solid proof of the violation. Conversely, those who thought it was a bad idea in these three situations cited privacy concerns and a preference for personal interaction with law enforcement officers. Over two-thirds thought the devices would curtail additional congestion at the pullover site, particularly in places where it is hazardous to stop. An even higher number of drivers supported photo devices in locations where crashes frequently occurred (four in five) and in school zones (nine in ten).

Countermeasures Rated

Drivers rated some countermeasures as to their effectiveness in reducing speeding and other forms of unsafe driving. Somewhat effective countermeasures:

More police assigned to traffic85 %87 %
More frequent ticketing82 %80 %
Double or triple fines81 %80 %
Revoking licenses more often81 %79 %
Increased insurance costs80 %71 %
Making the public aware
of the risks
72 % 79 %

The most acceptable countermeasures were increasing public awareness of the risks, more frequent ticketing, encouraging occupants to say something to the driver, and assigning more police to traffic.


For a copy of National Survey of Speeding and Other Unsafe Driving Actions, Volume III, Countermeasures, prepared by Schulman, Ronca, & Bucuvalas, Inc., write to the Office of Research and Traffic Records, NHTSA, NTS-31, 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20590, or send a fax to (202) 366-7096. Marvin Levy, Ph.D. was the contract manager, email

U.S. Department
of Transportation
National Highway
Traffic Safety
400 Seventh Street, S.W. NTS-31
Washington, DC 20590

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Linda Cosgrove, Ph.D., Editor, Evaluation Staff
Traffic Safety Programs
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