Automated Speed Enforcement Pilot Project for the Capital Beltway: Feasibility of Photo-radar

Report No: 93-R6

Published in 1992

About the report:

Because of increasing difficulties in enforcing posted speed limits on the Capital Beltway around Washington, D.C., local officials proposed that experiments be conducted with photo-radar to determine if that method of automated speed enforcement (widely used in Europe for about 30 years and very recently employed in the western United States) could help reduce average speed and speed variance. A project task force led by the Virginia Department of State Police, with assistance from the Maryland Department of State Police and the Virginia and Maryland Departments of Transportation and with technical assistance from the Virginia Transportation Research Council, conducted site visits to cities in Europe and the United States where photo-radar is being used. The task force also invited six manufacturers of photo-radar equipment to staff and demonstrate their equipment. Five of the manufacturers conducted a 2-week series of tests on sections of interstate highways with varying volumes of traffic and different traffic characteristics. The tests, which were conducted from June through September 1990, were designed to provide the evaluators with data on the accuracy, reliability; and efficiency of each unit (in terms of the number of speeding cases that could potentially be generated by the use of photo-radar on the Beltway) and help the study team determine i photo-radar could be successfully deployed on the Capital Beltway as an enforcement tool. In addition, the project included an analysis of legal and constitutional issues associated with photo-radar use as well as an evaluation of public sentiment concerning the use of photo-radar on the Capital Beltway. The evaluators concluded that photo-radar use was feasible on high-speed, high-volume roads such as the Capital Beltway and, therefore, recommended efforts to pass state enabling statutes and test further the efficacy of photo-radar in actual traffic enforcement conditions. Although the results of the study indicate that it is feasible to use photo-radar on high-speed multilane roadways, further study is required to determine its effect on travel speed and safety. There are also important operational issues that must be considered when using this device. Some items of consideration are identification and selection of operational sites and times to deal with identified traffic safety and enforcement problems; provision of equipment-specific training programs for police officers to ensure the equipment is properly operated; provision for the availability of properly trained technical support personnel to ensure the continuing accuracy of the equipment; setting of speed thresholds that are realistically determined and target the excessive speeder; number of lanes on the roadway; visual obstructions on the roadway; and customizing of photo-radar applications to fit the highway safety problem area.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


Other Authors

Torsten Lienau, Robyne R. Lau,  Janice V. Alcee, Jonathan C. Black, Peter M. Wendzel, Wayne S. Ferguson, Nicholas J. Garber, Ph.D., Cheryl W. Lynn

Last updated: December 24, 2023

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