Speed safety cameras: Examining the effect of driver versus owner liability on speeding recidivism

Speed safety cameras (SSCs) can be an effective countermeasure for reducing speeding behavior, while also being a more objective, adaptable, and resource-saving countermeasure that has the potential to address equity concerns in traffic safety, an important component of the U.S. DOT’s National Roadway Safety Strategy. For these reasons, there has been increased SSC implementation and use in some States. One consideration in the implementation and use of SSCs is liability for SSC violations. Liability for SSC violations varies by State between vehicle owners versus drivers. The most common approach is for States to hold liable the owner of the vehicle detected speeding by the SSC. While the vehicle owner may not necessarily be the driver at the time of the SSC violation, the assumption is that they are more commonly one and the same. Compared to a driver-liability approach, there are many cited benefits of the vehicle-owner liability approach, such as ease of license plate versus driver recognition; improved processing efficiency, increasing certainty of penalties for more speeding violators; reducing privacy concerns; reducing burdens on the court system; and reducing equity concerns. With this approach, violations are typically less punitive, often treated more like parking tickets—there are fines, but no criminal charges are brought, no “points” are assessed to the driver’s license, and the violations are not reported to insurance companies. Despite the benefits of this approach over a driver liability approach, there are concerns that it does not work as well to prevent risky driving and reduce recidivism. Less commonly, some States take a driver-liability approach, which requires identification of the actual driver at the time of the SSC violation by manually matching drivers’ SSC images with driver license photographs. With this approach, penalties are often more punitive, such as license sanctions being levied against the driver. Despite the benefits of this approach, the requirement to identify and process violations against specific drivers is complex and effortful, involves additional data confidentiality and privacy concerns, and involves equity concerns from human involvement in the review and citation process. Given the vast legal and logistical differences and potential pros and cons of each approach, it is beneficial to understand these nuanced differences and the impact these differing approaches have on speeding outcomes. To date, little research has examined the effect of SSC liability on SSC violations. Some evidence (Calvert, Overberg, & Rust; 2019) has shown that select cities in States that hold vehicle owners liable and treat violations like parking violations (e.g., no points on license, min. fine of $35-$75) had higher repeat offender rates than in select cities in States that hold drivers liable and treat violations like moving traffic violations (e.g., min. fines of $160-$280, points assessed against a driver’s license). This pattern among a handful of cities provides preliminary evidence that the liability approach for SSCs may result in differing recidivism rates; however, further investigation into the effect of SSC liability on speeding recidivism is warranted as this is one of few, if not the only, examination of this specific issue. Moreover, tangential research involving law enforcement officer-related stops has provided support for the effect of differing sanctions on speeding recidivism, including the effect of sanction strength (i.e., fine amount;) and sanction type (i.e., type of legal penalty; Goncalves & Mellow, 2017; Lawpoolsri, Li, & Braver, 2007; Li et al., 2011; Watson, Fleiter, & Soole, 2015). Given that the differing approaches to SSC violations often inherently involve differing sanction types, these findings provide further indication that different approaches to SSC liability, with differing sanction types, may influence speeding behavior; however, law enforcement officer-related stops and SSCs are fundamentally different enforcement approaches, and it is unclear whether and how this pattern found among the officer stops translates to SSCs. Given the limitations of the existing research, the current project aims to address gaps in the literature by examining the effect of SSC liability on drivers’ SSC violations, particularly recidivism. Additionally, to ensure that SSCs are applied equitably to all drivers, including those who belong to historically underserved and marginalized communities, the project aims to explore equity-related questions about the use of speed safety cameras and speeding recidivism. To answer the research question, the project will utilize retrospective administrative data about drivers’ SSC violations (i.e., speeding) from localities with differing approaches to SSC liability (i.e., vehicle owner versus driver). The results will provide a better understanding of the primary research question about how SSC liability approaches may influence speeding behavior, particularly recidivism. Further, it will provide an opportunity to answer exploratory questions, gaining insight into other aspects and differences of SSCs by localities’ SSC liability approach. Given the importance of this increasingly used countermeasure to reduce speeding behavior, the findings of this study will be useful for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), localities with existing SSC programs and those interested in implementing SSCs, law enforcement, lawmakers, and other traffic safety stakeholders.


    • English


    • Status: Active
    • Funding: $470645
    • Contract Numbers:


    • Sponsor Organizations:

      National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

      1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
      Washington, D.C.  United States  20590
    • Managing Organizations:

      National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

      1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
      Washington, D.C.  United States  20590
    • Project Managers:

      Jeleniewski, Stacy

    • Performing Organizations:

      ToXcel, LLC

      7140 Heritage Village Plaza
      Gainesville, VA  United States  20155
    • Start Date: 20230925
    • Expected Completion Date: 20261231
    • Actual Completion Date: 0
    • USDOT Program: Behavioral Safety Research

    Subject/Index Terms

    Filing Info

    • Accession Number: 01894287
    • Record Type: Research project
    • Source Agency: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
    • Contract Numbers: 693JJ921D000034/693JJ923F000200
    • Files: RIP, USDOT
    • Created Date: Sep 25 2023 12:01PM