Speed Cameras: insidious plot or life saver?

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Speed cameras are an odd thing; they are intrusive, but save lives. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Speed cameras are an odd thing; they are intrusive, but save lives. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Speed cameras, also called traffic cameras, are controversial. Many believe automated enforcement to be an intrusion by the nanny state into our everyday activities, as well as our wallets though studies show they save lives.

Are speed cameras worthy protection or jack boots with a lens?

On paper, speed cameras are the best thing to happen to law enforcement since donuts. Police are free to fight real crime and the ticketed were caught lead-footing, so they should shut up and pay. However, it isn’t that simple.

Automated enforcement technologies like speed and red light cameras have been particularly troublesome; the private contractors who provide the equipment – since police just sign off on the ticket – are as crooked as a barrel of snakes. Cities have been caught calibrating camera and traffic signal systems to ensure more motorists get ticketed than otherwise should be. Also, motive for profit. Traffic enforcement yields funds, so the state has an interest in enforcing laws to gain revenues.

There is also the issue of due process. Some are ticketed without proof they were driving, violating the constitutional right to due process (which is satisfied when ticketed by an actual policeman) which multiple municipalities have been taken to court for. Various cities have had to expunge tickets or shut red light and speed camera systems down altogether. The city of Chicago, according to the Chicago Sun Times is currently facing a class-action lawsuit for unfair ticketing practices of red light and speed cameras, which could potentially cost the Windy City $600 million.

But they can save lives

Some might opine that speed cameras are the nanny state run amok. Speeding is a victimless crime, some might think, since it isn’t as if anyone gets hurt by it.

Except that they do. Speed, as the infamous traffic safety films attest, kills. Exact numbers vary, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Department of Transportation agree that – near as makes no difference – one-third of traffic deaths are due to excessive speed, almost the same as drunk driving.

Speed cameras help reduce crashes and fatalities. A recent study by the IIHS, according to Autoblog, found a 19.4 percent reduction in incapacitating or fatal crashes in an area with speed cameras.

The study looked at seven years of data from Montgomery County, Va., which employs 56 cameras with rotating locations. Of those surveyed, 96 percent of the population are aware of their use; 62 percent approve of them. Vehicles are tagged if traveling 11 to 12 miles per hour over the speed limit, depending on individual camera calibration.

The study found a 59 percent reduction in vehicles traveling 10 or more miles per hour over the posted limit compared to non-enforced control sites. That led to a 19.4 percent fewer deaths or serious injuries.

Other studies have found likewise, such as this literature review by the National Institutes of Health that examined a number of similar studies; the NIH found speed cameras in various areas reduced speeding by 14 to 65 percent, total crashes by 8 to 49 percent and fatalities by 11 to 44 percent. British and Australian studies have yielded similar findings.

Sticky wicket

The nanny state is annoying, even if speed cameras or other kinds of automated traffic enforcement are well-intentioned. State and local governments pumping their constituents for funds because they can and trying to evade responsibility for it is never acceptable.

However, neither is breaking the law or putting other people in jeopardy because yokel doesn’t think that traffic laws should apply to them.

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