Here at Ridelust, we’ve written about red-light cameras before. We came to the conclusion, after reading tons of research, that red-light cameras are not only ineffective, but downright dangerous. Well, the same can be said for speed cameras.
Speed cameras use radar to track your cars speed. If they detect you speeding, they take a picture of your license plate so you can be sent a ticket. It’s great for the local government because it increases their revenue, but it’s terrible for the local population because it extorts money from them and pits the government against the people.
I’ve said it before when I talked about red-light cameras: in our system of government, there are two types of laws. Good laws (ie laws that benefit everyone), which are a “public good” (their producers don’t receive enough of their value to make it worth the effort) and are thus under-provided; and Bad laws, (laws that benefit special interests at the expense of everyone else) which are a “private good” (their producers receive most of their value) and thus over-provided. Since speed cameras are generating revenue for a small number of special interests at the expense of the wider population, they’re over-provided.
Here are the top ten reasons speed cameras are bunk:
1. People who get tickets aren’t properly notified
First of all, most governments using ticket cameras send out tickets via first class mail. That means there is no guarantee that the accused motorists will even receive the ticket, let alone understand it and know how to respond. The driver may not receive the ticket until days or even weeks after the alleged violation. That makes it near impossible to defend oneself. But no matter what happens, the government makes the assumption that the ticket was received, and if it’s unpaid, they assume the driver refused to pay on purpose, and a warrant may be issued for their arrest.
2. The driver of the vehicle is not positively identified
It doesn’t matter who was driving the car at the time of the citation, the owner of the car is assumed to be guilty. This flies in the face of a major tenet of our legal system: innocent until proven guilty.
3. There is no certifiable witness to the alleged violation
The sixth amendment: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to… be confronted with the witnesses against him”. This is commonly called the right to face your accuser. With a camera violation, there is no accuser to confront or question. There is no one who can testify to the circumstances of the alleged violation. And even if there is an officer overseeing the operation of the camera, it’s unlikely he’ll remember the events of that particular day.
4. Ticket camera systems are designed to inconvenience motorists
The whole traffic court system is designed to put the most amount of difficulty on the driver, to make it less likely they’ll argue their ticket. Under the guise of protecting motorist privacy, the court or private contractor that sends out tickets often refuses to send a copy of the photo to the accused vehicle owner. The real reason they do this is because many, if not most, of the photos don’t clearly show the driver. Usually, you have to go to the municipal building just to see the photo, which is an obvious attempt to make it more difficult to challenge a ticket. They know that most people will be more likely to just pay a ticket rather than take a day off of work to contest a ticket.
5. Ticket cameras do not improve safety.
There is no independent verification that speed cameras improve safety or reduce overall accidents. The only research that says they do decrease accidents is done by the infamous and notoriously biased IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).
It’s also been shown that cameras result in “bunching”, where drivers hit their brakes when they see a speed camera and disrupt the flow of traffic. There’s a direct correlation between traffic flow/congestion and accidents.
6. There are better alternatives to cameras
Most speed cameras are near intersections. If intersection controls are properly engineered, installed, and operated, there will be very few violations or accidents. So from the motorists perspective, government funds should be used on improving the infrastructure, not on ticket cameras. The millions of dollars spent on ticket cameras and traffic court could be better spent on increasing the quality of roads, increasing their flow capacity, etc. Cities can choose to make roads safer with sound traffic engineering or make money with ticket cameras. Unfortunately, many pick money over safety.
7. Photo radar is still radar, and it can generate false readings
Speed radar gives false positives, it’s not perfect. Speed cameras don’t have the back of a human brain , they just indiscriminately ticket. There is no visual estimation, no qualified police officer backing up the system.
8. This type of enforcement emphasizes ticket volume
Despite claims to the contrary, photo radar is used in locations characterized by high traffic volume and under-posted speed limits. It is not profitable to use photo radar on residential streets, low volume roads or where speed limits are posted at the 85th percentile (the speed at which they should be posted).
9.Taking dangerous drivers’ pictures doesn’t stop them
Taking a picture of reckless scofflaw does nothing. For the the truly dangerous drivers, or drunken drivers, cameras are completely useless. And they may in fact give the local police a false sense of security.
10. Photo radar encourages artificially low speed limits
The rule of thumb for setting speed limits is the 85th percentile rule (85 percent of the traffic should be flowing at or below the posted speed limit). But speed cameras create an incentive to set the speed limits below that level, since they’re generally not profitable when the speed limits are set that high. This is similar to the problem with red-light cameras, where local officials lower the yellow light timing to increase the number of tickets the red-light cameras give out.
The Most Important Point
The most important point is related to something called the paradox of the false positive, and it trumps all ten of these other points.
Even if all ten of these are wrong, even if these speed cameras really do reduce accidents by 50% or 75% or some other percentage, you have to put that into perspective. You have to know how many accidents were happening in a given area in the first place. If there were only 10 accidents from people speeding on a certain road, and they’ve been reduced by 5 accidents, that’s 50%… but is it worth the $3.7 million dollars a year that they take from motorists who get ticketed because of them? No, it’s clearly not. Those statistics are the illusion of quality.
Speed cameras are a waste of resources and pure robbery of the good citizens of whatever city is unfortunate enough to have them.
(with help from The National Motorists Association)