Caution: Camera on
Nobody would deny that traffic control devices – signal lights, road signs, road delineators, etc – are there to ensure safe and speedy movement of people and vehicles. Citizens expect and demand that governments ensure installation and maintenance of these devices. Governments also perform enforcement of the traffic regulations through fines and other legal actions against those who violate these regulations and cause property danger and/or harm to the public.
Conventionally, the enforcement has fallen upon local police. A cop issues a ticket to a driver who is either exceeding speed limit or runs a red light. Police also issue ticket to a driver who may have caused a crash. But this enforcement is spotty at best, and after-the-fact in case of an accident, as the police cannot be everywhere.
So, here comes technology to the rescue – across the country, cities big and small have begun to install red-light and speed cameras to ensure traffic safety, and becoming a common roadside feature. Study after study shows automated enforcement changes driver behaviour for the better.
Where photo enforcement is in use, red-light running violations and speeding violations typically decrease. With fewer crashes, communities also realise a cost-savings in public, commercial and private expenses. Therefore, the interest in red-light and speed cameras is phenomenal.
Hardly 13 years ago, red-light safety cameras were found in 25 communities in the United States. Today, more than 520 communities use this type of photo enforcement. That is an increase of nearly 2,000 per cent. Speed cameras show a similar trend. Less than 50 communities used speed cameras in 2009, but today, more than 135 communities use them. In one state alone, the cameras now produce more than 200,000 tickets and $13 million in fines annually.
There is no doubt, local governments realise red-light and speed cameras provide a safety benefit to their communities, that can only be achieved through constant 24/7 enforcement presence. Data supports the fact that red-light running crashes have decreased as the number of communities with red-light cameras has increased.
Public opinion is also high on automated enforcement. In one large city, 87 per cent of residents support red-light cameras and 76 per cent support speed cameras, according to poll results released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2013. Some may claim that this poll by the insurance industry may be somewhat self-serving, as reduced insurance claims help their bottom line.
But is use of automated devices become too popular among government and law enforcement officials? Are these automated devices being used to boost revenue under the guise of enhanced traffic safety? It’s now triggering a backlash over civil liberties and has become an issue for some who fear an out-of-control government.
Supporters of the automated enforcement counter by saying the only way cameras create revenue for a city is if a driver breaks the law and runs the red light or exceeds the speed limit. Cities have also added a layer of watchdog – a police officer reviews each violation and decides if a ticket and fine should be issued, just as if the officer was on location at the time of the infraction.
Because of public’s concern, new rules would require municipalities to ask for permission to use speed and red-light cameras only after other “engineering and enforcement solutions” had been tried. A legislative committee would review the new rules before they go into effect. Cities would have to show that the cameras are targeting “documented high-crash or high-risk locations” and would have to justify their renewal every year.
So, next time you are driving on an American road, make sure you have a photo ID, but, more importantly, take care not to be “photographed” by one of these devices.
By Louis Rumao