Breaking the law: speeders or speed enforcers?

Recent media attention across the United States has people chattering about photo enforcement. Although speed and red light cameras (the most prevalent of photo enforcement) have been in use for decades, recent controversies have pitted law enforcers...


Recent media attention across the United States has people chattering about photo enforcement. Although speed and red light cameras (the most prevalent of photo enforcement) have been in use for decades, recent controversies have pitted law enforcers against law makers and have landed city representatives and law enforcement managers in court opposite the citizens they strive to serve and protect. Part of the recent controversy are the public/private partnerships between law enforcement agencies and the companies providing the technology and sharing in the revenues generated by ticketed drivers, legislative issues and lawsuits.

Speed cameras

Both mobile and fixed cameras exist. “Mobile is set up with radar,” Tom Herrmann, director of public information at Redflex Traffic Systems, says. “It’s local law enforcement determining the threshold speed and where the van’s going to be. In many cases there are signs prior, and since our primary goal is increasing safety by decreasing speeds, if people see that and slow down, that’s good.”

Laser Technology Inc. offers the LTI 20-20 TruCam. “The TruCam is more a mobile system,” explains Paul Adkins, marketing communications manager for LTI.

The other form is fixed. “There are sensors in the ground that will register if a car is going beyond the threshold speed,” states Herrmann. “That will activate the camera.” Often fixed cameras do not have an officer nearby to be a secondary observer of a violation. The violator receives the ticket in the mail. Fixed units appear to be at the heart of a lot of the controversy over intentions (safety vs. revenue) and purpose (deterrence).

Why choose speed cameras?

Speed cameras are an efficient use of resources, both in patrol and in court. “What this does is gives the police department an option to enforce speed and still leaves officers available to do the many other things they do,” explains Herrmann. “It’s a lot more costly to have an officer sit at an intersection for the time you want to enforce speed. If you put in a camera, you can take that officer off that assignment and use him or her in another area; you get a greater reach for your money [and] be more effective in your community.”

Courts also see a benefit. “When an officer is able to go in [to court] with photo evidence, here’s what happens,” states Adkins. “After a couple of times, [the court] shows they have them on video or a still image and the guilty pleas come so quickly, the people behind them say to their attorneys, ‘let’s just pay it.’ It helps with cutting down on court time.”

The main point: Deterrence

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 30 percent of all fatal crashes involve one or more drivers exceeding the speed limit. The economic cost of speeding-related crashes is estimated at $40.4 billion per year. A survey conducted by the Gallup Organization in 2002 indicated three quarters of the respondents admitted to driving over the speed limit on all types of roads over the last month, with one-quarter admitting to speeding on the day of the interview.

Speed cameras assist in deterring speeding in two ways: The first is immediate. When drivers know cameras are present, especially due to signage and media coverage, drivers decrease their speed. “At the time of the violation, as the truck is sitting on the road … you slow down. The person behind you slows down,” explains Herrmann. The presence of the cameras changes immediate driver behavior. “[Speeding is] a huge epidemic,” Adkins says. “The fines are being established to deter, not to make money. There’s no ulterior motive here.”

Along with immediate deterrence, speed cameras encourage the changing of drivers’ behavior in the long run. “In the short term, I slow down for the camera,” Adkins says. “You might not see the change of behavior in a week or a month, but over time as the cameras are there you’ll see a reduction.”

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