Friday, February 27, 2015

News: Legislation Proposed for a Federal Ban on Traffic Enforcement Cameras

Image courtesy of USAToday
I am not yet sure what to make of this, but earlier this month, Ed Perlmutter a legislator from the state of Colorado, proposed legislation to put in place a federal ban on the use of traffic enforcement cameras, including both red light and speed cameras. The motivation comes from the belief that the cameras are not used in the interest of public safety, but rather to fill the coffers of local municipalities to the detriment of the pocketbooks of local drivers. In the city of Denver, traffic enforcement cameras have netted more than $34 million in revenue. Having had my share of experience with these cameras while living in DC, I can certainly attest to the fact that I am no fan, but a full-on federal ban might be a bridge too far.

"Automated traffic technology should be used for improving public safety purposes rather than local governments relying on these devices to generate revenue. My constituents tell me these cameras are excessive and seem to do little to improve public safety,” Perlmutter indicated in a statement. This sentiment echoes what most drivers believe the intention of traffic enforcement cameras should be, but in practice, many municipalities have gone against good judgment and are taking actions that clearly seem more driven by the desire for revenue than in the interest of public safety. In fact, former White House Chief-of-Staff turned Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, faced a tense mayoral race where the city's use of traffic enforcement cameras was a major topic of debate and Emanuel stood accused of having the city's yellow light duration shortened in order to generate more revenue.

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In other cities and towns across the United States, police and municipal leaders are accused of putting in place an unfairly short yellow light duration and cripplingly slow speed limits as a way of filling local treasuries with ticket revenue, which most drivers pay just to avoid the hassle of dealing with the legal proceedings to fight the citation. Some municipalities have justified this by claiming that most of the travelers along their streets are from outside their jurisdictions and that this is therefore a way of helping their residents pay for the extensive use of their roads. Other jurisdictions simply deny that there are revenue implications.

Even the scientific studies that have been attempted on the usefulness of speed and red light cameras is inconclusive. Numerous studies attempted on the subject show either statistically insignificant variances in driver behavior or sometimes an increase in the number accidents due to drivers suddenly decelerating to avoid receiving a citation. One study even shows that red light cameras gains in decreasing perpendicular collisions at intersections was overshadowed by the increase in rear-end collisions that result. Most studies have shown that while the cameras have an impact on the immediate vicinity of the camera, they actually do little to alter driver behavior. Still, in the interest of safety, the proposed legislation has made allowances to see school and constructions zones exempted from the ban.

So as Congressman Perlmutter's legislation begins the long slog through the halls of Congress, it remains unclear if such legislation will ever see the President's desk as there are certainly just as many proponents for traffic enforcement cameras as there are detractors. Whatever its fate, we road users should give careful consideration to the real benefits and challenges that come from the use of these systems.

Which begs the question, do you support or decry the use of these automated traffic enforcement devices? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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