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Red light for AZ traffic cameras
July 19, 2010 3:13 PM   Subscribe

Arizona has turned off every speed camera on its highways after complaints that they violated privacy and were designed to generate revenue rather than promote road safety. The 76 cameras took 2.7 million photographs, but only 16 per cent of drivers who received a speeding ticket paid up.

NYT: Arizona Halts Photo Enforcement of Speed Laws

Arizona Republic: Ticket-generating speed cameras on the state's freeways were shut down Thursday night, but those at a dozen Chandler intersections are still capturing lead-footed drivers and red-light runners.

Meanwhile in Ohio:

Citizens groups in Garfield Heights and South Euclid say they have the signatures to get amendments to ban unmanned traffic cameras on ballots in their cities this November.

A pair of Cuyahoga County, Ohio cities are likely to have a public vote on banning red light cameras and speed cameras in November. Once approved, these municipalities will join Anaheim, California; Baytown and Houston, Texas; and Mukilteo, Washington in voting on the future of cameras on November 2.
posted by thescientificmethhead (155 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Damn. Now I don't know whether to love her or hate her.
posted by clarknova at 3:16 PM on July 19, 2010


"Jan Brewer... said she 'was uncomfortable with the intrusive nature of the system'"

Man, if she thinks that's bad, wait until she hears about the new laws demanding proof of citizenshi...

oh.
posted by Riki tiki at 3:18 PM on July 19, 2010 [62 favorites]


So...speeding Arizonians get angry...and their way! For joy!
posted by Atreides at 3:18 PM on July 19, 2010


It's a great populist issue to be against video enforcement of speeding. But whenever I hear someone going on about how "they cause accidents" or "they're just a money grab by the state", it all sounds hollow.

It always struck me that the main reason people don't like the cameras is that people just don't like to get caught speeding.

As for Brewer, there are far more reasons to dislike her, including making up horror stories of beheaded citizens in the desert to scar folks into anti-immigrant fervor, her rubber-stamping the nutbag right wingers in the State Lege and her support of the bigoted power-abuser Arpaio.
posted by darkstar at 3:21 PM on July 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


Daily Show clip about the photo radar (Olivia Munn report)
posted by hopeless romantique at 3:22 PM on July 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm fairly okay with this. It's not exactly unknown that certain cities who put up red light cameras at intersections also shorten the yellow light times as they do so, despite the amount of evidence indicating that, if you care about safety, you'd extend yellow light times. In those situations, can it be anything but a naked revenue grab?

A slight leveling off in the our "percent surveillance until omnipresence is achieved" growth rate seems like a good deal to me.
posted by adipocere at 3:23 PM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't have a cohesive argument here, so I'm just gonna dump my thoghts.

I hope there's a similar level of outrage about speeding drivers and red light runners as there was about drunk drivers in that other thread.

When you drive you enter a contract with other motorists and pedestrians to adhere to the rules of the road and to drive safely. You're in a death machine.

How is a speed camera any more a violation of privacy than a guy sitting there with a handicam? I'll admit I'm not a big fan of tracking and cameras in public places, but they're there, we might as well use them to deter people from speeding.

I've always wondered why they don't just ban production of vehicles that travel over a certain speed.

I have no time for the argument that speed cameras are revenue generators. Of course they are. Roads are expensive, and so are road accidents. Even minor crashes cost thousands of dollars of police time. The alternative is higher taxes. I'd rather tax people that are putting my life at risk.

The 76 cameras took 2.7 million photographs, but only 16 per cent of drivers who received a speeding ticket paid up.

This is ridiculous.
posted by doublehappy at 3:28 PM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


The alternative is higher taxes. I'd rather tax people that are putting my life at risk.

Yes, but what about the children? Maybe there should just be a tax on people who get into accidents.
posted by rhizome at 3:34 PM on July 19, 2010


I don't have too much of a problem with automated red light or speeding cameras if and only if the amount of the fine is lowered in proportion to the increased number of fines issued. Normal speeding ticket fines are fairly high in order to bring the expected cost of speeding up to the point that it functions as a deterrent. In other words, most speeders don't get caught, so the fine needs to be high or else more people will chance it.

But of course doing so would probably mean lowering the fine to a few tens of dollars at most, which would hurt government revenue, so it will never happen.

I'd rather tax people that are putting my life at risk.

That's fine in my opinion if the ticket revenues go into, say, an accident compensation fund for the victims of accidents or maybe even if it went to the Department of Transportation. It's not okay if it just goes into the general coffers or to the police, one of which is usually the case. Using fines as a revenue generator is an incredibly regressive, arbitrary, inefficient form of taxation. Cities that need to pull in more money should simply raise taxes progressively, not ratchet up fines.
posted by jedicus at 3:38 PM on July 19, 2010


The real problem, in my mind, is that the cameras aren't run by a public agency. Whether they're red light cameras or speed cameras, they're frequently contracted out to a company (the AZ cameras were run by Redflex Traffic Systems), and often the contracted company claims a percentage of the fines as their fee for running the cameras.

That opens the door to great abuses on behalf of the contracted company to find ways to rig the cameras to issue more and more tickets in order to maximize profits.

I've only gotten one moving violation in the past decade, and that was from a speed camera between Phoenix and Scottsdale. When I went in to contest it I was basically told that there was no way to argue with the technology (despite there being a slew of other cars in the photo which was taken of me, which easily could have confused the radar, etc). It seems a fundamental part of the law is the ability to challenge the charges against one's self. But between the money grab on behalf of the companies running the cameras and the attitude that the system is infallible... I'm glad they're going away.
posted by hippybear at 3:42 PM on July 19, 2010 [14 favorites]


You're in a death machine.

I prefer the term corpse carrier. Then again, I've been more about joining FCoA in the last month, so my preference might be based on some morbid bias.

How is a speed camera any more a violation of privacy than a guy sitting there with a handicam?

I don't think people who are against speeder-cams are fans of private citizens recording their personal lives either. But in this case, it's automated policing, sometimes based on mis-calculated systems (cameras that start recording too soon, or worse lights that are shortened in coordination with installation of cameras).

I've always wondered why they don't just ban production of vehicles that travel over a certain speed.

Because there are probably situations where it's better to go faster and get ahead of some danger than try to slow down and get behind it. Also, speed limiters already exist on some vehicles / in some jurisdictions.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:42 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


It always struck me that the main reason people don't like the cameras is that people just don't like to get caught speeding.

I live in California. Here everyone speeds. Seriously, every now and then there's someone going 55 on the freeway and they make the roads dangerous because they disrupt traffic so bad. However because federal highway funds are tied to speed limits they can't be raised to a reasonable level.

Broke states/counties trying to make up for low income taxes by relying on fines and ticket money is a horrid solution. As a flat fee it's regressive taxation, and generally the poorer you are the more likely you are to be fined in the first place.
posted by aspo at 3:44 PM on July 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


This is probably a naked popularity play, and I don't know anything about the state's politics or the decision making process here or the people involved, so I will hold back from cheering them on, but - jesus, this is enlightened. The US is an amazing country.
posted by eeeeeez at 3:45 PM on July 19, 2010


I've only gotten one moving violation in the past decade, and that was from a speed camera between Phoenix and Scottsdale. When I went in to contest it I was basically told that there was no way to argue with the technology (despite there being a slew of other cars in the photo which was taken of me, which easily could have confused the radar, etc). It seems a fundamental part of the law is the ability to challenge the charges against one's self. But between the money grab on behalf of the companies running the cameras and the attitude that the system is infallible... I'm glad they're going away.

It's basically impossible to apply Constitutional standards to evidence used in traffic enforcement, these days. So many things are just "Well, that's how things are."
posted by kafziel at 3:45 PM on July 19, 2010


hi doublehappy - You're in a death machine.

If a car is a death machine then your comment is opera.
posted by eeeeeez at 3:47 PM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


You're in a death machine.

Look, just because it's got quarter inch armored plating, flame throwers and machine guns mounted to the roof, doesn't make it a... actually, never mind. I suppose it does.
posted by quin at 3:48 PM on July 19, 2010 [7 favorites]


It's basically impossible to apply Constitutional standards to evidence used in traffic enforcement, these days. So many things are just "Well, that's how things are."

I was basically told that it even cut out the usual loophole of challenge in court, the cop doesn't think it's worth his time in court to pursue and doesn't show, so charges are dismissed. It was basically, "well, the machines never lie, are never wrong, and this photo is basically proof of your wrongdoing so you're already guilty."

Good riddance, I say.
posted by hippybear at 3:49 PM on July 19, 2010


I don't understand the statement that the percentage of what they got paid in fines was so low compared to all the speed photos they took. Why not simply put the license of someone owing money on Hold till fine paid. Then, if he drives and gets caught in a violation, he has another charge: driving sans license. If you tell someone he got caught speeding but nothing comes of it, why bother Not to speed again?
posted by Postroad at 3:51 PM on July 19, 2010


However because federal highway funds are tied to speed limits they can't be raised to a reasonable level.

There hasn't been a national speed limit for 15 years.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:53 PM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Whoops... this is what it's like getting old isn't it?
posted by aspo at 3:55 PM on July 19, 2010


If you walk into a Post Office and vandalize the place, and are caught on video showing your face and your automobile (with license clearly visible), then isn't it basically the same thing?

It's not a human being giving testimony against you but video evidence. You can contest the video technology, but basically at some point such a contest is pretty limited if the technology is fairly well demonstrated.

That doesn't seem unconstitutional to me just because you can't cross-examine the video camera or seriously call into question its technology.
posted by darkstar at 3:55 PM on July 19, 2010


Also, the cameras in question are calibrated to snap your photo only if you go 11 miles over the speed limit. So one has a margin of being able to speed a little without being ticketed.
posted by darkstar at 3:56 PM on July 19, 2010


Last time I visited Phoenix I noticed that traffic had slowed down considerably on the 51. I felt safer, but I have no idea if the highway had actually become safer.
posted by mullacc at 3:56 PM on July 19, 2010


Even the men who beat Rodney King were acquitted. Video evidence is not taken as proof of guilt in the US.
posted by hippybear at 3:57 PM on July 19, 2010


Let me guess. Speed cameras fail to catch non-white people at the disproportionate rate they wanted?
posted by DU at 3:58 PM on July 19, 2010


Neither is human testimony, though.
posted by darkstar at 3:58 PM on July 19, 2010


How is a speed camera any more a violation of privacy than a guy sitting there with a handicam?

The "speed camera" constitutes state action.

To answer your question about why vehicles are manufactured to travel faster than, say, 55 mph: Part of the explanation is that you are conflating "the rules of the road" with traffic laws. They are not one and the same. One can present an ironclad argument that they should be the same, logically...but the fact remains that they are not. Yes, drivers enter into a social contract with other drivers. And the reality of that social contract is that no, adhering to the posted speed limit is not part of it.

Even in metropolitan areas, there are intersections with red lights that can reasonably be ignored late at night, or stretches of highway where it is reasonable to exceed the posted limit by ~20 mph. Traffic laws work—their letter, strict liability, the whole package—because they are applied with discretion. That is the system that exists, and it's the system our traffic patterns rely on. If you suddenly automated those laws and fined every driver for every offense, the state would get a lot of money for 48 hours before (without too much hyperbole) traffic everywhere ground to a halt.

It is also not a great idea for government sanctions, whether technically criminal or civil, to be imposed by robots. Not to get all "Founding Fathers," but one of the basic premises is a government of the people. Whether you are taking away someone's life, liberty, or merely property (money), it is not a decision that many of us are comfortable being made in the first instance by software.
posted by cribcage at 3:59 PM on July 19, 2010 [7 favorites]


New Mexico DOT banned red-light cameras and photo enforcement vans on state roads a few months ago. Both Albuquerque and Las Cruces continue to fight the decision.

I am pretty happy with this, myself. Many of the photo-enforced yellow lights in ABQ are too short for the size of the intersection, seemingly deliberately so, and I've seen too many near-accidents caused by people slamming on the brakes for Santa Fe's photo van. The simple fact is that both speeding and running yellow lights can be safer than the alternative -- if traffic is moving at a fast-yet-road-safe speed, moving along with it is safer than creating an obstruction, and if you cannot safely stop for a light, it's often better to pass through quickly, even if the light turns red while you're still in the intersection. Instead, these cameras (and speed traps in general) cause people to try to react quickly in precisely the kinds of situations which lead to accidents. Not a good idea.

Personally, I would much rather see safety-based policing. We have an awful lot of people who do drive dangerously, yet the enforcement emphasis seems to be on petty, money-making violations. The best solution would be to de-couple enforcement and police funding across-the-board... too bad it'll probably never happen, since we were foolish enough to let the cops write their own paychecks in the first place.
posted by vorfeed at 3:59 PM on July 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Agreed. But that's not how any of my situation (which was ten years ago) played out. There was no opportunity to challenge the ticket. It was simply "you're guilty, here's your photo, pay up."

That's not really how the system is supposed to work. Contesting of traffic tickets is an ages-old privilege.

Regardless, I don't live there anymore and plan on never moving back to that hateful state. I'm just glad to hear they're not using robocop eyes and corporate mindsets to ensnare people anymore.
posted by hippybear at 4:01 PM on July 19, 2010


Say someone is driving erratically and I speed the hell up to get past them (then slow down once I'm far enough away to feel safe). A camera is not going to understand that. Should I stay close to or behind an obviously drunk driver so that I don't have to face a giant fine?

Automated traffic enforcement is a raw money grab and a horrible idea. Arizona's crappy anti-hispanic laws have nothing to do with that.
posted by aspo at 4:01 PM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


were designed to generate revenue rather than promote road safety.

GASP! Now I bet you're going to tell me that the red light runner cameras aren't there to prevent people from running red lights.
posted by crunchland at 4:02 PM on July 19, 2010


"It is also not a great idea for government sanctions, whether technically criminal or civil, to be imposed by robots"

I don't see any robots imposing anything of the sort. The robots are simply collecting information, the way a video camera in a Post Office does.

It's still up to the courts to do the imposing. And yeah, you can walk into a court and contest that "that's not really my car and that's not really me driving it", even though it shows you crystal clear (as I've had some friends try to do to weasel out of the ticket). But if you're a judge, who are you going to believe, the guy contesting the ticket or the photograph sitting right in front of you?
posted by darkstar at 4:02 PM on July 19, 2010


But what if the technology does suck/is inaccurate? I'm all for people actually, you know, following the laws; honestly the fact that so many people feel not just that it's ok, but that they are entitled to break the law and speed annoys me to no end. However, I also think that for any camera to be considered infallible in a court of law, it needs to be rigorously tested by a third party to make damn sure that it is, in fact, 100% infallible. I don't think the incentives are necessarily there for the police department or for the company running the camera.
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:03 PM on July 19, 2010


But whenever I hear someone going on about how "they cause accidents" or "they're just a money grab by the state", it all sounds hollow.

Except that they do cause accidents.
posted by Celsius1414 at 4:03 PM on July 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


How in the hell do 84% of the ticketed get away with not paying their fines?
posted by Xoebe at 4:06 PM on July 19, 2010


The stats show that they increase the number of minor accidents somewhat, but decrease the number of major accidents as well.

Furthermore, compare their effect to the effect of having a policeman in a car sitting on the side of the road with a radar gun. Similar slow-down effects.

It's not the videos that are the problem - it's the speeders that don't want to get caught. The cameras increase punitive accountability for speeding, which people simply don't like.
posted by darkstar at 4:07 PM on July 19, 2010


"only 16 per cent of drivers who received a speeding ticket paid up"

There's your rationale right there.

There's nothing inherently unsafe about speed (it's relative speed, or more precisely sudden and energetic deceleration). What's unsafe is when, to cover the cost of installing the cameras, a municipality shortens its yellow lights to increase revenue. Suddenly, you have to decide whether or not to slam on the brakes and risk getting rear-ended or fly through the light and pray you make it (and don't get ticketed).

I've never been in an accident because I was going too fast. I have been in accidents because people ran stop signs, didn't signal turns, or were "distracted" while driving. These were all low-speed incidents). Speed just increases the damage, and the stopping distance between you and the idiot in the large metal box. Though in some cases (especially for motorcyclists—just ask my friend Kate how she avoided a minivan who ran a stop sign just yesterday), speed is your best defense. So it should be up to me to determine my speed so that I can protect myself from danger and leave myself plenty of room to stop (or better yet, pass the unsafe driver in front of me to get away from danger).
posted by Eideteker at 4:08 PM on July 19, 2010


I think this comic sums up the general problem with tickets as a major source of revenue.

It's too easy to go from "how do we get people to drive safely" to "how do we catch more speeders", even though the two are not always related.
posted by vorfeed at 4:10 PM on July 19, 2010


Because the robot has not ability to take into account anything beyond how fast you are going. Arbitrary enforcement for enforcement's sake is bad policy.

Take another car related issue. Suppose I had a catastrophic blowout and had to pull over in a red zone to change my tire/wait for a tow truck. If a police office came by he wouldn't give me a ticket. If the enforcement was by a camera it would not understand why I'd stopped in a no stopping zone. In that case I might be able to contest it because the picture might make it clear why I was stopped (although it might not) but even that would mean I'd have to go and contest a ticket, which is a serious burden if it involves taking time off or going to a an county that's far away.
posted by aspo at 4:10 PM on July 19, 2010


Having said that, I'll go on record agreeing with hippybear that this state really is a shithole in a lot of ways - most of them related to our governance and political demographics.


And the weather (gah)!
posted by darkstar at 4:10 PM on July 19, 2010


We went through this in Ontario during the mid-'90s. I was amazed by how the issue managed to transform even the most apathetic slackers I knew into militant anti-government crusaders. It should be noted, however, that the Venn diagram overlap between a) people who hated traffic cameras, b) youth, c) men and d) people who tended to speed a lot approached 100%.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:11 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The robots are simply collecting information, the way a video camera in a Post Office does. It's still up to the courts to do the imposing.

No, automated enforcement is different from passive recording. Red-light cameras are not simply "collecting" information; they are responding to stimuli and triggering action. Also, the courts do not enforce the laws: They adjudicate appeals. You have the right to contest the ticket by appearing in front of a judge, but that occurs after the fact. It is an automated (and as others have noted, often outsourced) system that is issuing your ticket in the first place.
posted by cribcage at 4:12 PM on July 19, 2010


I do support a "National Go the Speed Limit Day" so everyone can see what happens to traffic when people do the speed limit [warning, smug college students].
posted by Eideteker at 4:14 PM on July 19, 2010


"Brewer is currently running for re-election to the office of Governor of Arizona, seeking a full term, in the state's 2010 gubernatorial election."
Ah, that explains it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:15 PM on July 19, 2010


The closest calls I get on the road here are when traffic was rolling smoothly at 70mph, then a state patrol car merges in and people start suddenly braking to 55mph (or even 50 - better overcompensate a lot!) as soon as they see it. It's an awkward dance of people braking, and people behind them panicking, and shockwave jams moving back.

There aren't many cameras on the roads I drive daily, but I usually saw the same thing with cameras (except for commuters, which generally get trained in a couple of weeks on where exactly they need to slow down).
posted by qvantamon at 4:17 PM on July 19, 2010


Pardon my poor use of legal vernacular, you're right. I'd intended to emphasize that you do have the right to contest the ticket before a judge, just as you would with a ticket that had been issued by a human cop.
posted by darkstar at 4:18 PM on July 19, 2010


If you walk into a Post Office and vandalize the place, and are caught on video showing your face and your automobile (with license clearly visible), then isn't it basically the same thing?

Nope, unless I'm misreading what the cameras do. AFAIK, they don't take any video, and all the evidence they present is a still photo of your car with your asserted speed superimposed on it.

Speed cameras are as if they had a still photo of you standing in front of the Post Office, with superimposed on it a comically large pointing finger and, in an old-timey font, "HE DONE IT," and that was it. Nobody saw you do it. No prints. Just a still photo and the computer's assertion that you did it. And neither you nor the judge can (probably) understand the source code, and even if you can and it's wrong you can't explain that to the judge.

(They could just paint a measured distance within view and actually take video, so they'd be able to present meaningful evidence that you were actually speeding instead of a bald assertion. But they don't, AFAIK.)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:19 PM on July 19, 2010


The Card Cheat:

I've never run a red light that wasn't obviously broken, and even though I dislike people who do (I was a motorcyclist for 10 years) , I loathe red light cameras with passion. I've definitely seen people drive like idiots around them, often over-aggressively breaking when the light turns yellow, and it's dangerous. Robotic enforcement is bad and is driven by money, not safety.
posted by aspo at 4:19 PM on July 19, 2010


Why not simply put the license of someone owing money on Hold till fine paid.

Because if they ever actually implemented an effective method of fining all speeders, two things would happen: 1. traffic would slow, people would hate it, and they'd be voted out of office; 2. no-one would speed, and they'd lose all that ticket revenue. Think of all the cheap sensible ways they could reduce speeding: on toll roads, they could just fine anyone who got from one tollbooth to another faster than the law allows. When radar detectors were popular, why didn't they just blanket the highway with fake sources? Hell, why don't they park cardboard cops in old police cars by the road? Because they don't want you to slow down, they want you to speed and get caught.
posted by nicwolff at 4:24 PM on July 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


Let me see, one should not get a parking ticket because the technology might be wrong ( the timer is not properly calibrated ), I should not have to pay a fine because everyone should be taxed, running a red light is really not all that bad. It is a regressive tax--I could not find data to support that. Could be but I bet not on rural highways, suburban neighborhoods, commuter highways, etc. I just do not get it--I do not see how complaining about using technology to manage highway safety is anything but a justification to speed, take chances on yellow lights or avoid paying fines. When push comes to shove I tend to trust technology over human error. I find it particularly interesting that this audience is very tech savy and some still do not trust the reliability, accuracy and consistency of technology over human accuracy.
posted by rmhsinc at 4:24 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Look, just because it's got quarter inch armored plating, flame throwers and machine guns mounted to the roof, doesn't make it a... actually, never mind. I suppose it does.

No, that's not what makes it a death machine. What makes it a death machine is that it's powered by the tattered souls of murdered orphans.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:25 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's nothing wrong with speed cameras in the abstract; the problems are all in the implementation. Unfortunately, they seem to be serious flaws and inherent in virtually every application of cameras for traffic enforcement.

First, there's no discretion. Americans are used to discretion in the application of their laws. When you get a ticket from a human being, not only do you actually have to be speeding (generally as verified by radar), but you also have to fail to convince the officer that there was any good reason for your speeding. Machines don't do discretion, and so a law that might be perfectly agreeable when enforced by a human starts to feel mighty draconian when enforced automatically by a machine, even if the scenario is exactly the same. I think there are a lot of people who are just insulted by the whole idea of getting punished by a machine; there is something dehumanizing about it that bothers a lot of people, and I think there's a valid question of whether we as a society really want to go down that road too far.

Second, many of the machines are operated by for-profit companies on behalf of municipalities, and these companies have an obvious motive to generate as many tickets as they can. Whether or not this actually leads directly to bad tickets is hard to say, but it's pretty clearly just not a good idea. It certainly doesn't inspire confidence in the system, and a system that looks corrupt is, in many cases, just as bad as a system that is corrupt.

Plus, even if the systems were run directly by municipalities themselves, there is a clear danger of them becoming "profit centers" that have more to do with revenue generation than traffic safety; a cash-starved local government might decide to place cameras based on where they think they're going to generate the largest number of tickets, rather than in places where they will do the most good, in terms of safety.

The measured difference in yellow-light times between signals that have cameras and ones that do not (and in some cases, in the same signals before and after cameras were added) is to me quite damning -- studies have shown that red-light cameras actually increase accidents, at least in some cases -- so it's pretty clear that their true motive isn't making the streets safer.

Third, the systems are complex and difficult to verify and contest. Given the profit motive on the part of the operators, it's not hard to imagine someone simply fixing the system to display higher-than-actual speeds. A driver would have little recourse in such a situation: if the speed camera shows them going 50 in a 40, there's not much you can do, even if you know you were actually doing 40. Since the systems are generally proprietary, there's little that you can do to dispute the camera's results.

(More sneaky than simply fixing the camera to lie would be to simply vary the amount of "headroom" above the posted speed limit, below where tickets are actually sent out. E.g., set the system to send out tickets at 10 MPH over for six months, and then abruptly dial it down to 1 MPH over, and watch the cash roll in (or at least the tickets roll out). Better yet would be to simply randomly vary the 'headroom' level, producing a slot-machine-like effect but in reverse.)

Overall, these systems were just rolled out too quickly, and in some cases for the wrong reasons. I suspect that they're just too good (or at least too convenient) of an idea to ever die, but I'm not sorry to see some backlash. In the future, we should be much more cautious about introducing such things, and especially how they're perceived. I suspect that speed cameras would be welcome in some areas if the rollout was managed correctly and the implementation was transparent enough, and there was no hint of it being used as revenue generation instead of a safety device. But that's definitely not how it has happened in many states, and the results are unsurprising.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:30 PM on July 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


How in the hell do 84% of the ticketed get away with not paying their fines?

I suspect that a lot of these go to out-of-state drivers (like me). I went there last fall and a few weeks later, got two $200+ speeding tickets in the mail. I didn't pay them. There doesn't appear to be any reciprocity.

I am a pretty safe driver, for what it's worth, and haven't been in an accident in my 20+ years of driving. I got these tickets driving pretty fast on very straight, deserted roads. I'm not saying I shouldn't have gotten them, but I thought they were excessive.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:33 PM on July 19, 2010


It is a regressive tax--I could not find data to support that.

A speeding ticket around here is about 300 dollars. For me, that's a healthy chunk of change, but for a lot of people that's a serious hardship. When tickets are looked at as revenue source they are a regressive tax.

The same thing happens when fines become a serious revenue source. Have you notice that in the last 10 years that fines for minor infractions/late penalties have become much more expensive? That's because they are a way for states/counties to make money without raising tax rates. But that means they basically are taxes, and regressive taxes at that. In fact it's worse than that because the richer you are the less likely you are to get into a situation where you pay the fine.
posted by aspo at 4:34 PM on July 19, 2010


I find it particularly interesting that this audience is very tech savy and some still do not trust the reliability, accuracy and consistency of technology over human accuracy.

I trust technology just fine, thank you, but I also trust people to use it to their own ends. The ends here are revenue generation, not public safety.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:36 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just do not get it--I do not see how complaining about using technology to manage highway safety is anything but a justification to speed, take chances on yellow lights or avoid paying fines.

Speed cameras and red-light cameras are different things.

But. The simplest objection to speed cameras is that by long and well-understood custom in the US, the posted speed limit is only very rarely the limit that the designer wishes vehicles to adhere to. Depending on where you are, the actual intended limit may be 0mph higher than the posted limit (in school zones, say), 5-10 mph higher than posted in most areas, or even 10-20mph on some limited-access highways (the belt around Atlanta, the ruralish stretches of the Jersey Turnpike). So in some of these cases, people know that they haven't been in any real sense speeding -- if they'd driven at that speed past a cop, no cop would have pursued -- even if their speed is more than the posted limit.

Or I guess shorter: the speed cameras are unlikely to be programmed with what the actual desired maximum speed is.

Red-light cameras, on the other hand, are just terribly inaccurate. Too lazy to go look it up, but studies have found that the overwhelming majority of people "caught" by red light cameras were people who stopped to do a right on red, but didn't stay long enough to satisfy the camera's computer (ISTR they wanted 3 seconds).

When push comes to shove I tend to trust technology over human error.

Even when the law enforcement agencies and especially their contractors have huge monetary incentives to fudge things in their favor or even just make shit up out of whole cloth, and have no meaningful incentives to police themselves carefully except for their own consciences?

a cash-starved local government might decide to place cameras based on where they think they're going to generate the largest number of tickets, rather than in places where they will do the most good, in terms of safety</i

ISTR there have been studies demonstrating this is commonplace.

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:37 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


mr_roboto: " However because federal highway funds are tied to speed limits they can't be raised to a reasonable level.

There hasn't been a national speed limit for 15 years.
"

From the link, "Hawaii was the last state to raise its speed limit above 55 mph when, in response to public outcry after an experiment with traffic enforcement cameras in 2002, it raised the maximum speed limit on parts of Interstates H-1 and H-3 to 60 mph.[26]"

Maybe I am missing something here, but how does Hawaii have Interstate highways?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:37 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I find it particularly interesting that this audience is very tech savy and some still do not trust the reliability, accuracy and consistency of technology over human accuracy.

Part of being tech-savvy is knowing the limitations. How many of us would like to pay $100 every time our cell phones dropped signal, even being the savvy cell phone customers we are? I don't think many of us would like that, but it's not proof that we're luddites with some weird inherent distrust of technology.
posted by fleacircus at 4:39 PM on July 19, 2010


76 cameras took 2.7 million photographs

Amateurs.

[ - A Brit]
posted by dash_slot- at 4:40 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


How in the hell do 84% of the ticketed get away with not paying their fines?

Because a traffic ticket (at least in Arizona) is not legally binding unless it's properly served -- that is, by a real person, like a cop. A camera ticket sent to you in the mail is not a real ticket, it's more like a note saying "Here's the amount of money we're hoping you will pay us, so we don't have to go through the bother of doing it the way we're legally supposed to."

Word has gotten around that there's no penalty for throwing such a letter in the trash, apart from an extra $20 fee to pay the process server, should the city/state decide your violation is important enough to actually send a process server to your door. Most times, they don't.
posted by rifflesby at 4:40 PM on July 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Maybe I am missing something here, but how does Hawaii have Interstate highways?

Because Interstate is a highway standard not a verbose description.
posted by Talez at 4:41 PM on July 19, 2010


This might be a stupid question, but wouldn't it be easier if people just drive the speed limit to begin with? I mean, of course safety dictates staying with the flow of traffic, but at least here in Portland the flow of traffic is typically at or near the legal, posted speed limit. A number of friends from out of town have commented on this - "why does everyone drive so slow here?" - but really, it isn't that difficult.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 4:44 PM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sympathizing with rifflesby's point, I wonder if those who don't object to traffic cameras mind having trial by technology, if it comes to that.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:45 PM on July 19, 2010


So... do I still have to pay the photo speeding ticket that I got a couple of weeks ago?
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:47 PM on July 19, 2010


I'm pretty sure the cameras were pulled as a precaution against their being outlawed in a referendum. People generally support police, but they hate robot police, especially when they're filling out their ballots.
posted by mullingitover at 4:50 PM on July 19, 2010


this audience is very tech savy and some still do not trust the reliability, accuracy and consistency of technology

Maybe you should think for a second about why that might be. If people trust a technology less the more they know about it, maybe there's a problem with the technology, not the people.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:52 PM on July 19, 2010


"I don't see why anyone objects to warrantless searches, I mean how hard is it to not do anything wrong?"
posted by aspo at 4:54 PM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't see why anyone objects to warrantless searches, I mean how hard is it to not do anything wrong?

Wait, what? we're talking about people being caught red-handed, on camera, in public here, not warrantless searches.

I just wish people would stop to think a minute that even if they're the world's best driver and are comfortable driving at 75 or 80 mph, the other people you share the road with might kinda suck at driving and now you're both gonna be dead or horribly mangled because you thought you were special and the rules don't apply to you and Mario Andretti or whatever. At least with a 55 or 60 people would have some expectation of how long they have to react etc.
posted by Kirk Grim at 5:06 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Damn. Now I don't know whether to love her or hate her.

Hate her. Seriously, there is so little there to love.

It always struck me that the main reason people don't like the cameras is that people just don't like to get caught speeding.

Or perhaps because it's unfair, constant monitoring of my behavior by the state that I feel is unwarranted intrusion into day-to-day activities. Catching me speeding occasionally does not justify the never ending surveillance this requires.

More specifically, the speed cameras fail to alter drivers' behavior. Part of what sucks about getting a ticket is the getting-pulled-over-and-having-to-face-a-cop part, and if I get a camera ticket I don't even hear about it for weeks. The one time I got a camera speeding ticket in 2 years living in Arizona, I got TWO for going the same speed on a stretch of highway about 1/2 mile apart. Two separate tickets, two separate fines, same offense. Had I been pulled over the first time, I would no longer have been speeding, but because I did not know I'd been issued a fine, the fine failed to alter my behavior. And then they fined me twice for the same offense, seconds apart, which is obviously bullshit.
posted by LooseFilter at 5:13 PM on July 19, 2010


previously
posted by desjardins at 5:18 PM on July 19, 2010


This might be a stupid question, but wouldn't it be easier if people just drive the speed limit to begin with?

In my situation, my little Geo Metro had just finished climbing a hill and the sudden surge from the engine after it no longer had to fight gravity increased my speed from 45 (the posted speed) to around 50. I had taken my foot off the accelerator but the radar camera was positioned exactly right to catch me at the top of the hill before my speed had lessened.

There were 3 other cars in the picture with me, so I don't know if I trust the mechanism to have tripped on me as an individual or to have overlapped signals from within the group.

I drove for a living around Phoenix for 2.5 years. I usually travelled at the predominant traffic speed, usually slightly higher than the speed limit but not aggressively weaving through traffic. I had driven that road many times, and was well acquainted with its speed limits. I remember the incident so vividly because I saw the flash of the camera in my rearview as I passed, and that was the last time I ever drove that route to do any deliveries.

It's not always about "driving the speed limit". Sometimes circumstances work against you even if you are striving to do that.
posted by hippybear at 5:19 PM on July 19, 2010


Speaking of which, I really need to move to Oregon or Washington State.

Someplace where the politics is blue and the countryside is green and I can ride my bike to and from work, rendering both speed cameras and the price of gas moot.
posted by darkstar at 5:27 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


All those people suggesting they are quite comfortable driving 10, 20, 30mph over the speed limit should know that a lot of drunk drivers feel the same way. People make mistakes. Your brain takes a lot of shortcuts. Ever been on autopilot while driving long distances and had no recollection of the last ten minutes? Ever been driving in the afternoon and snapped to when you nearly rear-ended someone? Ever missed someone in your blind spot? All of these events can lead to accidents, and I'd rather those accidents be 10, 20, 30mph slower so I have less chance of dying.

Maybe I am missing something here, but how does Hawaii have Interstate highways?

In New Zealand, I think, the ferry between the North and South Islands is considered part of the State Highway network. So are beaches.
posted by doublehappy at 5:27 PM on July 19, 2010


Kirk Grim: "I just wish people would stop to think a minute that even if they're the world's best driver and are comfortable driving at 75 or 80 mph, the other people you share the road with might kinda suck at driving and now you're both gonna be dead or horribly mangled because you thought..."

This is actually one of the reasons why I try to be a good driver: so I can GTF away from these lamers and stay safe. Let them freak out over the simple act of merging, sure, but let's do it into someone else's passenger door. Note that the conventional wisdom is that bad drivers are the ones you notice, which is not true at all. Bad drivers include the people who are just trying to pull into a parking space at Target, but WHOOPS HIT THE GAS.

There's no magical "if we all went 55 then the world would be unicorns and lollipops." Bad drivers are the danger, not good ones. Bad drivers freak out, are unpredictable, and seem generally to be afraid of driving. It takes a good eye and steady hands to stay away from them. Anecdata: my dad was the assholiest, horn-honking, highbeam-flashing, tailgating jerk driver I've ever known. His last accident was in like 1959 and didn't involve anybody else's car. My mom? Totally unaware and freaked out, taking a right-turn out of the parking lot after work one day, broadsided and flipped some guy. Brother? Hit a van that rolled over a fire hydrant.

"The people I share the road with" need to stay in the slow lane and practice using their turn signals and merging, not camping out in the fast lane doing 54mph because they can't deal with the complications of freeways or pedestrians or leaving themselves an out.

It is way too easy to get a driver's license. Stop and think about that for a minute. It's not people who think they're good drivers, it's people who don't have a concept of "bad driver" outside of a Sid Caesar joke.
posted by rhizome at 5:35 PM on July 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


All those people suggesting they are quite comfortable driving 10, 20, 30mph over the speed limit should know that a lot of drunk drivers feel the same way.

The safety or not of speeding is not the issue with traffic cameras--intrusive surveillance and poorly-working technology, combined with gotcha revenue-generating techniques (like shortening yellow lights) are among the issues at hand. I do not advocate speeding, for my part I nearly always drive the speed limit (my aforementioned tickets were because I thought the speed limit on the highway was 70 rather than 65, my mistake but unintentional), and I despise these cameras and think that they should be outlawed. The purpose of law enforcement is not constant monitoring of citizens to catch and penalize us every single time we do something in violation of a law or statute, no matter how minor.
posted by LooseFilter at 5:39 PM on July 19, 2010


The Green Hornet is Here! (2:15 mark).
posted by cjorgensen at 5:52 PM on July 19, 2010


Speed cameras are a godsend. When traffic is all going roughly the same speed, safety is greatly enhanced.

The Daily Show report, posted early up-thread, is an excellent takedown of a dumbshit politician.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:02 PM on July 19, 2010


I don't have too much of a problem with automated red light or speeding cameras if and only if the amount of the fine is lowered in proportion to the increased number of fines issued. Normal speeding ticket fines are fairly high in order to bring the expected cost of speeding up to the point that it functions as a deterrent. In other words, most speeders don't get caught, so the fine needs to be high or else more people will chance it.

That is pure essence of dumb.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:04 PM on July 19, 2010


All those people suggesting they are quite comfortable driving 10, 20, 30mph over the speed limit should know that a lot of drunk drivers feel the same way

Except if the speed limit is artificially low. Now I know it is different in other areas, but in California 10-20 miles over the speed limit is the flow of traffic, and it makes sense (in a twisted way) that that's how it is. Assume there is a "safe" speed. It's not going to be one speed, it's going to change depending on circumstances. The fast lane has less people merging in and out. The slow lane is where people are getting on and off the freeway, speeding up from much slower or slowing down to safe road speeds (especially on older, short on/off ramps). People need to speed up to pass other drivers. People sometimes (such as hippiebear above) go a bit faster than they meant because you aren't driving on a featureless empty plain. And so on and so forth.

Now if the speed limit was set to the top safe speed, then there would be confusion on the other end. How can I get a ticket for driving 75 in the rightmost lane when the speed limit is 75? Well, in that lane 75 is overly aggressive and unsafe. (But probably not aggressive driving aggressive which is a much more serious crime.) It's human nature to treat a limit as "anything lower than this is ok."

So the "speed limit" is set artificially low. It's becomes the "if you are driving over this limit and doing something unsafe you can get a ticket for speeding" limit. (And yes, that leads to problems of arbitrary enforcement, but the truth is almost all traffic laws have significant arbitrary wiggle room.) Are you driving significantly faster than traffic? Are you weaving in and out of lanes? Are you cutting people off who are trying to get on the freeway? Are you driving at 100mph? All those are going to get you a speeding ticket.

So you take a situation like that, that depends on a judgement call on the police officer, and turning it into a yes/no answer based purely on speed. You take out all context so that if someone wants to contest the ticket the context doesn't even exist. You no longer can even question your accuser. And to add to the injustice, you create a profit incentive both to the local government and a private company, which leads to the cameras being put in speed trap like locations. That's not the want I want my government to work.
posted by aspo at 6:11 PM on July 19, 2010


That is pure essence of dumb.

Would you care to explain why?
posted by jedicus at 6:15 PM on July 19, 2010


Speed cameras are a godsend. When traffic is all going roughly the same speed, safety is greatly enhanced.

That is exactly my issue with speed cameras. On the road in which I commute, in general everyone is going roughly at the same speed, which is 5-10mph over the speed limit. As soon as one person spots a cop car (no cameras here), there's a whole dance where people slow down to 10mph below to overcompensate, in a haphazard order, thereby creating a dangerous situation that didn't exist before.

I'm not vocally against putting a speed camera to catch people doing 80 in a road where everyone regularly drives at 50. The problem is they always seem to be put to catch people going 65 in a road where everyone regularly drives at 70. Aside from creating the unsafe situation, these don't even actually reduce the actual highway speed, because with time commuters just learn to drive at 60 within 300ft of that spot. It's non-regulars that were following the rest of the traffic at 70 and didn't know to suddenly slow down that get shafted.
posted by qvantamon at 6:16 PM on July 19, 2010


Jesus fuck. This thread is proof positive that I am justified in thinking most everyone on the highway is a self-centered asshole who should be denied a license.

No wonder our highways are carnage.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:17 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jedicus: because your dumb idea becomes a "well, hell, for the price of a Starbucks, I'll go double the posted speed."

Aspo: what you describe is not a problem with camera enforcement, but a problem with poorly-chosen speed limits.

I'm getting angry at the dumbassery in this thread, so it's time I bowed out. Think on this, though: your daily commute is very likely the most dangerous thing you do each day. The attitudes expressed in this thread are a big part of why it's so dangerous.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:24 PM on July 19, 2010


So pray tell, why is the autobahn is one of the safest highway systems around?
posted by aspo at 6:25 PM on July 19, 2010


On highway/freeways the point at which speed alone enough to always be unsafe is high enough that noone is going to have a problem with ticketing those speeds. You want to make the speed limit 90 mph and make it an instant ticket to be driving that fast? Fine. No argument from me. But if that's your limit then speed cameras aren't going to be profitable and won't exist. The highway patrol can handle that just fine.
posted by aspo at 6:32 PM on July 19, 2010


If you coupled speed cameras with one of those "YOUR SPEED IS _____" signs 1000 feet apart, and added a 5-10% tolerance, I'd have no problem with them.

Here in DC, I see the red light cameras inexplicably flash all the time (ie. people driving through intersections with green lights at normal speeds). No idea if tickets are being served, but I wouldn't doubt it.
posted by schmod at 6:37 PM on July 19, 2010


Wow, I'm surprised they only got 16 % to pay up. I guess they didn't re-enforce and keep trying to collect. I know they wouldn't be so lax in CA.

I drive through AZ a few times a year and the speed limit is 75 mph. If someone can't be content at 75 mph then they should be ticketed. 80 is getting into reckless territory in my book.

The other annoying thing is the argument that the speed cameras were set up to raise revenue rather than promote safety. First, ALL governments find ways to generate revenue via vehicle related driving and parking misdemeanors. Second, if by doing this it also brings a bit of safety to the road then that's a good thing. [ALthough who knows if this really promotes safety? I just like the idea of someone getting a ticket for speeding].

I can't say I am opposed to this law. But, yeah, I guess a real Highway officer ticketing people feels somehow less Orwellian than a robot cop doing it via the mail.
posted by Rashomon at 6:38 PM on July 19, 2010


Don't worry, AZ -- there are still plenty of cameras around in our cities. Watch out for the one in Star Valley, those guys are evil! The highway ones, they were not really a big deal, given that you didn't ever get points on those violations, just fines. If you were unlucky enough to get served, one could just pay the money and be done with it.

On the plus side, I'll be curious to see the accident stats -- we're fortunate enough to have a real live experiment as to whether cameras enhance safety or not on the freeways. It'll be interesting to see the results.
posted by ph00dz at 6:41 PM on July 19, 2010


More specifically, the speed cameras fail to alter drivers' behavior.

We have a set of red light cameras and a set of speed cameras on one of the main avenues here and you can tell they have altered drivers' behavior. Just look one block to the west and see everyone hauling ass through the residential neighborhoods.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 6:50 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here in the DC area, many contractorsm like McDonnell Douglas install traffic cameras at no cost to the state and simply agree to split the generated revenue with the state in which the infractions have been registered. In this case, the (often military) contractors are yielding a profit by turning that surplus military tech on American citizens.

A recent entry on the National Motorist Association blog nicely summarizes many of the objections people have had.
posted by vhsiv at 6:55 PM on July 19, 2010


Hell, why don't they park cardboard cops in old police cars by the road?

They do this outside Boulder City, NV (it's a dummy, not a cardboard cop).

Apparently "Lieutenant Dan" has been shot several times in the line of duty...
posted by vorfeed at 7:16 PM on July 19, 2010


aspo So pray tell, why is the autobahn is one of the safest highway systems around?

Because of higher average distance between vehicles. The major negative effect of speed limits and traffic lights and the combination of the two is to cause vehicles to aggregate to the same speed, and therefore to remain bunched up. If you're bunched up with other vehicles, you are far more vulnerable to colliding with them and being caught up in collisions between them. I firmly believe that the safest thing you can do on the road, though you may need to speed up or slow down or change lanes to do it, is to keep well away from other drivers.

That isn't an argument against speed limits or traffic lights as such; it's an argument for taking "bunching" into consideration when designing them. More lanes help, allowing people to get away from each other faster, and speed limit allowances so that people can travel a little faster or slower than each other help as well. There is a strong social pressure to travel at no less and no more than the speed limit and many drivers (arguably foolishly) pride themselves on maintaining precisely the speed limit and use cruise control to do so, so if the limit is set at 60 and people are allowed +10, there will be a wider variation in speeds than if it is set at 70.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:17 PM on July 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I didn't mind the cameras. I remember driving in Phoenix before they went in and through the time a few years later, when everyone had realized they were there, and it was a somewhat more pleasant experience. Many fewer people were going 100 mph for no reason. Even though I hate most Public Surveillance For Your Own Good, I have no outrage about traffic cameras vs hiding folks with radar guns. Everyone saying that, "well, with a person you get stopped and you can talk your way out of it," and treating that like it's a *good* thing puzzle me. Why is it a good thing if specific (probably white, likely women, probably middle to upper class) people can get out of tickets that everyone else can't? I'm sure the cameras are wrong sometimes, but I've never actually heard of anyone I know getting an incorrect ticket. The camera speed ceilings and locations are also posted in the paper and online, so it's not like they're raising and lowering the ceiling or moving the cameras randomly, either.

The revenue generation also REALLY helps some smaller communities (like Star Valley), where there is no reason people should be driving through the center of town faster than 45, anyway. That is actually a sneaky dangerous road because of how fences outside of town have disrupted the elks' natural migratory paths, so there is an incident of someone totaling their car or motorcycle by hitting an elk every other day. (Literally. We talked to the animal control and cops when it happened to us a couple years ago.) If fewer people are going through Star Valley and the ones that are are going the speed limit, there will be fewer fatalities from those accidents. And this is a community that has no actual police (they contract with Payson), so "more human police surveillance" is not an option.

Now that I've been driving in NoVA and DC for a year, I drive just like everyone - crazily, so I don't get run over. There are virtually NO police stopping anybody for anything, and I don't think that's wholly positive. I would actually prefer there to be a chance for getting stopped when I'm going 50 on a small residential street, be it by camera or human.
posted by wending my way at 7:23 PM on July 19, 2010


I should say "ticketed." Cameras don't actually stop you.
posted by wending my way at 7:25 PM on July 19, 2010


Jedicus: because your dumb idea becomes a "well, hell, for the price of a Starbucks, I'll go double the posted speed."

Obviously the fines would still ramp up exponentially and anything above moderate speeding would still be punished with more than a fine (e.g., license suspension). Similarly, repeat offenders would still be subject to increasing penalties. The point is that the first one or two incidents of moderate speeding should not be subject to fines in excess of $100 if enforcement rates go through the roof because of automated systems.

Look at it the other way. If fines should remain the same with increased enforcement, then plainly fines should be even higher with the current enforcement rate to maintain the same expected cost.

My 'dumb idea' is just a simple expected cost/utility calculation, so I guess you have problems with large chunks of economics.
posted by jedicus at 7:31 PM on July 19, 2010


I question whether fines are a desirable method of restraining drivers at all, given their inevitable and unsavory association with revenue raising and their widely variable effect (pocket change for some, homelessness for others). I'm not sure what else can be done though; money is so pervasively fungible that pretty much every other form of punishment except infliction of physical pain effectively turns into a fine.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:51 PM on July 19, 2010


In Finland the fine is proportional to your income. Some guy was recently awarded a 6-figure speeding ticket.

On the other hand, that's the kind of problem I'd be glad to have.
posted by qvantamon at 7:57 PM on July 19, 2010


Except if the speed limit is artificially low.

I can't parse this -- are you implying the existence of a natural speed limit, or just whatever it is people feel is the right speed to go or something? Like, fast lane for fast driving, slow lane for slow driving, no numbers? I dunno. Personally I think a speed limit has to err on the side of safety, a speed at which the greatest number of drivers are able to drive safely and confidently. Highways are public property after all. I know perfectly good drivers that are nervous driving at "real life" highway speeds, and for me even 120 km/h (74.5 mph) was starting to get out of my comfort zone back when I used to drive. 100k/60m seems reasonable to me.

Assume there is a "safe" speed. It's not going to be one speed, it's going to change depending on circumstances.

They do assume there is a safe speed, and they do change it depending on the circumstances, like if there's a turn coming up, if you're on a highway, if there's a school coming up, construction, etc. Whether or not you feel it is artificial for whatever reason is irrelevant. This isn't like a correspondence course; you can't just read ahead and do next week's homework because you're smarter than the others. The highway is for the public with public standards. It's public school with a standard curriculum. You're stuck with everyone, smarter or dumber than you, for better or worse.

So you take a situation like that, that depends on a judgement call on the police officer, and turning it into a yes/no answer based purely on speed. You take out all context so that if someone wants to contest the ticket the context doesn't even exist.

This is a good point, however you can always contest the ticket on the grounds of context. People do this now even when a real live person singled you out of traffic as the problem and gave you a ticket. On top of which, knowing that even if you're "keeping up with traffic" you could still get a ticket strikes me as a good way to discourage people from speeding in the first place. Again, this is the road, it's in public. You're not at home here. You have no right to put your feet up on the table here; even superficially it's rude on the same level as graffitti, but with much worse consequences. I think it's fair to say in the context of speeds that literally can be the deciding factor between life and death, your privacy (or cynically, your ability to speed at will) while using a public facility is not my biggest concern.
posted by Kirk Grim at 8:00 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


We tried it in Ontario. Photo radar was brought in by the (left of center) NDP party back in the mid 90s. I'm despicable commie killjoy, so I thought it was great to see everyone traveling the same speed because

But lots of people bitched and moaned and the provincial Conservative party promised to get rid of it. The issue played well with their rural base (ever though the cameras were only on the major freeways in and out of Toronto) and made great fodder for knee-jerk news/talk radio. A constant topic at donut shops. All the dumb fucks got together and voted for Mike Harris (Ontario's answer to Reagan/Bush/Cheney).
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:19 PM on July 19, 2010


You mean 'Mike "The Knife" Harris'. Don't forget the cool nickname. It wouldn't be fair to forget that nor the other reason it was a great idea to vote for him, which was welfare bums.
posted by Kirk Grim at 8:24 PM on July 19, 2010


I drive through AZ a few times a year and the speed limit is 75 mph.

On I-10 maybe, but state highways are 65 mph and the speed cameras are all over throughout towns on roads with speed limits from 30 mph upward. One fun stretch of Rural Road in Tempe has been under construction for a while, and the speed camera was adjusted down to the posted mega-slow construction speed limit (even when no actual construction was taking place but the signs were still up). Driving through a state saturated with these cameras a few times a year on an interstate in no way gives you a sense of the extent of their use.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:35 PM on July 19, 2010


The highway is for the public with public standards.

The point (part of it, anyway) is that those "public standards" often differ from the posted speed limit. This is relevant to the legal discussion, but becomes even more so when you argue that speeding by ~X mph is "rude." By any reasonable interpretation of societal standards, that just isn't the case.

I can't say exactly what Aspo meant by referring to the speed limit as "artificially low," but I can suggest one possibility. I spent a lot of time studying traffic engineering for a brief I was writing some time ago (the engineering was collateral, but I needed to understand it to understand the case), and something that stuck with me was that typically, posted limited are determined based on what is called "85th percentile speed." Traffic engineers study the location and conditions (and traffic patterns, if possible), then crunch the numbers to figure the average speeds that safe drivers (excluding the nutjobs) will travel, looking for the speed that 85% of that group will drive at or below. Round that number to the nearest 5 mph, and that becomes the posted limit.

I suppose the point being that almost no "in-practice" piece of the system, from the initial calculation of posted limits to the reliance of traffic patterns—nothing until you reach adjudication, which is (ironically) where supporters of these cameras are suggesting that discretion should come into play—treats the speed limit as an ironclad number which shall not be breached, ever...which is what you would need before even beginning a conversation about automating the law's enforcement.
posted by cribcage at 8:43 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whenever I think about Harris, I'm always reminded of the welfare bums who lived in my apartment building, hanging out in the back parking lot every sunny day and moaning about the NDP. I moved away shortly afterwards and sometimes wonder how they made out in the Harris paradigm. I suppose they had less time to drink.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:45 PM on July 19, 2010


Sure there is a social contract between drivers on the freeway.

0) Keep right except to pass.

1) Drive so as to reduce the number of lane changes and overtakings, whether by you or of you. If you are in the middle lane, and other drivers are streaming around you on both sides - you're going too slow..

2) Merge onto the freeway going about as fast as the drivers in the lane you intend to enter. Certainly not 10 mph slower than the drivers in the slowest lane.

3) Keep 2-3 seconds behind the car in front of you. This also protects you from the jackass who's crawling up your tailpipe. Also helps avoid multi-car pileups.

4) If you are too frightened to drive the speed limit, forswear the freeway. Instead take surface streets whenever possible. If you must drive slower than the posted speed limit, please do so in the outermost lane (the "slow lane").

5) Drive with both hands on the wheel. Don't make cell phone calls while driving if you can avoid it. Same goes for makeup, eating, etc. You never know when you will have to make an evasive maneuver.

6) Look down the road. Try to anticipate what might be coming up 10 seconds down the raod. If you miss your exit, that's OK, just take your lumps. Don't dive across several lanes of traffic to make it. Take the next exit.

7) Secure your goddamn cargo. Please don't make us swerve around another lost ladder, wheelbarrow, suitcase, mattress, or pallet. It's getting old.

8) If you rear-end someone, it's your fault. When I rear-ended someone 20 years ago: my fault. The guy who rear-ended me two weeks ago: his fault. There are few exceptions.

9) Seriously, have you never heard of cruise control? (OK, this one's just wishful thinking).

The fact that most people will not adhere to these is baffling.
posted by etherist at 8:48 PM on July 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


" Traffic engineers study the location and conditions (and traffic patterns, if possible), then crunch the numbers to figure the average speeds that safe drivers (excluding the nutjobs) will travel, looking for the speed that 85% of that group will drive at or below. Round that number to the nearest 5 mph, and that becomes the posted limit."

This approach sounds reasonable, except that it routinely fails. If 75% of the drivers on a given road are driving above the speed limit determined by the "85th percentile" rule, what does that mean - are they all nutjobs?
posted by etherist at 8:52 PM on July 19, 2010


from the initial calculation of posted limits to the reliance of traffic patterns—nothing until you reach adjudication, which is (ironically) where supporters of these cameras are suggesting that discretion should come into play—treats the speed limit as an ironclad number which shall not be breached, ever...

So in a speed limit, we have a law based on observation and experience, in context, for a specific stretch of road. A pretty good basis for treating a speed limit as an ironclad number. They are a legal limit, now. How they were calculated doesn't matter. You've pretty much just demonstrated how they're totally reasonable.

but becomes even more so when you argue that speeding by ~X mph is "rude." By any reasonable interpretation of societal standards, that just isn't the case.

I have to disagree; flagrantly violating the law in public is rude pretty much always, as is violating any other violating any other societal standard. I'll never understand why people think it's OK when they do it to the point it's even OK to do it in public without apology and even complain when they're caught.
posted by Kirk Grim at 8:56 PM on July 19, 2010


So in a speed limit, we have a law based on observation and experience,
A law based on observation and experience? Seriously? Is it your impression that the average state legislature is an august body of reasoned debate? Do you also belive that "S.B 1070", the "Papers please" law is also based on on "observation and experience"? Because it was devised by the same body that set the speed limits in Arazona.

Come on.
I have to disagree; flagrantly violating the law in public is rude pretty much always
That's pretty much ridiculous right there. In a lot of cases, you're far more likely to piss off drivers behind you by not speeding when passing. Ultimately what's "rude" is doing something that is likely to annoy people and counter to social norms. Everyone knows that laws often don't match up with with social norms, for various reasons. Drug laws a prime example. But speeding is another good example. Lots of people speed, probably a majority, speeding isn't being rude to the other people who also do it.
posted by delmoi at 9:12 PM on July 19, 2010


Here I am gleefully speeding in AZ last fall, busted by a speed camera. I was stupid enough to pay the ticket. It was all worth it though, to get that photo of myself breaking the law and loving every minute of it.
posted by ericost at 9:12 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


You've pretty much just demonstrated how they're totally reasonable.

The point is not that posted limits are "unreasonable." The point is, they're soft, and they are treated as such on every rung of the ladder until you reach the last (adjudication), where economy becomes an overriding concern and that's an acceptable compromise because of the 'give' built into the preceding steps.

I think we're circling a bit, so I'll leave that point there. And we can agree to disagree about the notion that breaking the speed limit is rude or discourteous, or that somebody who drives 70 mph in a 55 mph zone owes the public an apology. That sort of assessment is determined by convention—by looking around and seeing how people actually behave, not by logical deduction. Speeding can certainly be one aspect of rude driving; but what's rude offends society, and the notion that routine speeding offends society simply does not accord with my experience.
posted by cribcage at 9:15 PM on July 19, 2010


This approach sounds reasonable, except that it routinely fails. If 75% of the drivers on a given road are driving above the speed limit determined by the "85th percentile" rule, what does that mean - are they all nutjobs?

I think the likely scenario is that the traffic engineers were ignored and a speed limit was posted that's lower than what best engineering practice would dictate. E.g., for many years we had 55MPH speed limits on the Interstates, even though they were designed for significantly higher speeds, and the de facto speed limit as determined by enforcement was much higher than the posted one anyway.

In some cases the lower limits might be well-meaning... The town I grew up in was cursed to have a very nice little downtown area that some genius had decided to punch a four-lane state highway through. The road was significantly overengineered for the location. However, just posting 25 MPH signs doesn't tend to do that much good, and modern traffic engineering focuses on ways of actually getting drivers to slow down using something other than the blunt instrument of posted limits and fines. Even something as simple as a paint scheme, to make the lanes "feel" narrower, can make drivers slow down far more effectively than changing some signage.

Road design is one of the things where I think the U.S., or at least certain parts of the U.S., has really gotten better over the past few decades. The trend of punching huge racetrack-like surface streets optimized for nothing but throughput through residential areas seems to be dwindling, in favor of roads that are designed to control and shape traffic. If you look around in a well-designed mixed-use area of recent vintage, you'll probably see a lot of stuff that helps keep car traffic under control -- visually or actually narrowed traffic lanes, raised pedestrian crossings, cobble or paving stones instead of asphalt in low-speed areas ... there are a lot of things you can do to make a road "feel" slower.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:25 PM on July 19, 2010


delmoi:

I was responding to this explanation of the origin of posted speed limits:

"something that stuck with me was that typically, posted limited are determined based on what is called "85th percentile speed." Traffic engineers study the location and conditions (and traffic patterns, if possible), then crunch the numbers to figure the average speeds that safe drivers (excluding the nutjobs) will travel, looking for the speed that 85% of that group will drive at or below. Round that number to the nearest 5 mph, and that becomes the posted limit."


cribcage:

but what's rude offends society, and the notion that routine speeding offends society simply does not accord with my experience.


Yeah, I know...it was kind of more a wishful thinking thing I guess. You're probably right. My objection is mostly that the limit is there for a pretty good reason most of the time, and if everyone just obeyed it, it would probably work great. With the photo radar we have a tool that doesn't discriminate and can actually catch anyone speeding at any time. This in theory, I understand, over the long term should deter speeding through fines and other penalties. And all we get when it works to catch them in the act is complaints from people who's best defence is "Did I follow the legal posted speed limit? COME ON!"
posted by Kirk Grim at 9:32 PM on July 19, 2010



1) Drive so as to reduce the number of lane changes and overtakings, whether by you or of you. If you are in the middle lane, and other drivers are streaming around you on both sides - you're going too slow..

I've had people streaming around me on both sides doing 80 in a 65 in the middle lane. Sometimes people are just being way reckless (people passing had to be doing 90-100)


9) Seriously, have you never heard of cruise control? (OK, this one's just wishful thinking).
Thank you!

However you missed one:

10) Do not do 80 mph with a trailer. It will fish tale. Your car will flip. It will upset everyone behind you who has to take evasive action. Also as a correlary: if you are traveling in a ridiculously tall truck, and it is really windy, you may want to consider slowing down so you don't tip over.

Also

11) If it is raining and visibility is zero you should consider not speeding.
posted by An algorithmic dog at 11:43 PM on July 19, 2010


Almost half the country is screaming bloody murder for the repeal of that fascist 1070 bill and THIS is what they focus on!?
posted by Jauxie_Raddass at 2:22 AM on July 20, 2010


I've definitely seen people drive like idiots around them, often over-aggressively breaking when the light turns yellow, and it's dangerous.

Incredibly easy fix. Take the signs away that say the intersection has a camera. Then, they'll run the light, get the ticket, and maybe, just maybe, stop running red lights.

See, the fact that people do this shows that...

1) They know that what they're doing is illegal, and
2) The only reason they're trying to comply with the law is that they realized they'll be caught.

So, take the signs away. Make *every* intersection identical. Indeed, the ideal world here is to have cameras on every intersection, and if you think that is too much, randomly turn on only 10% of them on a given day. And maybe, after a dozen tickets, they'll get the hint. And if they won't, they can keep paying *until* they get the hint.

There aren't many rules that need to be ironclad, but this one is one of them. Unless you are under superior right of way (say, a fire truck on a call) you STOP AT EVERY RED LIGHT.

Period.

And if you can't cope with being caught running them, stop driving.

Period.

See, if you stop pushing yellows and start stopping at red lights, you never get a red light ticket. It's really that simple.
posted by eriko at 5:40 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


At least now I understand how it's possible I wind up doing 5mph under the speed limit every time I go into Maine. Those driver's ed films worked a little too well for some of you.
posted by yerfatma at 5:51 AM on July 20, 2010


There aren't many rules that need to be ironclad, but this one is one of them. Unless you are under superior right of way (say, a fire truck on a call) you STOP AT EVERY RED LIGHT.

I don't necessarily agree that you're right about the first part, but you're missing something with the second. The people who object to red-light enforcement are not arguing that they should be allowed to zip through red lights at will. At least, I have never heard that argument. What I have heard are (1) In some instances, as the light is changing, clearing the intersection in violation of the yellow/red is the prudent course; and (2) In some instances (usually rural), it is clear the red light is either mistimed* or malfunctioning and it can safely be blown—in which case the issue is not "stopping" at the red light, but what you may do after stopping.

* "Mistimed" usually meaning one of two things: Either that the intersection was poorly programmed (e.g., equal times are given to a highway and low-capacity side street), or that the red light should not be active (e.g., police neglected to switch the stoplight over to blinking yellow/red at the prescribed time).
posted by cribcage at 6:59 AM on July 20, 2010


Here in DC, I see the red light cameras inexplicably flash all the time (ie. people driving through intersections with green lights at normal speeds). No idea if tickets are being served, but I wouldn't doubt it.

A couple of years back, I got several tickets from the camera that watches traffic coming off of 395 onto S. Capitol St., directly between the Capitol and the stadium. They sent me photos of my car going through a green light. Even with photographic evidence from their own cameras showing no violation it took months to get them to cease with the demands for payment. I still hate driving through that light...

0) Keep right except to pass.

I truly believe that a stronger adherence to this rule would cut down on traffic problems. I wish more states incorporated this into their signage. Unfortunately, the type of person who'll drive 10 miles under the speed limit is often the same type who'll obliviously hang in the passing lane. Or --like at least one person I know-- actively try to police traffic by getting in the left lane of the beltway and going 55. Soon, instead of a car whizzing by every minute or so at high speed, there is a agitated, jittery mass of cars behind him jockeying to try and get around deputy dawg. Are they the problem? Yes. Is he as big a part of the problem? Yes. Another reason people don't car pool, as well. I lasted about a week.
posted by umberto at 7:46 AM on July 20, 2010


Unlawful taxation, why don't they just raise property tax? Is there a difference between getting a ticket for going 1 mph over the speed limit and a just flat out raising taxes? In my mind there isn't, stop putting the burden on the citizen and learn how to be more fiscally responsible in your State!
posted by pandrew3 at 8:01 AM on July 20, 2010


See, if you stop pushing yellows and start stopping at red lights, you never get a red light ticket. It's really that simple.

This is simply false. Many people get tickets from these cameras because they made a perfectly legal right-on-red.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:53 AM on July 20, 2010


See, if you stop pushing yellows and start stopping at red lights, you never get a red light ticket. It's really that simple.

No, it's not that simple. There are documented cases where the light timing has been altered, e.g. to reduce the yellow light interval, apparently in order to produce more tickets.

The net effect of this is not safer intersections, it's the opposite, and the VA DOT study I linked in a prior comment substantiated this. Installing a red-light camera at an intersection actually increased the number of accidents.

There's a reason that the light goes green-yellow-red and not just green-red. The yellow light exists because it's dangerous to just have the light go from "Go" to "STOP RIGHT NOW" ... there is a range (which is speed-dependent) as you approach the light where you are beyond a 'point of no return': the edge of the intersection is within the safe stopping distance of your vehicle. Hence, the yellow light: it gives drivers a chance to get through the intersection if they're already too close to stop safely.

Yes, there are people who accelerate towards yellow lights, or go through them when they probably shouldn't. It happens. System-gaming is part of human nature. This is why in addition to the yellow-light interval, there's generally also an interval where the lights are red in both directions, just to make sure that the intersection is clear. On the whole it works pretty well as an accident-prevention measure -- someone has to really be running a solid red light to cause a T-bone crash at a traffic light.

Red light cameras might seem on the surface like a good idea, but in reality they've been shown to increase the net number of accidents. They enforce the law, but enforcing the law is not a worthy goal if it makes us less safe. The goal of a traffic system should be increased safety, not mindless rule enforcement. And if enforcing a rule mechanically results in a higher number of accidents, then it's not a net good. The first rule of the road in most states is that you have to do whatever you can to avoid an accident; all other rules are secondary -- we should keep that in mind when designing enforcement mechanisms as well.

I suspect that there's room for red light cameras, properly implemented: if the threshold is set suitably high, so that they're really only catching people who are running a solid red (i.e. light is red at the time they enter the intersection), or even higher so that it's only truly egregious or flagrant violations, then it might increase safety and decrease accidents overall. Or it might not; it needs to be backed up by evidence, not a desire for punishment.

I dislike people who run red lights as much as anyone, but I'd rather let them go than make the roads as a whole less safe, and the red-light camera systems as they currently exist seem to do just that.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:55 AM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


It always struck me that the main reason people don't like the cameras is that people just don't like to get caught speeding.

What bugs me the most about this system is not that I want to speed, but it seems to target the owners of vehicles rather than the people who are driving, as tickets are given first based on license plate, not driver. People borrow other people's cars. In every other case of ticketing, including speeding and running red lights, tickets are given to drivers, regardless of vehicle owner. I don't like a system that has the potential to falsely ticket someone just because they are the owner of the vehicle, and then needs to parse out what really happened later, based on who was doing the driving.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:06 AM on July 20, 2010


In other Arizona news: Sheriff Joe’s War: Now More War-ry!
posted by homunculus at 9:19 AM on July 20, 2010


In other Arizona news: Sheriff Joe’s War: Now More War-ry!

I am so thankful to have just moved out of Arizona, just relieved.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:08 AM on July 20, 2010


Kirk Grim: "With the photo radar we have a tool that doesn't discriminate and can actually catch anyone speeding at any time. "

Including times when it wouldn't matter how fast they're going? Trees falling in the forest, and all that...
posted by rhizome at 11:35 AM on July 20, 2010


I've had people streaming around me on both sides doing 80 in a 65 in the middle lane. — An algorithmic dog

Why were you in the middle lane, going slower than the cars around you, if there was room to your right? Why is a number on a sign more important to you than driving attentively and safely?

Is it because you might be on camera?
posted by nicwolff at 12:18 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


In other Arizona news: Sheriff Joe’s War: Now More War-ry!

I've mentioned this sentiment before, but any sheriff who feels they legitimately needs an APC with a .50 BMG needs to be fired and his department defunded. No police station needs this kind of firepower. None. If things have gotten so bad that you imagine that this is the answer to the threat, you need to call in the National Guard.

And I say this as someone who deeply loves the M-2 (probably the gun in question). It's a thing of great beauty, and awesomeness. But it's not something that should ever, ever, ever be in the hands of people sworn to "protect and serve".
posted by quin at 12:46 PM on July 20, 2010


I've had people streaming around me on both sides doing 80 in a 65 in the middle lane. — An algorithmic dog

You were going too slow for existing conditions. The existing conditions being "You are sharing the road with nutjobs".

But the fact remains that you should have moved over.

It took me many years to accept this.
posted by etherist at 12:48 PM on July 20, 2010


I've had people streaming around me on both sides doing 80 in a 65 in the middle lane. — An algorithmic dog

You were going too slow for existing conditions. The existing conditions being "You are sharing the road with nutjobs".

But the fact remains that you should have moved over.


On a city highway with a lot of exits happening along the right side, the middle lane is a much safer place to drive, even if people are passing you on the right, which is against the road rules in every state I've lived in.

But then, I can't remember the last time I saw someone pulled over for passing on the right.
posted by hippybear at 1:46 PM on July 20, 2010


Why were you in the middle lane, going slower than the cars around you, if there was room to your right? Why is a number on a sign more important to you than driving attentively and safely?

This is jumping to some conclusions. Depending on where you are, people going significantly faster can sneak up on you quickly, before they decide that they are going to pass you on the right before you can do anything about it. I've had times where I can't switch lanes to let them by, or else I'll run into them trying to go around. The speed itself in this case (90-100) is likely more reckless than going 65 in the center lane.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:56 PM on July 20, 2010


On a city highway with a lot of exits happening along the right side, the middle lane is a much safer place to drive, even if people are passing you on the right, which is against the road rules in every state I've lived in.

In Washington State it is legal to safely pass on the right in multi-lane roads.

I think it is also technically legal to drive in the middle lane of a 3-lane road when not going faster than traffic.

Driving slower than traffic in the left lane, on the other hand, is illegal (which of course the DOT itself screws up by putting onramps on the left lane). But this isn't true in every state.
posted by qvantamon at 2:00 PM on July 20, 2010


I can't remember the last time I saw someone pulled over for passing on the right.

I've seen it twice on northern California highways--in my experience, the CHP much more often stop people for reckless driving than for simply driving fast. Of course, the passing on the right was also combined with close following, no turn signal use, etc., but I have seen people pulled over for aggressive, unsafe driving in which passing--especially trucks--on the right seemed to be the final straw.
posted by LooseFilter at 2:14 PM on July 20, 2010


This is jumping to some conclusions [...] I've had times where I can't switch lanes to let them by

It's not a matter of switching lanes; if there's not a car to your right, you should be in that lane already. Don't drive up the middle lane when the right lane is free, then complain about being passed on the right.

Now, if you were passing a car, and someone cut in between you in the short gap before you got back in the rightmost lane, then that's reckless driving at any speed. But that's not what was described by the poster I was responding to.
posted by nicwolff at 2:35 PM on July 20, 2010


The major negative effect of speed limits and traffic lights and the combination of the two is to cause vehicles to aggregate to the same speed, and therefore to remain bunched up.

I've always thought the main danger in speed was differential speed. A peloton of cars moving at the same speed is pretty safe as long as everyone remains at the same speed. One car moving 55 and one behind in the same lane moving 75 is a recipe for danger.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:27 PM on July 20, 2010


Ah, should have looked this up before hitting "Post Comment".
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:28 PM on July 20, 2010


So pray tell, why is the autobahn is one of the safest highway systems around?

German drivers are just as crazy as American drivers, but they're all crazy in the same predictable way. America's version of crazy driving is just a clusterfuck of everyone doing their own thing, which is endemic of the ludicrously easy licensing procedure.

Germany treats their drivers' licensing system as an actual privilege. It cost (at least when I was there a couple years ago) ~$2,000 for rigorous driving classes and first aid training even before the licensing itself, which has a test of ~100 driving knowledge questions and ~50 sign-recognition questions, and requires a 90% score to pass. I don't remember the revocation standards, but those were pretty strict too.
posted by Evilspork at 4:26 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't find a reference right now, so this may be apocryphal/false/out-of-ass, but the story I was told is that on the Autobahn you waive any personal injury claims if you get in an accident not wearing a seatbelt.
posted by rhizome at 7:02 PM on July 20, 2010


"only 16 per cent of drivers who received a speeding ticket paid up"

I don't understand this part. Are they not bothering to enforce traffic offences?

In the UK, if you get a ticket from a speed camera, and don't pay it, you will receive a court summons. Fail to attend and a warrant will be issued for your arrest.
posted by bap98189 at 4:32 AM on July 21, 2010


A few examples of why cameras are bad.
posted by ryoshu at 6:33 AM on July 21, 2010


I don't understand this part. Are they not bothering to enforce traffic offences?

You have to be served a ticket in person for it to be legally binding (so that the court can confirm that the ticket was issued to YOU personally--the mail is not legally adequate for that, as with subpoenas). It costs money to pay servers to hand-deliver all those tickets, so if you are not served, your ticket is not binding. Plus, the penalty for making them serve you the ticket is only $20 additional to the fine, so very little penalty for waiting to see if it will catch up to you.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:35 AM on July 21, 2010


Including times when it wouldn't matter how fast they're going? Trees falling in the forest, and all that...

I'm not sure I understand what you're saying here--when does the speed you're traveling at not matter?
posted by Kirk Grim at 2:18 PM on July 21, 2010


I'm not sure I understand what you're saying here--when does the speed you're traveling at not matter?

When the conditions allow it. Rural freeways with clear weather and no traffic in either direction, for instance. Interstates at 3am on a Monday morning.
posted by rhizome at 3:36 PM on July 21, 2010


You have to be served a ticket in person for it to be legally binding (so that the court can confirm that the ticket was issued to YOU personally--the mail is not legally adequate for that, as with subpoenas).

So I can just ignore those parking tickets, eh?
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:46 PM on July 21, 2010


So I can just ignore those parking tickets, eh?

I wish. Nope, parking tickets are issued to vehicles, not to drivers--speeding tix in AZ are issued to drivers (so if your face isn't clear in the photo even though the license plate is, ticket is not enforceable).
posted by LooseFilter at 4:07 PM on July 21, 2010


You have to be served a ticket in person for it to be legally binding (so that the court can confirm that the ticket was issued to YOU personally--the mail is not legally adequate for that, as with subpoenas).

So I can just ignore those parking tickets, eh?

I wish. Nope, parking tickets are issued to vehicles, not to drivers--speeding tix in AZ are issued to drivers (so if your face isn't clear in the photo even though the license plate is, ticket is not enforceable).


I thought it was the handing-it to-you thing that made it enforceable, or so it was claimed in the comment I responded to. Geez, it's just so confusing when so many people have so many opinions on things.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:27 AM on July 22, 2010


Milo: I understand that my opponent supports the 55 M.P.H. speed limit.
Opus: Saves 500 lives a year! I fully support saving lives.
Milo: Then he'd support the saving of another 10,000 lives by lowering the limit to 40 M.P.H.
Opus: 40?
Milo: Or to 20 ... Saving 30,000 lives a year.
Opus: Gee... 20 is pretty slow.
Milo: Apparently my opponent would send 30,000 men, women, and children to fiery, mangled deaths just so he can zoom along to his manicurist at 55.
Opus: I DON'T HAVE A MANICURIST!
Milo: He probably doesn't. Most mass murderers don't. Hitler didn't.
posted by yeti at 11:44 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


When the conditions allow it. Rural freeways with clear weather and no traffic in either direction, for instance. Interstates at 3am on a Monday morning.

How would a driver know there's absolutely no traffic in either direction? That can change at a moment's notice; you can go over a small hill or around a corner and on the other side is a driver obeying the speed limit or coming the opposite direction. There's got to be a reasonable standard here; you have to be able to react to unexpected situations--and that's not even just other cars; it could be moose or deer or cyclists or people or tractors or potholes or debris or sinkholes (can you tell I work in insurance?)

On top of which, are you aware that when really awesome cool people get in accidents while driving really fast or not stopping at red lights or otherwise not paying attention or breaking the law, they or their insurance companies often name cities or Departments of Highways etc in subsequent court cases for not making the road safe enough or allowing dangerous road conditions? Because they do, and even though they rarely win the City still has court fees etc. That's your tax dollars.

So yeah, tree falling in the forest with no one around might have no consequence by some leap of faith and a strained metaphysical argument, but that's all hypothetical. Speed limits give the public a reasonable standard or expectation of safety that depends entirely on people following the law. Apparently that's too much to ask.

So by all means, justify speeding as OK when you do it, but I think it's tremendously disingenuous for people to protest a fine for admittedly breaking the law. If you're going to take your chances, then you have to be willing to take your lumps.
posted by Kirk Grim at 3:16 PM on July 22, 2010


How would a driver know...?

"Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?" --Chico Marx

How would *which* driver know? Ever been on Interstate 5 in California? People who don't stop for red lights (!) are not "awesome cool," and there *is* a reasonable standard here: my judgment. I'm sure that algorithm isn't airtight, but hey...neither is yours. I've developed my calculus over 22 years so it's not like I'm just DERP GAS; only one accident has been my fault and that was 15 years ago and cigarette caused, not speed or maneuvering. Insurance people should love me, I never have a claim.

Anyway...I'm not sure what this has to do with traffic cams anymore...
posted by rhizome at 7:29 PM on July 22, 2010


How would a driver know there's absolutely no traffic in either direction? That can change at a moment's notice...

I have to assume that comment comes from very limited experience driving. There are many, many locations where a driver can know for certain that there is absolutely no traffic in either direction, and where that fact absolutely cannot change at a moment's notice.

There is a concept in traffic engineering called sight distance. It's a fundamental principle in road design, and it means what it sounds like: a driver needs to be able to see ahead far enough to avoid a potential hazard or collision. Roads, and especially intersections, are designed with this in mind. It is what traffic engineers look to when they decide whether the yellow dividing line should be solid or dotted (to permit passing). Intersections are commonly altered to correct sight distance problems (for instance, if a new subdivision is changes the traffic volume on a street). It is one of those things that is kept in mind by even not-particularly-competent highway departments. I'm sure you can think of areas where sight distance does not allow a person to safely exceed the posted limit, or to drive through a red light without waiting for it to turn green. I can, too. But those are the exception, not the rule—precisely because traffic engineers consider sight distance to be crucial even when a driver does have the benefit of a green light, etc.

The second statement is what leads me to assume that you don't drive much. I don't mean to be flip, but it's a little bizarre. If a driver has sufficient sight distance in either direction to see there is no oncoming traffic (or to judge its speed), then insisting that fact can change "at a moment's notice" would seem to presume some additional factor—like for instance, there is a parking-lot exit adjacent to the roadway, from which cars often speed out. That's what you did by throwing a hill or a corner into the equation. And at that point you're stacking the hypothetical by assuming the driver doesn't know, or ignored it.
posted by cribcage at 8:06 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


That still doesn't account for deer , potholes, crap that fell from a truck, and all the other road hazards.

Frankly, I suspect you are the one with limited experience. Just enough to be cocky, not enough to know better.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:13 PM on July 23, 2010


That still doesn't account for deer , potholes, crap that fell from a truck, and all the other road hazards.

Once again, it's the *bad drivers* who don't account for those things. I realize that you're trying to make a point about unpredictable elements of driving, but it's presumptuous to say that it doesn't factor into anybody's risk analysis or skill development.
posted by rhizome at 12:38 PM on July 23, 2010


That still doesn't account for deer, potholes, crap that fell from a truck...

...or earthquakes, snipers, Zeus's lightning, etc. Seriously, you're welcome to suspect whatever you like but I think you had the right idea earlier.

Once again, it's the *bad drivers* who don't account for those things.

I think the point is, these stacked-deck hypotheticals amount to broadening the question so you can reach a different answer. The only question at hand is whether the act (speeding, driving through a red light without waiting for it to change, etc.) is per se unsafe. By asking, "What if there's a hill obstructive the view ahead?", or "What if a deer suddenly runs into the road?", you are introducing new elements with new assumptions (that the driver did not see the hill ahead; that driving 55 mph instead of 65 mph would avoid hitting the deer; etc.). It's an exercise that you can do all day, but it's an obfuscating way to argue that the act was dangerous per se.
posted by cribcage at 1:33 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


250mph is perfectly safe by your rather useless metric.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:56 PM on July 23, 2010


250mph is perfectly common on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
posted by rhizome at 7:36 PM on July 23, 2010


Agreed. I can't see as how that applies to highways.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:12 PM on July 23, 2010


I've driven on highways in New Mexico where simply leaving the speed up to drivers and not posting any numerical limit at all (like Montana used to do) would have been quite reasonable. Straight, flat, miles of visibility in every direction; there wasn't really a de facto limit at all, since you can easily see that there's nobody there to enforce it. I'm sure this is the case in lots of places in the West.

There are only a very small number of cars in the world capable of doing much over 200 MPH though, at least for any sustained amount of time; even on an optimal road like that, I suspect the average car and driver is going to be, on a really good day, perhaps up around 90 or 100. That doesn't seem intrinsically unsafe just on its face, given an optimal road and optimal conditions.

Some sort of variable speed limit that reduces speeds when there is some reason to (bad weather, congestion) would be a far better system than a fixed limit, and probably would get a lot more respect from drivers. After all, someone weaving in and out of traffic, or driving in heavy rain, at 55 or 65 is a lot more dangerous than someone cruising along on some ruler-straight desert road on a nice day at 100. It's not the speed per se that is the problem, it's the appropriateness of a particular speed to the driving conditions at the time.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:29 PM on July 25, 2010


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