Cameras never lie
January 12, 2004 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Cities claim taking photos of speeding cars is done for safety, while others have shown it's just for $$$. They say cameras never lie, but when there is money on the line, who knows? Declan McCullagh rounds up a slew of articles about inaccurate speed cameras on roadways around the world.
posted by mathowie (14 comments total)
This Article is a little long but by far the best I have read on the subject.
posted by Dr_Octavius at 9:42 AM on January 12, 2004

In DC, I never have to worry about getting stopped by an actual police car, but those speeding cameras are a different story. It's always like 36 in a 25 too. You can stop on a dime going 36. Also, there's no way to prove you weren't speeding. I swear I recieved a ticket in the mail that showed my car stopped in rush hour traffic behind a line of other cars. Once people learn where they are, they will become aware of them and it will lead to more speeding because they generally don't move them around.
posted by joeadk at 10:12 AM on January 12, 2004

The National Motorists Association has been pretty active on this front. Their "Photo Enforcement" Page has some pretty interesting material, specifically the $10,000 challenge they issued to Washington DC. The challenge bets the money that well-engineered intersections (e.g. consistently timed yellow-light cycles, etc.) will reduce red light violations significantly greater than photo enforcement. So far, the challenge has not been accepted.
posted by ajr at 10:15 AM on January 12, 2004

I bet if they didn't get any violators they'd take them out.
posted by jeblis at 10:27 AM on January 12, 2004

I bet if they just set the speed limit at the 85th percentile, they'd get alot fewer violators. But then they'd not make as much... oh... shit.
posted by jammer at 10:51 AM on January 12, 2004

Isn't the benefit that it generates revenue AND prevents accidents?
posted by agregoli at 11:01 AM on January 12, 2004

After reading Part I of Dr_Octavius's linked article, I've come across two points on the pro side that I hadn't really thought about before. The first is that such systems could presumably be set up to be fair, rather than an officer ticketing everyone except attractive women, other cops, relatives of cops, people with "I support law enforcement stickers!" etc. (I don't even need to go into race, do I?) The second is that such systems could be set up so that you get caught every time you speed (at least in a certain place.) Every time. This might actually make driving safer, which I have a hard time believing the current system does at all. If negative reinforcement has any benefit whatsoever, it's got to be consistent and predictable.

That said, nobody in power is remotely concerned with fairness or the police department wouldn't get to keep any monies recieved by fine or seizure. There would be published standards regarding how fast you are actually allowed to drive. Yellow lights would be of consistent (at least for each speed limit or whatever) duration. And I wouldn't see cops speeding down the highway weaving without using their siren or even turn signals.

Not that I'm bitter.
posted by callmejay at 11:47 AM on January 12, 2004

I am reminded of a story of a schlmeil who got one of these automatically generated tickets. It even included a photo of the car at the moment of the violation.

Except it wasn't his car. The car in the photo was completely different. It had the same plate number, except they were official state plates, and his were ordinary-citizen plates. Not impossible to understand how such a mistake could be made, but when he pointed out to The Powers That Be "look, this is not my car and that's not actually my plate" they basically said "tough, pay up."
posted by adamrice at 12:25 PM on January 12, 2004

In BC we have red light cameras. The only cars that get ticketed are those that enter the intersection on a red, and only if they are not turning the corner. Late-yellow runners, unfortunately, are not ticketed.

The revenues go toward maintenance of the camera system. No monies end up in the provincial general revenue, nor in the municipality's revenues, nor in the cops' revenues. The system currently breaks even. IMO, it is the best possible system: it catches only those who flagrantly disregard the safety of others, and doesn't reward those who are in a position to diddle the lights.

Ultimately, we need safer roads. Some decisions are being made that make them substantially more dangerous. So much for government for the people.
We used to have speed cameras, too. Those things were a fucking godsend: the range of speeds was dramatically narrowed, making a great difference in personal safety. Far less passing and far fewer out-of-nowhere idjits.

The current provincial government bagged the speeding cameras and the result has been terrible: there is now at least a 40kmh speed difference between the fastest and slowest drivers and the cops have basically given up on ticketing. Those of us doing a reasonable approximation of the speed limit are under constant threat by rancid idiots who can't seem to understand that they endanger us all when our speeds are so terribly mis-matched.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:12 PM on January 12, 2004

The current provincial government bagged the speeding cameras and the result has been terrible: there is now at least a 40kmh speed difference between the fastest and slowest drivers and the cops have basically given up on ticketing. Those of us doing a reasonable approximation of the speed limit are under constant threat by rancid idiots who can't seem to understand that they endanger us all when our speeds are so terribly mis-matched.

If there are that many people speeding on your roads, and you're doing the limit, the liklihood is that the speed limit is set unreasonably low, which is the real source of the danger here. Were the limit to be reasonably set at something approximating the 85% speed, like I mentioned above, the greatest source of traffic disturbance would disappear.
posted by jammer at 1:15 PM on January 12, 2004

Were that were true, jammer.

The posted speed limit between my town and the next is 90kmh. When cameras were around, the real limit was about 100kmh; I daresay that of those doing speed limit plus, 95% of drivers were within the 90-100kmh range, and the remainder were under 105kmh. Without the cameras we now regularly have people doing 120-130kmh.

This stretch of road has black ice problems during the winter and rockfall problems during the summer. During the summer it is also jam-packed with tourists, who are frequently not-all-there as they gawk at the sights. For a good bit of its run it is a single-lane strip that snakes along a lake, no more than ten feet from the waterlinle. Add in the deer, the semis, and the occassional farming machine, and it's the definitive example of a road where the speed limit truly is sane.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:31 PM on January 12, 2004

HA! Sorry mates (an Aussie here), but speed cameras work. They SLOW you down! Are they always right? No, but not everyone executed in the USA is guilty... (I live in the USA now - speed limits here are simply not effectively enforced.)

First some personal experience and then some real research. I lived in Melbourne and the average speed on metropolitan roads (not tiny back streets) was about 80 km/h (50 mph) when the speed limit was 60 km/h (35 mph). If the cops saw you they'd book you, but the chance was small because when they caught someone it took them ages to process the paper work. I then went to New Zealand and came back 3 years later. In the meantime Melbourne introduced speed cameras. Average speed dropped about 10 km/h (6 mph). Why? Cameras just click away and you get your fine in the post. The enforcement capacity went up by an order of magnitude. If you're not the driver - you've got 28 days to get someone else to agree they were driving. Otherwise - pay up. (And none of this USA malarky about having the cop who booked you face you in court - you face a representative of the police...)

Unfair? Sometimes. Effective? Yes. Voted back in? Yes. For the vocal minority of people who feel (sometimes with reason) that they can safely drive faster than average, it's a pain. Tough - roads are built with public money and you lose at the ballot box to the majority to whom safer roads are more important than the feeling of the wind in your hair.

Research. Monash are a major university and well respected. In summary, pick your enforcement mechanism for the situation, and keep the cameras well calibrated.

And the public view? A necessary evil. (And yes, some speed limits on open roads were raised slightly, it is a big country.)
posted by ozjohn at 5:55 PM on January 12, 2004

I kind of wish they had some stoplight enforcement cameras around here. The standard motorist behavior seems to be that once the light turns red, that means you are the last car through. I cannot count the number of times my light has turned green and there is some yahoo just entering the intersection. I have come to expect it. So have most of the other drivers. So, in a way, green here has come to mean wait for the last light-runner then you can go. Great until someone visits from a saner place, then blammo.

Okay, maybe these camera things wont work, but it gets old seeing people do something that unsafe day in and day out.
posted by jester69 at 8:43 PM on January 12, 2004

One day I'll learn to stay on topic.

Meanwhile, my state has dropped the town speed limit to 50 kph/30 mph. In a lifetime of complaining about the road rules, I have never considered 60 kph/37.3 mph excessive. This is the natural town speed to me.

Now, every time the State government wants a quick fillip to its coffers, it can send out the radar patrol or cameras to levy the citizens, and not even have to go through those ugly debates which happen when you raise direct taxes.

The penalty for breaking this law isn’t light; approximately two days’ wages for the average working person. Would you believe these government scoundrels fine drivers for exceeding the speed limit of 40 kph past schools on days when there are no pupils?

I have urged massive civil disobedience in a letter to the local paper, and I've requested an appointment with my local MP.

/Takin’ it to the streets.
posted by emf at 1:22 PM on January 13, 2004

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