Trend Watch: Governments Ceding Control of Roads to Outlaw Drivers

Traffic cameras have spotted hundreds of thousands of drivers speeding on Arizona highways since the 2008 launch of an automated enforcement program. Yet the AP reports that what should be a highly successful safety measure is in danger of disappearing. The reason: Law-breaking motorists are staging what amounts to an insurrection against the state, and they might be getting the upper hand.  

maskedmoron.jpgTo some in Arizona, reckless deadbeats like this guy have attained folk hero status.

Though more than 700,000 tickets were issued to drivers going 11 miles per hour or more over the speed limit from September 2008 to September 2009, many drivers are refusing to pay their fines — and officials appear to be siding with the law breakers. Even Governor Jan Brewer believes the program, initiated by her predecessor Janet Napolitano, was "created more as a revenue source," according to a spokesperson.

Lt. Jeff King, photo enforcement district commander for the state’s Department
of Public Safety, which includes the Arizona Highway Patrol, says his agency "just wanted drivers to go the speed
limit and did not understand all the backlash."

"Instead of spending so much time focusing on getting rid of cameras,
why don’t they focus on the real problem, the root problem, which is
getting people to drive the speed limit?" Lieutenant King said. "If
everyone was to drive the speed limit, the cameras would never flash."

Logic of this sort doesn’t stand a chance in the face of anti-enforcement hysterics, including camera defacement and drivers donning disguises to conceal their identities. No matter that a camera operator was murdered last year; the culture of scofflaw motorist entitlement has taken on the air of a populist crusade.

"I see all the cameras in Arizona completely coming down (in 2010),"
said Shawn Dow, chairman of Arizona Citizens Against Photo Radar, which
is trying to get a voter initiative banning the cameras on the November
ballot. "The citizens of Arizona took away the cash cow of Arizona by
refusing to pay."

Arizona isn’t the only place where the public may soon see reduced protection from law-breaking drivers. PublicCEO has the story of Steve Nolan, a city council member in Corona, California, who claims to support camera enforcement but is nevertheless waging a Facebook campaign to convince fellow lawmakers to reduce driver penalties. He’s also opposed to cameras he feels don’t improve safety because they are located at the entrance to a shopping mall.

[Nolan] predicted public sentiment would reach the point where the issue
will factor in Corona city elections. "At some point in time my
colleagues will wake up to the fact that 20,000 to 24,000 people in 18
months will have been cited." Many will be Corona voters.

In nearby Moreno Valley, meanwhile, a pilot camera enforcement program may be dropped due to "public outcry at expensive fines." And the mayor and police chief of Chattanooga, Tennessee have been forced by state legislators to defend their town’s use of cameras, which they say are saving lives. Along one stretch of road, crashes have dropped from 101 in 2001, before cameras were installed, to four last year. (In New York City, red-light running is down at camera-equipped locations by as much as 72 percent, yet the program remains at the mercy of our own skeptics.)

Chief Freeman Cooper describes Chattanooga automated enforcement as "a ‘voluntary program’ in that motorists have a choice on whether they will violate traffic laws."

(h/t to Bernie Wagenblast)

  • m to the i

    If reckless speeding drivers are opposed to fines then take away their license and throw them in jail instead. I’d be okay with that as an alternative.

  • Paul

    Okay, so how would those complainers feel about replacing every camera with police officers?

  • Why is this piece not making the obvious distinction between highway speed enforcement and surface street enforcement? The speed limits are set arbitrarily low on the interstates and speed enforcement on those roads is a clear revenue grab.

    Speed enforcement on highways is easy. You set up a speed trap, be it automated or by officer, and you can easily isolate vehicles speeding. Speed enforcement in cities with their variety of distractors is not so easy. That’s why you see plenty of speed traps on the interstates where traveling 15 mph over the speed limit places nobody in danger, but see none in the cities, where pedestrians and cyclists are at real risk from excessive speed. THAT’S the disparity we should be trying to remedy.

  • I tend to agree with nanterking. The speed cameras that Arizona installed on interstate highways – some in flat, straight stretches with large spaces between exits, others in places where the speed limit drops from 75 to 65 – are seen as cash cows, and I believe for good reason. The speed limits are these roads are relatively arbitrary and have a limited impact on safety. These speed cameras are giving all speed cameras a bad name.

    If the move was to remove those, but maintain the cameras on surface streets by an elementary school or in a thickly settled neighborhood in the name of safety, I think there would be much less disagreement.

  • The speed cameras also fail the Jew In The Attic test; there are things more important than “safe streets,” and freedom of anonymous travel is one of them.

    Disobedience of law shouldn’t be impossible, it’s suffocating to liberty. Sometimes laws are bad; should we obey those, too? (Do any of you smoke pot?)

    Incidentally I enjoy red light cameras, on grounds they don’t take pictures unless you’re breaking the law — that, and running reds seems orders of magnitude more dangerous than doing sixty in a fifty-five. (I’ve also been nearly killed by people blowing reds more often than I can count.)

    Excellent points made by Nanterking and O’Leary.

  • m to the i

    I agree that for pedestrian and biker safety, highway cameras probably aren’t the way to go. But drivers are people too, so if you’re thinking about overall motor vehicle safety then I don’t understand what the problem is. If you look at the link below, it shows that most fatal crashes in the US kill a driver or a passenger of a car. And we all know the chance of a crash being fatal increases as speed increases.

    http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2010/tables/10s1069.pdf

    Highways in the US are not built to handle autobahn speeds and neither are US drivers educated to safely drive at those speeds. Second, speed limits were generally set for the most efficient use of gas. Exceeding the speed limit means less gas mileage, more gas used and more emissions, which affects public health and the environment.

    As for freedom issues, it seems contradictory to be against these cameras and also believe that there should be bus mounted cameras to catch drivers driving in bus lanes. Both seem important even though one is meant to prevent an inconvenience, a longer bus ride, and the other is meant to prevent fatal crashes (or save the states economy, whichever you believe.)

  • archie

    m to the i, I’d argue bus-mounted cameras could lead to safer roads as they help improve the usability of busriding, which in-turn reduces the dependency on inherently dangerous autos.

  • flp

    kaja, i think some of us here are more concerned about speeding within populated areas, not highways, where speed limits rarely exceed 30. driving 35 in a 30 mph can make a huge difference preventing and/or reducing injuries and fatalities. just consider the math. 5mph over a 30mph speed is a 17% increase in speed which translates into that much more force while 5mph over a 50mph speed is just 10% more. as for privacy issues, i wonder if speed radars/cameras can be set to be triggered in the same manner as red light cams: only when the law is being broken. someone out there know more about those mechanics? maybe that kind of system is already up? probably not.

  • m to the i: Good points on highway safety, but the environmental argument is moot… there’s no law requiring driving in the most fuel-efficient manner. If that were the case, the speed limit would be 55 on every road, and there would be grade separations at every intersection.

    However, it’s also worth pointing out that in most places, driving 76 in a 65 wouldn’t even get you pulled over by police on patrol, but it would get you a speeding ticket on I-10 in Chandler, Arizona thanks to the speed camera. That’s where most of this anger is rooted.

  • clever-title

    There’s also the issue that the Constitution requires that an defendant be allowed to cross-examine his accusor. Since you can’t put a speed or red-light camera on a witness stand, they’re on thin ice. But I doubt most camera opponents are arguing on Constitutional grounds.

    I’d like to see cameras used to identify spots to increase human enforcement; but they seem to be installed where they will maximize ticket revenue, rather than have the greatest impact on pedestrian safety.

  • There is so little you know.

    Tickets on the right coast are cheap – $50 or $100. In California they are $500+.

    Police can be almost as creative as criminals. On these photo tickets, some AZ and CA police send out fake/phishing tickets – ones that have not been filed with the court, to bluff the registered owner into revealing who was actually driving the car. These fakes are also called Snitch Tickets. Once the naive RO sends that info in (he could have ignored the Snitch Ticket), the police issue a real ticket to the person the RO named.

    They use the fake tickets because CA and AZ are “driver responsibility” states – the ticket has to name the actual driver, or it can be dismissed. Most other states are owner responsibility, so don’t need to use Snitch Tickets. By the way, in CA a red light camera ticket will cost you $500+.

  • BB

    http://acyclist.wordpress.com/2010/01/04/open-letter-to-the-anti-camera-people/

    These people are complaining because they can’t go 11 mph over the speed limit seriously now. What is wrong with this picture?

    They sure don’t want to take down those traffic cameras now do they?

    I wrote an article on this. I think the enforcement needs to be fixed.

    I really think we need to take a few more rights from motorists.

    Double Jeopardy is real problem with collisions (it has resulted in no charges being filed in a wrongful death). Or two not citing everything thing they did wrong. Not to mention needing to cross examine a robot.

    I am not a lawyer, but these need to be looked at. We currently take away Bill of Rights 9 so why is this so hard?

  • The constitutional issues can be dealt with by restructuring privileges and penalties. If speed limit compliance for a highway is so poor that cameras are necessary—there’s an elevated level of crashes and/or the law is flouted by so many motorists that effective police enforcement is impossible—make the highway a toll road that is only open to cars that have not been photographed speeding on it in the past year. This keeps the road from being a drain on the public (most of whom don’t use it) and avoids the need to brand speeders as criminals, and all the costs that entails.

    Or just raise the speed limit, after a public debate over the costs and benefits of high speed driving by American-licenced drivers. (Not that you can even assume motorists are licensed here.) It’s interesting that camera reactionaries are petitioning for a fighting chance to get away with breaking the law, rather than the opportunity to drive those speeds legally by raising limits. If it’s an interstate funded nationally that may not be possible, but I would rather give up fiscal and mortal responsibility for the whole intestate disaster to the states they lie in. Let their electorates manage highways however they wish: as revenue-sucking death chutes teeming with unskillfully driven SUVs at 85mph, or relatively safe and revenue-positive routes that are open to people willing to follow certain rules.

  • J. Mork

    Can’t they just see what time the Monkey Guy usually goes by and go get him? Once they’ve verified that he wears the mask, they can possibly pin the other tickets him too?

    Also, is it legal to wear a mask while driving? Same thing, cops, go get him!

    And scofflaws, if you don’t like a law, work to get it changed. If you engage in civil disobedience, you’re supposed to take the punishment.

  • J:Lai

    This is an example of selective law enforcement penalizing a group or activity while not increasing safety. In this case, it appears to be designed to maximize revenue.

    While I typically have little sympathy for drivers, this is the same precedent that is used, for example, when the NYPD arrests people at critical mass rides.

    No one should support this type of selective enforcement.

  • J:Lai, you must be joking. Automated enforcement is the antithesis of selective enforcement.

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