Life-Saving Speed Cams Find an Enemy in New York AAA

Legislation to bring automated speed enforcement to the city is drawing fire from the New York branch of AAA.

Speed cameras have proven to be effective in clamping down on highly dangerous behavior. A pedestrian hit by a driver obeying the city’s 30 mph speed limit has about a 45 percent chance of dying, while at 40 mph the likelihood of death jumps to between 70 and 85 percent.

Nearly forty percent of city drivers observed for a 2009 Transportation Alternatives report were found to be speeding. Another 2009 TA study revealed that while the number of traffic fatalities caused by speeding rose by 11 percent between 2001 and 2006, the number of summonses issued for speeding dropped 22 percent during the same period.

Due to the sheer volume of speeders and thanklessness of manual enforcement, cameras offer an efficient solution. What’s more, speed cameras are popular. The current bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Deborah Glick and Senator Tom Duane, is supported by NYC DOT, NYPD, Manhattan Community Board 2, and even drivers informally polled by the Post and CBS 2 (data from actual polls indicate acceptance among motorists as well). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also favors automated speed enforcement.

But in the eyes of AAA spokesperson Robert Sinclair, speed cameras are merely a way to relieve police of their duty while relieving drivers of cash.

“It’s sort of ceding responsibility that a police officer should have for removing a truly reckless speeder off the road and giving it to a camera that does nothing to take that reckless speeder off the road,” he said.

Sinclair also said he had suspicions about the city’s motivation for the proposed move.

“It’s curious that the timing of this would come up now when we’re facing fiscal difficulties,” Sinclair said, “[AAA] sees this only as revenue enhancement opportunity.”

Someone should really explain to Sinclair that speed cameras are not just a punitive measure targeted at individual drivers, but a deterrent against a practice that is as commonplace as it is deadly. By getting behind a measure that enjoys broad appeal, AAA would also be protecting its own members, in addition to making streets safer for car-free New Yorkers.

  • Chris

    The police don’t do their duty anyway so I don’t see how these cameras are a bad thing. Anything to help reduce speeding is a good thing. Drivers, if you don’t like it, stop speeding?

  • Eric

    The only problem AAA has is you can’t contest a picture of a car running a red light. The only thing the police can do is issue a ticket, they can’t “remove” a speeder from the road. On the other hand cameras free up the police to deal with more serious problems.

  • Allan

    I think the problem here is the lanes are too wide. Road design is more effective than enforcement at lowering speeds

  • “It’s sort of ceding responsibility that a police officer should have for removing a truly reckless speeder off the road and giving it to a camera that does nothing to take that reckless speeder off the road,” he said.

    It’s worth repeating the point Brad makes about this quote. Since when do speeding tickets get drivers, reckless or otherwise, “off the road”? When flesh-and-blood cops give tickets, they hand it to drivers and let them go on their way. Only in excessive cases or in situations where other criminality is suspected are drivers immediately taken off the road.

    You’d actually think that AAA would at least listen to the insurance companies, although perhaps AAA wants more people to get in accidents so it can make some money from its roadside assistance program.

    One more thing:

    “It’s curious that the timing of this would come up now when we’re facing fiscal difficulties,” Sinclair said, “[AAA] sees this only as revenue enhancement opportunity.”

    Law abiding, speed-limit-minding drivers have nothing to fear. If anything, some cities have wound up regretting installing speed and red light cameras, not because they don’t work, but because they work too well. They can become so effective at reducing traffic violations that a reliable source of revenue can be reduced significantly. I’ll trade a few dollars in the city’s coffers if it means safer streets.

  • Doug

    Agree with Doug G! AAA’s objections are transparently partisan and self-serving.

    Not only is a flesh-and-blood cop giving tickets the same level of effectiveness (or more so, since it doesn’t waste time writing the ticket, and keeps ticketing), it is harder to contest (the proof is in the picture), and it is not likely to be thrown out when the cop fails to appear for the trial.

  • Driver

    Doug, tickets written by cops give you points on your license, and enough points can result in license suspension or revocation. Camera tickets do not have points; it is essentially a ticket given to the vehicle, not the driver.

    I don’t see the incentive for AAA to want people to get into more accidents. AAA makes more money from its roadside assistance program if people DON’T use their services. Motorists pay an annual membership fee regardless of whether services are used or not. Every road call makes a customer less profitable for that year.

    Has anyone considered the effect of speeding cameras on driver attention? Specifically, people will be paying more attention to their speedometer and less attention to their surroundings. You can say they shouldn’t need to do this, but the reality is many will.

  • Driver

    I was addressing Doug G. I forgot we have two Doug’s now.

  • I get that if you build up enough points you eventually lose your license or have it suspended, but it’s disingenuous of the AAA to claim that cameras won’t be effective because they don’t get speeders off the road. The mere presence of speed cameras can get drivers to slow down, so there is a benefit accrued to communities even when drivers don’t get tickets, points, or other punishments. Laws are sometimes effective even when there is no person to capture the offender simply because knowledge of potential punishment can be a sufficient deterrent. Right now drivers speed because they know the likelihood of getting caught is relatively low.

    The roadside assistance comment was a joke. Clearly they’d love it if no one got into accidents — which is exactly why the insurance industry is in favor of speed cameras. AAA’s position, at least in that sense, is puzzling.

    As for driver attention, I’m willing to wager that any deficiencies in attention caused by people looking at their speedometer are more than offset by the benefits of them not driving faster than the speed limit. Considering how long it takes someone to stop going 50 mph versus how long it takes someone to stop going 30, I’m willing to live in a world with people paying a tad too much attention to their dashboards.

  • wow… does anyone have contact info for Robert Sinclair at AAA? I’d like to let him know its comments like his that are pushing me to ditch my AAA membership. while i like getting a tow truck if I am in the middle of nowhere, I can’t easily stomach such stupidity in his responses.

  • Archivist

    If you support sustainable transportation, transit, cycling, walking, you should not be a member of AAA. That organization is not your friend. About ten years ago NRDC magazine did a big expose on AAA. Nothing has really changed except AAA has added another ten years of objectionable positions.

  • Great that the “motorist on the street” interviewed support the measure. Only the “special interest” AAA opposes; let’s do it!

    BTW the “Mobile 2” reporting format is preposterous, from the opening segment with the speedometer being gunned up to 50 MPH, to the ending segment where the reporter is stuck in traffic. In what way does making this report from the passenger compartment of a car improve it? It’s an offensive gimmick.

  • Joe R.

    Yes Allen ( #3 ), road redesign is really what needs to be done. Anything else is really just like trying to drill a hole in water. Drivers routinely drive above 30 mph because it feels ( and generally is ) safe to do so. “Safe” in this context means there is no more likelihood of colliding with another motor vehicle. Of course, as pointed out in the article, speeding is indeed detrimental in cyclist/pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions. For that reason alone I’ll agree that speeds need to be reduced. Red-light cameras ( or for that matter heavy police enforcement ) are not the way to go about it. Road redesign makes the most sense. Often just narrowing lanes does the trick. As a bonus, that sometimes makes room for either a bike lane or a wider sidewalk. Another strategy I’ve not seen mentioned which would reduce speeding/aggressive driving is removing any stop signs or traffic lights not strictly needed from a safety standpoint. Sometimes both things are used ostensibly to “calm” traffic. They end up having the opposite effect when motorists speed mid-block to make up time they lost at stop signs, or gun it to “make the light”. If a motorist knew they could have more predictable trip times by being able to drive steadily, even if only at 20 or 25 mph, with minimal need to stop, then we could significantly reduce speeding. 50 mph plus red lights, or 20 mph steady, might both result in the same trip time. The latter is obviously far safer for everyone. Let’s redesign the roads to make this possible.

  • Richard

    I’m not arguing against design solutions, including narrowing roads, but saying simply that “enforcement is ineffective” really doesn’t hold water when we’re talking about cameras. Unlike cops who catch violators infrequently, cameras enforce the rules almost 100% of the time and cost less to administer. If they are widespread and well-known, cameras can do a great job getting people to slow down or not run red lights and, unlike widespread infrastructure improvements, they actually pay for themselves. That means that with the politics in place, they could have a huge impact very quickly. Then we can go about redesigning and improving our infrastructure over time.

  • J

    A few comments:

    1) I think CBS 2 did a pretty decent job reporting this, since they actually found a number of drivers (cabbies at that!) that support speed cameras. Granted, they could have also talked to a pedestrian, but I’ll take what I can get.

    2) I think road design is the best solution, but speed cameras can be helpful as well.

    3) One problem with speed cameras, though, is that they are stationary and permanent. Once people know their location, they may act somewhat as speed bumps, slowing car speeds only at the actual cameras, and not in between.

  • trailer

    I’ve seen a speed camera put in a police van, and I’ve heard of one put on a trailer. The police could move the camera van/trailer around to spread the area of effect. One day the camera was there, the next it was somewhere else.

    The stationary camera locations can be put in the GPS to warn the driver to slow down for the camera. Not so for the mobile cameras.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, the permanent cameras basically end up functioning as speed bumps according to some studies. The mobile ones might not, but they use radar rather than embedded sensors in the roadway. Radar and laser are easily detectable. Like I said earlier, until you redesign the roads this will be like drilling a hole in water. Drivers tend to drive at whatever speed feels comfortable. You need to take this fact into account. I’m not saying red light cameras are a bad idea. If used on a road with properly set speed limits, they will in fact catch the highest percentile, statistically most dangerous drivers. That’s a good thing. But if used on 30 mph roads where the 85th percentile speed might be 42 mph, then they’ll end up catching everyone. If you really want city traffic to move at 30 mph maximum ( and there are plenty of good reasons for this ), then first redesign the road so the 85th percentile speed falls under 30 mph. Only then will it make sense to install speed cameras. These cameras in the end should serve a public safety function, with the revenue being irrelevant.

    On a lighter note, it might be really hilarious seeing the look on a camera technician’s face if an occasional cyclist ends up in the photo log.

  • Johnny

    Man this is a well reasoned thread. Good discussion. I have never understood AAA’s objections to the cameras. I mean I understand wanting to give their members lists of where they are which by the way serves the purposes of the cameras, but objecting to the cameras seems counter productive to me.

    I think there is value in the cameras and that they have proven what they do.

  • Page M.

    The first factoid in this article says it all. Most people think that going 5-10 mph over the limit is no big deal, but in the City it makes a huge difference with so much going on…pedestrians, cabs, delivery trucks, etc. Will the cameras solve it all? No, but it certainly will act as a good deterrent.

  • TomT

    There was a report recently released by the National Research Council, part of the well-respected National Academies, that found that the United States is lagging behind several other developed nations in reducing traffic fatalities. One of the reasons for this cited in the report is the increased use of radar and camera speed enforcement by other nations. If the technology is available, it should be used to save lives and reduce injuries.

  • Nobody who supports the goals of Streetsblog should belong to AAA, especially when a great alternative like Better World Club exists.

  • Anandakos

    A genuinely effective deterrent for speeding would involve a mechanical rack peopled with drivers who killed while speeding that tightens a millimeter every ten minutes providing live video feeds to traffic correction classes.

  • Don’t forget the real problem here… scofflaw cyclists who think they are above the law.

    Now quit interfering with my g-d given American freedoms and the right to travel as fast as I want without getting a ticket. I have a right to disobey any and all laws that I think are unfair!


  • cubuffalo

    oh my. these are the same folks that were against seat belts.

  • Jake

    While I understand to a point what AAA is saying, the answer is not to eliminate the cameras but rather use them along with officers. AAA should be behind the increase in enforcement.

  • Tatum

    i’m truly shocked that would be the official standpoint of AAA. they should 100% get behind ANY program that works to enforce better driving behavior.


Speeding Kills, and 39 Percent of New York Drivers Are Doing It

Could speed have caused yesterday’s pedestrian fatality? We’ll probably never know. Photo: New York Daily News A new report from Transportation Alternatives confirms what New York pedestrians and cyclists have been forced to accept as a fact of life: A high number of drivers speed through city streets, regardless of the potentially deadly consequences for […]

NYC Speed Cams Only Nabbing a Fraction of Speeders

After two weeks, it’s clear that NYC’s new automated speed camera program needs much more leeway from Albany in order to wrestle the city’s dangerous speeding problem under control. Under the law that state legislators passed to enable the program, speed cameras are currently operable only from one hour before the school day begins to […]