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The Problem With Speed Cameras That Don’t Catch Most Speeders

A few miles per hour can mean the difference between life and death for a pedestrian. Image: PEDS Atlanta
A few miles per hour can mean the difference between life and death for a pedestrian who is hit by a motorist. Image: PEDS Atlanta
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Residents of urban neighborhoods across the country are increasingly advocating for lower speed limits and automated traffic enforcement. As the above graphic illustrates, the stakes are high for pedestrians.

But in some jurisdictions where speed cameras are in use, motorists can drive much faster than the speed limit without penalty. In New York, for instance, state lawmakers allow New York City to ticket drivers only when they exceed the speed limit by more than 10 miles per hour.

Matt Johnson at Greater Greater Washington says speed cameras in his community nab only the extremely dangerous drivers, while people going 5 or even 10 mph over the limit don't get caught:

In Maryland, speed camera tickets can only be issued to motorists going at least 12 miles per hour over the speed limit. That severely blunts the effectiveness of the cameras for saving lives.

In my neighborhood on the east side of Greenbelt, the city has installed speed cameras on 2 neighborhood streets near Eleanor Roosevelt High School. One of the cameras is near a well-used, mid-block crosswalk that many students use. The speed limit in these areas is 25 mph, which means that drivers have to be going 37 mph before they get a ticket.

A collision at 25 mph would be less than 50% likely to kill a pedestrian. But a collision at 37 mph would bring an almost 90% chance of death.

On Monday, I witnessed a driver flying down the street, well above the speed limit. But I wondered if he was even going fast enough to get a ticket from the speed camera. Even on a quiet neighborhood street, drivers in Greenbelt can go fast enough to cause almost certain death for pedestrians without fearing a speed camera ticket.

That's the real effect of Maryland's speed camera restrictions: It allows drivers some leeway, but puts vulnerable road users at risk.

The 12 mph rule is even worse, Johnson adds, because engineers already determine speed limits according to the 85th percentile rule, meaning they observe how fast people drive and set the limit at the speed that only 15 percent of motorists exceed.

Elsewhere on the Network today: City Block looks at how strict zoning stifles new housing in cities across the U.S. The Oregonian's Hard Drive blog shares a guest column from a writer who was terribly shaken after viewing the aftermath of a fatal collision involving an elderly pedestrian. And Beyond DC says the best place for NFL stadiums is in the suburbs.

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