Table of Contents:
- The readers always write: Speed cameras
- Speed kills
Despite what some readers think, speed cameras--which combine video, sensor and data-analytics technology--will become an important life-saving tool.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about a St. Louis suburb that had installed a speed camera on one of its main thoroughfares, and after a period of time saw a dramatic reduction in the number of violations that the system detected. I wrote that this was a good thing. The column elicited several responses from readers, which I thought I would address today.
A couple of readers suggested that the speed camera’s true purpose is to generate revenue for the municipality. This struck them as being nefarious. Undeniably, the municipality is collecting fines from speeders. But keep in mind that violations are being issued only to those who exceed the posted speed limit by at least 10 miles per hour. That seems to be sufficient leeway—people are not being cited for driving just a couple of miles over the limit. Also, the camera is highly visible, so no one can complain about this being a speed trap.
Another couple of readers suggested that speed cameras are analogous to a Band-Aid, and what’s really needed is better traffic engineering. They’ll get no argument from me on that one. Living in the Chicago area, I can tell you that the roads are clogged all the time. This leads to frustration, which leads to more-aggressive driving. But I also think that people are more aggressive today just by nature, and this manifests on our roadways. I really don’t care when people go 10 miles over the limit—but I do care when they are going 20 or 30 miles over, because that puts everyone else at greater risk.
Corollary to this, I don’t believe that these limits were set arbitrarily; instead, someone, somewhere, gave some thought and study to them. Consequently, I don’t think, as one reader suggested, that mass non-compliance with speed limits indicates that they have been set too low. Rather, I believe that the real culprit is that many people are impatient, for a variety of reasons, and they really don’t care about anyone around them. What matters most to them is arriving where they need to go, as quickly as possible. So they drive as fast as they can. This is pretty easy where I live, as there is very little speed enforcement. Most of the time, you can drive the entire expanse of Chicago’s expressways and never see a police officer with a radar gun.
This is a big problem. In a report issued in April 2010, the Federal Highway Administration—which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation—said that speeding—which was defined as exceeding the posted speed limit or driving too fast for conditions—was a significant factor in crashes. Indeed, between 1996 and 2006, speeding was a factor in about one-third of fatal crashes, and the number of deaths ranged from 11,000 to 13,000 each year.
“Thus, speeding is a significant safety issue warranting attention based on its size and impact on society,” the report stated. “While the United States has seen progress in other major safety issues such as occupant restraint use and driving under the influence of alcohol, little if any progress has been made with speeding.”