Are Speed Cameras Fair?

November 20, 2010

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Lately, the hottest news topic in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (where I work) is the existence of speed cameras.  These are unmanned cameras that take a picture of speeding cars.  You then get a ticket in the mail.  There are a lot of people very upset about the cameras – why?

The cameras are there to make money, not for safety

Many people complain that the city cares more about the revenue generated by the cameras than about improving safety.  An interesting aspect of the speed cameras is that they are installed by a private company at no direct expense to the city.  The private company then takes a cut of the fines.  This model is popular with cities, because they don’t to carve out budget items for the installation and maintenance of the cameras.  It’s popular with private companies because a lot of people speed, allowing them to make good money.

I agree that the positioning of the cameras could be better from a safer perspective.  There is one camera each in the northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 380.  While you’ll never compare I-380 with New York City city traffic, it is nonetheless one of the more heavily traveled routes in the state.  There are some curves that can be dangerous if you’re going too fast and not paying attention – it would be nice to see the cameras a bit closer to them.

However, it’s worth noting that a local TV station analyzed tickets that were handed out, and it appears that the threshold is 12 miles per hour over the speed limit.  If the threshold was just a few mph over the limit, I’d be more swayed by this argument.  As it stands, I think there is a dual effect – there is some increase in revenue and also some increase in safety.

There’s nobody watching, so I shouldn’t get a ticket!

There are people who feel that their rights are violated because there’s not an actual human police officer operating a radar gun to catch them speeding.  The logic is that they don’t have a sporting chance against the camera.  Well, I think that’s the logic, anyway.

This is an argument that I dismiss out of hand.  If you burglarize a store and get caught on the security video, it’s perfectly OK to use this as evidence of the crime, right – even though you weren’t caught in the act.  Why would speeding be different?

It’s not even possible to accuse the city of being sneaky with the cameras.  Everyone knows exactly where they are.  If you’re not sure, you can go online and find out.  There are mobile speed cameras – and their locations are broadcast on the news.

In some locales, people have fought these tickets with the “it’s not me driving the car” defense – including the guy who donned a gorilla mask to avoid having his face captured by the camera (how safe is that?).  In Cedar Rapids, the tickets issued by the cameras (well, actually issued by a human after reviewing tapes) are issued to the registered owner of the car, not necessarily to the driver – similar to the way parking tickets work.  If someone else was driving your car, you need to make them reimburse yet.  On the flip side, the ticket doesn’t go on your driving record because of due process issues.

Where Do I Stand?

I doubt this is going to be a surprise.  Although I’m as guilty of speeding as anyone else, I also believe that municipalities have a perfect right to use every tool at their disposal to enforce laws.  If you’re exceeding the speed limit by 12 mph, you’re simply going to take the risk of a few tickets.

The local news spoke with one woman who managed to get 14 tickets in the span of a few months, at a cost of around $1000.  Again, this is in spite of the fact that everyone knows exactly where the cameras are.  She commented that she has changed her driving habits, and now always set cruise control.  That’s not the safest thing in the world, considering the amount of merging traffic, but it’s probably safer than going as fast as she previously did.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Evan
    Nov 20, 2010 @ 12:00:38

    I’m not quite sure why, but speed cameras rub me the wrong way. Perhaps it is because you can’t cross-examine a camera. I know that’s not the greatest argument in the world, since (presumably) you could cross-examine the person or persons in charge of the camera, much like you could with the store camera example you gave. At least with the store camera, you’re not just mailed a “you’ve been convicted” notice. The state still has to prove its case. Here, the state would need to prove its case, but the penalty involved doesn’t it make it worth most people’s time and money to fight it, so the camera becomes investigator, prosecutor, judge, and jury.


  2. kosmo
    Nov 21, 2010 @ 17:42:14

    They showed a couple of appeals on the news. Neither was contesting the speed. The first was a lady who ha sold the car – the new person apparently didn’t register it. The judge threw out the ticket (although, really, you should take your plates off a car before selling it).

    The second was a guy who got six tickets within a really short time span. Basically, by the time he got the first one on the mail, the rest were in the system already. His argument was that he didn’t have a chance to change his behavior. The judge threw out five tickets, but let the first one stand.

    I have no idea if these are typical cases – just what they chose to show on the news.


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