Traffic cams bring in $250,000/month in a town with a $4.6 million budget

Why do towns install speeding cams? Is it because robotic, inflexible, perfect enforcement of every single infraction of the speed-limit makes the streets safer? Or because they can raise $250,000 a month in fines for small town budgets?
In Chevy Chase, for example, where speeding tickets brought in about $8,000 monthly before cop cams, "We are routinely bringing in approximately a quarter-million dollars per month," Geoffrey Biddle, Chevy Chase's village manager, told his Board of Managers in February.

For a community of 2,000 with an annual budget of $4.6 million, that's a bonanza. What's more, because locals know enough to evade the cop cams, the village's new revenue mostly comes from outsiders, rather like a commuter tax.

Nor are Chevy Chase's big gains unique. Washington's dozen cop cams have taken in more than $200 million since 2001. Scottsdale's six freeway cameras took in $17 million in 2006.

Cop cameras don't just catch speeders, they raise cash (Thanks, Marilyn!

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  1. That’s pretty amazing that they’re picking up that much, especially since there’s just that one camera on Connecticut.

  2. I can only suppose that’s the beauty of it. The locals may get wise fast, but the out-of-towners won’t, nor is it likely they’ll return later to fight it in court.

  3. Chevy Chase has extremely narrow roads and is on a major route between DC and the suburbs. As someone who on occasion must drive up Connecticut Ave, I am glad to see that traffic has been tamed.

    And @1, there are three cameras, not one. Two southbound, one northbound.

  4. In Chevy Chase, for example, where speeding tickets brought in about $8,000 monthly before cop cams, “We are routinely bringing in approximately a quarter-million dollars per month,”

    Chevy Chase? Like in Nothing But Trouble?

  5. This is definitely a case of technology “improving” upon an established practice. Having grown up in this area, I recall taking road trips in high school from DC to the beaches of Delaware and having to slow down to 30mph as the highway passed through each little town. In every town there was a cop pulling over speeders (many times in my experience for very dubious speeding claims) and ticketing them. Many of us never took our grievances to court because it meant having to drive back to Delaware for our court date and risk another bogus ticket.

    Why did the highway go straight through the middle of these sleepy little Delaware/Maryland towns? Probably because their main source of public revenue was speeding tickets. Did the locals ever get given a ticket? I seriously doubt it. The road trip isn’t long enough to have to stop in any of these places except maybe for a bite to eat, so they tax the commuters the only way they can.

  6. Eh, I know it’s been said again and again, but really, if people don’t speed (putting people in harms way, while at the same time willingly breaking the law), the camera shouldn’t be an issue. I still get shocked when I hug the speed limit, and cars upon cars will speed past me as if I’m doing something wrong.

    Better these speeding fines that target people breaking the law than having to increases taxes or the like to fill up the city’s/town’s coffers.

  7. It’s a well known fact that a drivers speed is a function of street width and relative straightness. Changing the numbers on a sign does not change this fact. To be honest, you have to engineer a road for the speed you intend it to be traveled on.

  8. As someone who has been involved in the rollout of these things, I can tell you that the last thing any city wants is for their red light cameras to actually reduce the number of failure to stop offenses. In fact, in Dallas, when it became evident that the RLCs were working, the city responded by reducing the yellow light dwell times below the minimum TXDOT recommended time period, thus making the (already very busy) RLC intersections even more dangerous than they were before.

    Beyond that, I’ve never liked the legal status of RLCs — I’m disturbed by the idea of a pseudo-law enforcement civil fine that cannot be contested (trust me: if you try to contest one of these things, you’re just throwing good money after bad) and do not afford the “accused” any ability to confront the “accuser.” Sure, it’s not technically unconstitutional, since it’s not an exercise of police power per se, but it’s still very, very questionable.

  9. Claim that the object/event that is caught on camera is protected by copyright (owned either by you or the car company, they COULD use the images to make knock off cars) and therefore it is illegal to capture you speeding on camera, and have the case thrown out.

  10. @6: That’s because all speed limits have an implied “drive this +10 mph,” so if you drive the literal limit, you’re gonna annoy people.

    Or, stated differently, IMO, those limits are meant to encompass both day and night, sun and rain, new good-handling cars and old land yachts, young drivers, experienced drivers, and the senile. Most drivers can safely exceed them and are annoyed if they cannot because of someone driving a literal interpretation of the limit.

    Yes, I realize I am part of the problem. :)

  11. I actually see a large advantage to tying law enforcement to revenue. It creates the incentives to enforce the laws in the first place. But it seems that the most profitable laws to enforce are not the ones that provide the greatest societal benefit, also, the individual paying for the enforcement is near universally not the individual that benefits from the enforcement. A recipe for non-stop externalities.

  12. And let’s not forget that these cameras are lobbied for by insurance companies as well, that profit from raising rates after getting note of these moving violations.

  13. Zuzu: that film was based on a real life experience Dan had.

    In China,local police buy their own radar cameras and operate then as concessions.

  14. They used to do this crap in Missouri until state congressional folks started getting caught in them. After that, a law stating that you could only receive n% of your yearly budget from speeding tickets. That bankrupted the shithole town of Mack’s Creek, and justifiably so.

  15. If this is an area where there have been many crashes (I can definitely think of two such notorious areas in my hometown), then this makes sense to me. It’s a safety measure and increases the town’s budget, which is not a bad thing. Even if people catch on and are only slowing down in this one area, if it’s a particularly crash-prone site, that will increase road safety.

    If it’s just a speed trap, then this sucks. My only ticket was from a speed trap, and I’m still angry about it. Why make a huge straight highway and then suddenly lower the limit to 55? To power trip and take my money, I guess.

  16. I have a problem with any law being enforced by automation, and as ANTINOUS implied, marrying a revenue stream to the law invites corruption, though age old in practice (albeit less efficiently and more arbitrarily.)

  17. #12 Super Nate

    “I actually see a large advantage to tying law enforcement to revenue.”

    Yes Officer, of course you can have the contents of my wallet officer.

    Don’t taser me bro’

  18. Here in the UK, where we lead the world in cameras spying on our citizens, complaints like this often crop up… but usually in the rabid right-leaning tabloids. The Daily Mail seems odd company for Boing Boing.

    Speed limits are a limit – ie, the maximum speed you’re allowed to go. Unfortunately for the safety of everyone on the roads, they’re treated more as a rough guide for how fast you can go. So people get caught breaking the law.

    All the people who complain about this just being a revenue-raising exercise rarely seem to complain about authorities raising revenue from other kinds of law breakers – should they all be allowed to get away with it too?

    If you really think that speed limits are too low then do something about it. Campaign, find safety experts who say it’s no more dangerous to go faster, find viable and more flexible ways of monitoring speeds…

    We live in democracies — try and change the law. If the complainers have all tried this and failed then fair enough, go for mass disobedience, keep breaking the laws, fail to pay the fines, go to prison, get publicity for how ludicrous this is.

    But until then you’re just whining because you’re no longer allowed to drive how you want. You poor things. Tough. Speed laws are there for a reason — safety — and were in place before these cameras arrived.

  19. This is the real reason that SatNav is indespensible — you can download Speeding Camera maps and get it to warn you when you’re driving through an area that someone else tagged “speedcamera at this point”

  20. Oh, FFS: If you don’t break the law, you won’t get caught. It really is as simple as that. It’s not a “commuter tax” at all; it’s a “breaking the law tax”.

    Here in the UK the complaint is even more ridiculous. You see a sign reminding you of the speed limit, then a sign telling you there’s a speed camera ahead, then the camera itself is on a big pole and painted bright yellow. Roughly 80% of the time the road surface is painted with obvious distance markers for the camera. Last time I looked it up, the cameras themselves are calibrated so you need to be driving at least 115% of the speed limit before they’re triggered. Frankly, the fact that anyone manages to trigger these things and still complains that it’s a conspiracy to trap people seriously saps my faith in humanity.

    As for the dangers of linking law enforcement to revenue, what do you suggest they do instead? Insist that all fines taken from criminals are flushed down the toilet instead? Or perhaps you’d rather stop fining people in favour of punishment by community service, imprisonment or being forced to grow a mullet?

    If you really want to stick it to the man, drive legally and don’t get fined. That’ll show the totalitarian bastards!

  21. As a curiosity, I think the income from traffic cams in Norway ends up as centrally as possible – on the national budget. This somewhat reduces the incentive to make pure money traps, though the slightly sadistic streak of whoever is in charge of placing them partially makes up for it.

  22. @27, and referring my previous comment:
    While taking money (as fines) is unproblematic, the originally described problem is what happens when every little town directly gets the revenue – this makes it tempting to place the cameras to maximize income in any barely legal way, instead of using them to improve the safety of accident-prone stretches of road.

  23. I see a fundamental difference between photo-enforced intersections and speed limits. Violating the law of an intersection is binary – you either run the red light or you don’t – and infracting is much more likely to cause an accident than infracting on the speed limit.

    Speed limits are much more grey: going 60 in a 55 is unlikely to pose imminent harm to the driver or other drivers. If I were to support photo-enforced cameras, it would be for gross speed violations, while keeping minor ones the responsibility of human cops to make judgments on whether drivers are reckless. I see nothing wrong with a photo-enforced camera that tickets someone going 100 in a 55.

  24. You don’t have to look too hard to find documented instances of municipalities monkeying w/ the timing of the lights in order to generate more photos.

    Want to see a city’s lust for RLCs disappear overnight? Legislate that ALL proceeds from RLC fines be donated to paying local traffic accident victim’s hospital bills. Watch your city suddenly become totally uninterested in the harm reduction that RLCs promise.

  25. G.B. Shaw said “A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul”.

    This is an unsurprising result given that it’s huge, automatic moneymaker for everyone involved, particularly if its a corporate profit-sharing scheme:

    http://starbulletin.com/2002/01/13/business/story1.html

    There’s a reason that casinos are full of slot machines (continuing profits at almost no personnel cost) and we can expect the same from the “law enforcement” system that regularly seizes and spends or otherwise uses our property without due process.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91638378

  26. Two day ago a van ran a red light at an intersection I was moving through. I swerved and came within inches of hitting another car. I think I would have been killed even with the side airbag, as the van was traveling about 40 MPH. I wish there had been cams there. I would have liked to have been able to call the police in that city and tell them the time of the incident. I would like to know that someone who came very close to killing or maiming me might get in trouble. These cams don’t help bust innocent people.

  27. if you speed you DESERVE a ticket. Period.

    And I fully support upping ticket costs towards 1000$, maybe that will finally make people slow down.

    I also fully support Cameras. As victork (#6) said above, if you don’t speed then the Camera shouldn’t be an issue, and if you’re in a hurry then you should have left for your destination earlier.

    #33, many states have a Highway Patrol site where you can report incidents, check your local state’s site. Though it may not pertain to inner-city traffic you can report issues you see on the highways.

  28. The problem as I see it is this : Used correctly, these cameras can be a valuable tool. They can encourage safety, and let people know that the law is going to be fairly consistently enforced (and having laws people ignore just breeds contempt for the law).

    Unfortunately, since they are also used to generate profits, they suffer the same profit that many corporations suffer – they seek to maximize profit at the expense of those whose interests they should be serving as best they can.

    Suddenly, you have an opportunity and a dilemma. You discover that you can place cameras in an area, set up a certain way, that will increase revenue, WITHOUT increasing the effectiveness of the law or fostering safety. Occasionally, you’ll even find a situation where your profits come from making things less safe. Since the funds, however, go to the system, the system becomes dependent on them. And if the the system starts working, then it loses its funding. So they go for the option that lets them afford to keep doing what they’ve been doing, at the expense of the public.

    Basically, the problem with cameras and speeding fines in general is that they create a situation where the police are better off if the law is not followed, rather than if it is (the opposite of most crimes) since their funding is directly tied to the number of crimes committed.

    I like the previously mentioned solution – Make all fines go into federal coffers, and the problem is solved.

  29. @4:
    “Why did the highway go straight through the middle of these sleepy little Delaware/Maryland towns? Probably because their main source of public revenue was speeding tickets.”

    Don’t be foolish. Those sleepy little towns were almost certainly there long before the highway. Or even before the invention of the Automobile.

    the highway was put there to serve that community. As the community grows, it tends to grow around that artery. which ends up creating situations like you mentioned, a 50+mph highway slowing to 35 or less as you go through what has become the little town’s main street.

  30. I think these things are bogus, but it would be interesting to see the effects of a requirement that passed all revenue beyond that required for installation and operation of the speed cameras to the state, with no kick-back to the localities. If localities really want to slow down traffic, fine, but they ought not get a big revenue boost out of it/

  31. Nothing new here although some find it reprehensible.
    During the Renaissance a Lord of a town was asked by a curious traveler from Germany, if the ongoing brawls between the Guelphs and Ghibellines did not cause his Town grief, and why he did not take more steps to forcefully put a stop to them. These brawls occurred regularly over the course of years if not decades.
    The Lord responded that although the commotion was troublesome, the fines levied from the brawling bravos gave him an income of 200,000 Florins a year, and that it more than made up for the bother.
    The German further commented on the honesty in the Lord’s response.
    Why not hammer light law-breakers rather than the home owners for needed revenue?

  32. Pretty soon they’ll be putting in MORE traffic lights in places they never existed before (or are not even needed) just to have an excuse to have more of these asinine cams.

  33. All good points here.

    I just wanted to reiterate the fact that stationary cameras are noted quickly by locals while nailing passers by- i.e. those who are least likely to drive more conciously in those particular areas in the future- many cities here are more likely to place speed traps at the bottoms of hills than, say, in school zones or near pedestrian crossings. The incentive ceases to be about safety and instead becomes a money-making scheme. Also, camera paranoia results in fast braking upon sighting these on highways which is dangerous for the flow of traffic.

    Question for those personally nailed- does the fine amount corollate to HOW FAST you were speeding or is it a flat fine?

  34. There is something of a revolution going on in the UK as it is now openly recognised that most of these cameras have been installed SIMPLY to raise revenue. Often they are nowhere near accident blackspots, just in places where people are more likely to be caught out (at the bottom of hills and such-like)
    In the UK the police take all the revenue and do not share it with the local towns, as such some cities are forcing removal (Swindon is an example…)
    I have no objections to speed cameras in danger spots, but as simple revenue earners they are completely out of place.

  35. Well, when you cut funding via tax cuts, departments have to make-up for the shortfall somewhere.

  36. Cameras are lazy. When a town like this one resorts to cameras it is not for safety, but revenue. This town has an annual budget of 4.6M and the cameras bring in 3M at the current rate. At least be honest, this ain’t about public safety. To prove they are interested in public safety, this town should spend that 3M to plan and build the type of shared-space traffic-calming that Super Nate mentions. After the project is completed and the roads are safe by design, and more beautiful as well, then remove the cameras. Either this or put in speed bumps for a couple hundred grand. Just adding speed bumps, extra stop signs or even an extra traffic signal would build in safety. The truth is there are many ways to design in real safety without gouging those that pass through your town, but these solutions require effort and also affect the locals. When a company comes to town offering to almost double your budget, be honest, this is about money pure and simple.

    Résumé / Abstract

    The traffic problems on main roads passing through town and village centres are mainly caused by traffic passing without consideration to inhabitants and local traffic, with speed considerably higher than the limit. This has led to many accidents, large problems with risk perception, environmental problems and a great local interest for improvements. The Danish Road Directorate decided to implement traffic calming schemes in several Danish towns which were appropriate to the towns and the defined problems, also including economy. The traffic calming schemes should be effective, the visual appearance satisfactory and the measures should adapt to the local urban and traffic environment. Safety should be improved and the number of accidents reduced. COWI has assisted the Danish Road Directorate with the evaluation of the traffic calming schemes in 21 towns. This paper presents the results of a before-and-after study of traffic calming schemes in Denmark. The general result of the traffic calming schemes was a reduction in the average traffic speed by 10 km/h. In towns with new roundabouts the average speed was reduced by 15 km/h. In some towns the average speed was reduced by 30-40% (17-26 km/h). Reduction in traffic speed hy each of the different means (e.g. gateways, roundabouts including miniroundabouts, pedestrian refuges and central refuge islands for narrowing the carriageway, chicanes, road humps, including flat topped humps) is also presented in the paper. The paper concludes that by investing approximately 0.3-0.4 mill. £ per km in small urban areas, positive effects can be obtained on traffic safety, risk perception, and the environmental quality of the area.

    Chevy Chase, if you would like to put your windfall where your mouth is, please click the link to purchase this document .

    Effects of Traffic Calming Schemes in Denmark

  37. @#11 “So you don’t see a fundamental ethical problem with tying law enforcement to revenue?”

    Law enforcement and revenue go hand-in-hand. Salaries must be paid, patrol cars must be purchased, etc. If this measure eases the taxpayer burden by shifting the cost to inattentive drivers then so be it.

  38. Sunriver Oregon got so fed up with being preyed on as a revenue source by parasitic police that they simply told the cops, “no more tickets for silly infractions”. Now let us alone!

    “The Sunriver Service District, which governs police and fire departments, voted to tell officers to make Sunriver’s roads, which are private but open to the public, exempt from minor vehicle infractions.”

    http://www.katu.com/news/local/6291362.html

    Now if all America would just tell cops to chill, disarm and just Protect and Serve we might return to being the Land of the Free once again.

  39. Add to this, many times (always?) the cameras are operated and maintained by a third party to the city, who gets their own cut of the revenue, and is even more distanced and disinterested in safety or concerns of anyone involved. It’s bureaucracy to the n’th degree.

  40. I agree with JFlex’s school of thought. Running red lights is black and white, clearly. Speeding is a huge grey area. Traffic has a natural flow to it. To me, it’s more important to follow with the flow of traffic than it is to obey the posted speed limit. Hell, they teach this in driving school. A camera set up to catch every person driving over the speed limit every time is BAD. Life is not black and white, the law is not black and white. These cameras attempt to change that.

    A slow driver who is driving the speed limit or less poses just as much of a threat to other drivers as a driver speeding well over the flow of traffic.

  41. There are places that monkey with the timing of yellow lights to get more money. making the money go federal or state would help ease this problem.

    And as for speed cameras/ limits: the speed + 10 (or 20 if KPH) theory doesn’t always work. First, most people think they’re much better drivers than they are. Second- most people don’t know enough about their own car’s performance let alone the road they’re on.

    I live in Vancouver there’s a highway to nearby whistler that is notorious for fatal accidents. What is often not mentioned is that locals are just about never involved, and when involved they’re victims. This is because they know that on this highway, when it says 60kph it really bloody means it. 61 is probably safe but 70 sure as hell is not.

    The trouble is that speed limits are usually arbitrary and not really based on anything at all. nobody tests out a road before deciding the speed limit on it.

  42. @#44

    One of the biggest flaws with tying law enforcement to revenue is that laws can (and will) be enacted to generate more revenue. The classic example of how that can get out of hand is our “War on Drugs”.

    At this point in time, you can lose your house, vehicle, and your money WITHOUT being convicted of a crime. My brother is a lawyer and he has defended quite a few people who were not convicted of drug crimes and yet they lost things that they legally owned. What’s more insulting is that sometimes (for instance cars) their property was auctioned off while their case worked it’s way through the system and at best they might get what it was auctioned for after fighting with the government for it.

    Better yet, imagine having the government take your money because you were implicated in something illegal (not convicted) and then having to spend more money in lawyers fighting to get it back even if you weren’t convicted. Right now, if you try to leave the country with enough cash, the government can confiscate it and you have to fight to get it back even if there is no proof or even any allegations that the money was the product of illegal activity.

    Sure there are some good reasons why you want to hit drug dealers and other criminals where it hurts (i.e. wallets), but the sad fact is that the laws that were written and which we operate under are slanted towards making money for the various law enforcement agencies involved so now they have an incentive to not just go after the genuine “bad guys” but to go after anyone that might even remotely have something to do with something illegal because even if they aren’t convicted, the powers that be will probably still make some money out of the deal AND they’re immune to prosecution except under the most heinous of circumstances so they can make mistakes with no fear of punishment.

    Meandering back to the original topic of traffic cameras, if you’ve ever talked to actual traffic engineers, you’d know that speed limits are often artifacts of past years and decades past (when different vehicle technology and street design principles applied) and in some places they were actually artificially lowered explicitly to generate revenue. Much like an earlier example where Dallas reduced the timing of it’s traffic lights to increase revenues (I doubt anyone will actually get punished for that particular incident even though they profited from it), there’s a reason why so many small towns are notorious as speed traps and it’s often more directly connected with revenue generation than with a legitimate desire to improve safety or fight “crime”.

  43. Speed limits should, where possible, be appropriate to the local traffic conditions. Traffic cameras should only be used to enforce the laws reasonably and the fines be levied accordingly. Law enforcement, whether by live cop or robot camera, should never be a profit center. That money always corrupts.

    Check out newromesucks.com for one such story.

    Speed traps have existed long before traffic cameras, and they’ve always been used as moneymakers. I remember two notorious ones in Texas, from the 1970s: Splendora, a couple of hours north of Houston on US-59, and Idaho, about a half hour to the southwest (59-S). Oh yeah, half the towns on 290 to Austin. Idaho, well off the highway, extended its corporate limit across 59 *3 times* so that they could post 40 mph signs every mile or so and its cops could park on the shoulder and catch speeders.

    Around the mid-1980s, enough Texas legislators got sick of being milked, I think, that the state passed a law that not more than 10% of the fine went to the city operating the speed trap. Made a huge difference.

  44. #26 posted by danegeld , August 13, 2008 3:16 AM

    This is the real reason that SatNav is indespensible — you can download Speeding Camera maps and get it to warn you when you’re driving through an area that someone else tagged “speedcamera at this point”

    Here’s the whole problem right here. This guy is SO worried that he’ll get somewhere 5 minutes later than he would have, that rather than slowing down to the speed limit, he spends hundreds of dollars on technology to show him how to avoid the cameras.

    Sheesh.

  45. I still think tying revenue to law enforcement isn’t a terrible idea. But the revenue has to come from the customers of the law enforcement agency, not the “lawbreakers”. Look at the way that professional sports associations deal with their fines. They know that there is a fundamentally unethical to keep the fine money, because it sets up a parasitic incentive structure, and so all fines are donated to charity. But if the primary benefactors and pushers of laws had to pay for their enforcement, then the incentive is to find alternate cheaper ways to get the same effect. If speed enforcement was a cost to those living on the busy street, they might decide it was cheaper and preferable to re-engineer the road with some curvy calming features. If the cost of the drug war was levied entirely against the arbitrarily legal drug providers (alcohol, tobacco, zanax) then there would be less externalization of the ridiculous costs of these law enforcement systems.

  46. I’m surprised people can’t see the potential for abuse here. I’ve seen it first hand in Chicago, just make the yellow light shorter and if you hit the light at the sweet spot, going a safe speed even, then you’ll get caught in the intersection. So now I find myself gunning through the intersection when it looks like the light’s changing. So basically they’ve encouraged me to drive unsafe. FWIW, I mostly bike around town and hate people who blatantly run lights as much as everyone else.

  47. I regularly drive through Chevy Chase. They are strictly in it for the money. THey used to just have two portable “green” units that they used to sit next to the “green” trashcans along Connecticut Ave. I believe last year they had the permanent ones installed on poles (one just down from the entrance to their “posh” Country Club). So you think, cool, static cameras. Well, now they roll the portabel ones out and place them about 100 feet before the pole going north and 100 feet past going south (in the shade) to double up on folks who slow down for the pole mounted ones. I’ve seen at least 20-30 cars get nabbed.

    It’s a pretty fu-fu community in NW D.C., where past the traffic circle, they have a cadre of flags on mounts for pedestrians to use to wave down traffic in crosswalks. I’m all for walkable communities, but there are other traffic solutions (pedestrian tunnels) that could avoid this latter item. The traffic signaling is also quite poor and “broken” (IMHO) for intersecting streets. It’s pretty much there to annoy motorists, grab cash for the little town (while the streets go unmaintained and remain REALLY narrow). Now the rest of the county is following suit (SafeSpeed is all over Montgomery County).

  48. Same problem over here in the East Bay, at Fremont. The shortened yellow lights exacerbate the problem further(and are brutally unethical), that traffic cameras actually increase accidents and property damage at intersections they are installed at.

  49. I want to take this opportunity to point out that fixed fines are discriminatory and grossly impartial! For example, a $150 fine is a much larger percentage of someones income if they make $1,200 a month compared to someone who makes $4,000 a month; 12% compared to 3%. Fixed fines target poor people, plain and simple.

  50. cops get more money.

    I am POSITIVE they will ONLY use the tool that generates more money for them in a fair and honest way.

    (right)

    I like the idea of having every CENT of revenue go to central budget, you will see the departments cut those cameras off faster than a greased hog on the way to the butcher

  51. I run a red light every day. I have to take a left at the end of the block. There’s always oncoming traffic, and the yellow light is set for one second. I follow the letter of the law. I pull into the intersection and wait until I can turn. When it’s clear to turn, the light turns red while I’m still in the intersection. Every day. Day in. Day out.

    Driving safely and maintaining the flow of traffic are the prima facie driving laws. A camera can’t assess that.

    For all of you who seems so gleefully excited about ticketing scofflaws. If it’s so serious, why don’t we throw people in jail for the night instead of fining them? It would be a much better deterrent, eh? And we’d have none of those nasty ethical issues of combining police action and revenue stream.

  52. My son works for a company that has him drive through various automated speed traps. They pay for his fine just to make sure he gets there ontime. If it was an officer, the ticket would include points (with possible loss of license after multiple offenses).

    Therefore, for a business, the fines can be considered a cost of doing business.

  53. Antinous said, “For all of you who seems so gleefully excited about ticketing scofflaws. If it’s so serious, why don’t we throw people in jail for the night instead of fining them?”

    Yes, I’m sure that would help. Aren’t you usually more logical than this?

    1. Jeff,

      I’m using irony to highlight the fact that some commenters seem unnaturally avid in their desire to see the wicked punished.

  54. Antinous, since when have you turned down an opportunity to watch a good witch burning or just a simple hanging? The wicked are here to serve as entertainment.

  55. Thanks for the link CWAH. There are so many quotable quotes, but this one stands out for me.

    The FHA concluded that cameras provide, at best, a “modest aggregate crash-cost benefit.”

    That benefit is so modest that the National Motorists Association has a standing offer of $10,000 to any community that can empirically prove that red light cameras can prevent violations and accidents better than a schedule of traffic engineering steps it recommends, which include proper signal timing, better signal design and improved intersection design.

    Put up or shut up!

  56. @Alex, 61 “I want to take this opportunity to point out that fixed fines are discriminatory and grossly impartial!”

    Yes. Imposing fines aet as a percentage of people’s income (presumably based on their tax records? I’ve no idea) has been trialled in a few places. I’m told that, in each case, local newspapers latched on to the idea and responded with hysterical headlines about huge fines awarded for trivial offenses. They never mention that the person being fined is stinking rich, so people end up uninformed and hating the idea.

    Also, most politicians and their funding sources are quite rich. That’s probably a bigger factor.

  57. I follow the letter of the law. I pull into the intersection and wait until I can turn.

    Weird, there are states that this is legal? In California, it is illegal to block an intersection in any circumstance even if you have the green. You’re supposed to have your blinker on, wait behind the line for a opening and then turn. Of course in cities like San Francisco and many parts of LA, this is impossible since there is an infinite flow of oncoming traffic, so you have to pull half way in. The police turn a blind eye to it, but it is quite illegal here ($190 fine I believe).

    1. In California, it is illegal to block an intersection in any circumstance even if you have the green.

      I live in California. The DMV Handbook says that the first car in line to make a left pulls into the intersection to wait to turn. At least it said that when I got my license. The alternative would be a line of cars behind me that goes all the way to Maine, because there is never an opportunity to turn on the green light.

  58. The comments of Antinous, Aloisius, and many others, illustrate why innovation is needed instead of enforcement. The not so hidden theme of this thread is an obsolete traffic control system. Building do or die intersections based on a 100 yr. old technology and installing a few cameras to punish offenders is not traffic engineering.

  59. Another issue where I want to say a pox on both their houses. This sort of corruption is bad but most (many) people against traffic cameras just want to speed and have sickening justifications about it. We’re mostly smart at boingboing so hopefully we can see that you being a young great driver is not really the issue. You share the road with the elderly and the infirm. Some of them shouldn’t be driving but nonetheless your ability doesn’t mean you can make arbitrary demands on the ability of the other drivers.

    Anyway, speed traps predate cameras. Speed traps suck. Arguably cameras are well-suited for making more speed traps but I simply don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Cameras are also suitable for enforcing safety-related traffic requirements.

    So… your city and state governments are corrupt, I guess you should continue to militate against traffic cameras. That’ll be a great victory.

    For once maybe we can take a lesson from Texas. Remove the ability of localities to prey on outsiders. Restrict their ability to make money off of thouroughfares. If they want to slow traffic for other reasons then let them at it. Maybe then they’ll turn to calming solutions which I agree would be awesome.

  60. ah, you mean how the need for people to get around was perverted into the private automobile? And how it spawned big car makers, big oil and big highway pork barreling? Oh, and global warming?

  61. The DMV Handbook says that the first car in line to make a left pulls into the intersection to wait to turn. At least it said that when I got my license

    Hrm. I just looked at the handbook online. It says to stop behind the limit line and make the turn when it is safe. It also says that you should not start across if there are cars blocking your way. There is nothing I can find about pulling into the intersection halfway while making your turn. It is definitely illegal to block an intersection though.

    I’m pretty sure pulling into the intersection to turn left is illegal and has been for at least 10 years.

  62. So let me get this straight. We have a whole crop of speeders here that believe the speed limits are just a “suggestion?” And that any attempt to deal with speeding through what is mainly a place where people live, walk and shop should not be allowed? Why bother with a speed limit then? In DC, cameras were put in place because of the amount of pedestrians being hit, see Robert Novak for example, and that number has decreased substantially and the city has made money off of suckers to boot. Most people complaining out here “drive through” places like Chevy Chase, a community where you can still walk and bike to shopping and parks, from their suburbs where you have to drive to do anything.

    Don’t like the cameras? Don’t speed or don’t drive there. Isn’t that simple enough? You have no right to speed or violate any traffic law. You are not losing rights, traffic laws are being enforced. And unlike the UK, tickets from cameras don’t count as points on your license and unlike the claims above, don’t get reported to your insurance. They are more like parking tickets. It is infinitely better to have as many traffic laws enforced by cameras as possible so the police can work on solving crimes instead. This is just another example of self absorbed behavior.

  63. @ #78 No, the discussion here is generally directed at speed traps which have historically been situations where the speed limits are artificially influenced in order to create situations where speeding (particularly by non-locals) is nearly unavoidable.

    That’s the classic speed trap. The road’s speed is set to one safe speed and in an arbitrary location (often one where it might be difficult or unlikely that the sign would be noticed) it changes significantly and often times these are also spots near which cops can hide out and radar people.

    It’s pretty obvious that you NEVER speed and you follow every single law that can conceivably affect you so please take your self-righteousness finger wagging elsewhere while the rest of us law-breaking speeders discuss ways in which the system can be improved or changed.

    Jeez.

  64. ALOISIUS@77: That depends on which state you live / drive in.

    DRAGONVPM@54 & FOETUSNAIL@74: Well said!

  65. We had red light cameras in Minneapolis, MN, but they were found unconstitutional on the grounds that they accused people (car owners) of offenses they did not commit (driving through a red light).

    I found this “Stop On Red FAQ” still in the municipal database regarding the red light cameras:

    Stop On Red FAQ

    A quote from that site:

    “A vehicle is considered to be running a red light when it crosses into the intersection after the light has turned red. Vehicles that are in the intersection when the light turns red, including ones waiting for a break in traffic in order to complete a left turn, are not considered to be red light runners.”

    I was pretty sure it was illegal to be in the intersection at all when it was red, apparently not. 169.06 Subd. 5 in the code for the relevant statute.

    The MN Driver’s Manual (PDF) has the same info.

    The FAQ also mentions that the 3rd party company running the lights got a flat $1 million a year to run the cameras, with no percentage of the fine. That at least removed 3rd party profit motive for where to place the cameras.

    I’m no fan of speed traps or the arbitrary lowering of speed limits to increase revenue, but I do wish people wouldn’t get so angry about me wanting to drive the speed limit – I save a couple of MPG that way, and haven’t had a speeding ticket in several years.

  66. Speaking as someone aware that they aren’t an above average driver, who stays within 3 mph of the speed limit to save on gas, who usually rides his bike…
    I can’t wait until the fruits of the DARPA urban challenge render this discussion moot.

  67. @cajunfj40

    Huh. Well, in California it looks like it is illegal. In fact, if you aren’t fully out of the intersection by the time the light turns red, you are in violation.

    I wonder what other weird differences there are in traffic laws between states.

  68. I’m not really seeing why proportional fines make sense.

    I mean, should older criminals get less jail time because it represents a larger percentage of their remaining years?

    Maybe that’s not fair. Still it would just lead to police targeting expensive vehicles and ignoring cheap ones. Pull over a Rolls and your quota for the day is done.

  69. Just to put all this in context:

    “Chevy Chase Village receives $23.75 from each $40 ticket.”

    “The village’s fiscal 2009 budget… plans for $3.5 million to pay for the Safe Speed Program — most of that going to the camera provider — and $7.4 million in ticket revenues during 2009.”

    “The village costs $4.5 million to operate, according to its fiscal 2009 operational budget.”

    source: http://www.gazette.net/stories/061108/chevnew203754_32355.shtml

  70. For example, there is a street here in Hayward, CA. It is residential, so the speed limit is 25, not a bad idea for safety. However, the road is 40 feet across and straight as an arrow. It’s a known fact that a street that wide and that straight will have traffic flows in excess of that speed. If you are engineering a street, how does posting a speed limit that you consciously know will not alter behavior absolve you of liability for any safety issues that result as a function of your engineering?

  71. Not to mention that it makes me uncomfortable to have a line of cars on my bumper filled with annoyed drivers because I am going 25.

  72. ALOISIUS@86: In Texas, it is legal to turn right on a red if traffic is clear (treat it as a stop sign.) I know this is true for many states but not all. Similarly, here it is also legal to make a left on red if on a one-way street and turning onto another one-way street. All of this is regardless of where your vehicle was when the light changed. This simply points out more cases where, as ANTINOUS indicated, it is more complicated than a camera can easily show in judging one’s “guilt.” I wonder how traffic cameras are currently factoring these instances in.

  73. I’m having a hard time finding the link, but speaking of laws that vary by state. Some states have legal right turns on red, and some don’t. But I heard that recently New Hampshire legalized straight on red after stop. Saves a lot of gas burnt idling in the evening when no one else is using the intersection.

  74. In Minneapolis they installed those ticket cameras a few years ago. They were actually aimed at red light running, but same type of deal. Someone sued over them and they were eventually ruled unconstitutional by the state supreme court.

  75. Alexx, I think the Attorney General of Michigan (Mike Cox (( the publically confessed adulterer))said that traffic cam vid was not going to pass the evidence test. I have no idea why.

  76. Aloisus@86: Why doesn’t that make sense? The punishment should fit the crime.

    Just because there may be logistical issues implementing something like proportional fines does not negate the fact that fixed fines disproportionately affect the poor.

  77. I seem to recall reading somewhere that some government rep (not congress, but perhaps a state-level rep) was caught in a speed trap town similar to this, and found out that the town was making close to 100% of its revenue from speeding tickets, and that the town had been incorporated in the first place solely to take advantage of collecting speeding ticket money. So, he worked on a law that made it illegal for a town to make more than 25% of it’s annual revenue from speeding tickets, and the town had to eventually be dissolved as a result of their loss of revenue.

  78. This is just another part of the NEW New World Order; robot police who are never wrong, nationalistic malware, non-lethal weapons for dispersing protests (violent or non-violent), unfettered snooping and wiretapping, confiscation of property, legalized denial or human rights in democratic countries, liquid definitions of “terrorist”, propaganda hidden everywhere. . . .

    Get used to it, because we all know none of us is going to do anything about it (except maybe, complain on our blogs.)

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