Highway safety and speed cameras: what you need to know
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on March 29th, 2011
It’s a never ending cat and mouse game – drivers speed and police look to catch them in the act.
In the last several years, though, police in some locales around the U.S. have gained a crafty new tool – high-tech video “speed cameras” that can take photos of speeding vehicles. Those photos are then used as evidence for tickets that are issued remotely and mailed to the owners of the offending vehicles.
A story on the use of speed cameras in South Carolina last week by The Associated Press beautifully illustrated the ongoing controversy involving the cameras, which pits supporters against opponents as they debate the very divisive subject.
“Ridgeland (S.C.) Mayor Gary Hodges said the cameras in his town about 20 miles north of the Georgia line do what they are designed to do: slow people down, reduce accidents and, most importantly, save lives,” the story said. “But (state) lawmakers who want to unplug them argue the system is just a money-maker and amounts to unconstitutional selective law enforcement.”
Supporters, including police agencies and safety advocates, say the speed cameras make the nation’s highways safer.
Opponents say the cameras are an invasion of privacy and point to them as little more than revenue-enhancers for municipalities.
Reality may be somewhere in between, but as a driver, you need to know what you are up against.
The speed cams are used in 13 states and the District of Columbia according to the non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which works to reduce deaths, injuries and property damage from vehicle accidents in the U.S.
Clearly delineated signs are used to tell drivers that they are entering an area where the devices are in use, so drivers know they are being watched for speeding, supporters say.
And tickets aren’t issued unless drivers are speeding at least 10 mph over the posted limits.
Russ Rader, spokesman for the Arlington, Va.-based IIHS, said that his group supports speed cameras because they “are effective in reducing crashes,” based on research and analysis done by the group. With excessive speed being a factor in 1/3 of the vehicle crash deaths in the U.S., anything that can be used by police to lower speeds and reduce vehicle crashes is worthwhile, Rader said.
“The question is not ‘why are communities using speed cameras or introducing them?'” he said. “The question really is, ‘why aren’t more communities doing it?'”
“The only people who have to worry about getting tickets are the people who are breaking the law,” Rader said. “This isn’t about trapping people. Photo enforcement is about preventing speeding.”
The cameras can cut the number of motorists who are speeding by more than 10 mph over the speed limit by as much as 90%, Rader said.
“The whole idea is to tell people that the cams are in use in a very publicized way, not to entrap them,” he said.
Opponents, though, such as the speed camera opposition group Maryland for Responsible Enforcement in Bethesda, Md., argue that the speed cams are unfair because they don’t allow motorists to immediately counter an alleged speeding infraction.
“As part of this (2009) law, those charged with speeding by these automated ‘big-brother’ machines had no recourse in court to fight their tickets,” the group said on its Web site. “The law did not require a police officer or camera operator to appear in court.”
In addition, the law “strips those who travel through Maryland of their basic due process rights and enforces a backdoor ‘big-brother style tax,” the group says.
Back in 2006, the American Civil Liberties Union took on the use of such cameras in Iowa, arguing that they infringe on the privacy of citizens and are used improperly as money-makers for local governments.
For local motorists, speed cameras aren’t in use today in Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Delaware.
If you drive in states where they are in use, however, then you need to be aware and be careful.
Remember, you won’t face a speeding ticket as long as you go no faster than 10 mph over the posted speed limit, according to authorities.
If speed cameras do reduce traffic accident deaths, they can perhaps be a good thing.
And if you are truly opposed to them, then you must make your views known to your elected officials so they hear your voices.
Finally, keep in mind that if you ever receive a speeding ticket, be sure to immediately talk with an attorney to protect yourself and your rights.
Whether the ticket is issued via a speed camera or a traditional traffic stop by a police officer, talking to an attorney can be the difference between being convicted of the offense or being found not guilty.
As always, when winning matters most, call the skilled, professional and caring team at MyPhillyLawyer. We are always here to help you, our clients.