As of this fall, Maine will join Mississippi, Montana, West Virginia, and New Hampshire in completely banning automated enforcement cameras, such as those used for red-light running and speeding.
But as some states have moved to ban cameras, other states have given more of them the green light. As an example of how divergent the individual states have been with respect to this issue, just earlier this month Maryland and New York moved to step up camera-based enforcement.
It’s much tougher to argue that speeding cameras boost public safety in the way that red-light cameras do. According to the Institute, cameras cut red-light violations by 40 to 50 percent and reduce injury crashes by 25 to 30 percent, and another study showed a remarkable 68-percent reduction in front-to-side ‘T-bone’ crashes, which often result in severe injury. We’re not surprised that studies—including one that the IIHS cites in D.C.—have shown that average speeds drop in areas with active speed cameras, but we haven’t seen much evidence of their role in public safety.
The laws vary widely by state, and even within states you’re likely to find certain localities that “go rogue” with their enforcement tactics. In some states or localities the tickets are treated more like parking tickets than moving violations, with a fine rather than points on your license. After all, there is no officer of law to ‘serve’ you the violation when you commit it, and in many cases these don't even involve a police officer. Although the ticket’s valid in most instances when the identity of the registered owner is verified as pictured.
“Most automated enforcement programs and laws are for red light violations; however, the use of automated enforcement for speed is increasing, and a few jurisdictions use automated enforcement for other violations such as failing to pay a toll and disobeying a railroad crossing signal,” says the IIHS in a release.
Let me add some firsthand experience: Along one of the main boulevards in my part of town, there’s a series of traffic lights, all nicely synchronized for a 25-30 mph traffic flow. However the last light in that series for some distance is always out of synch just a little bit so that if you don’t speed up a bit, you won’t make it through without a yellow…or a red.
Of course, there’s an automated enforcement device there—some type of camera system, mounted high, with a flash that's powerful enough to light up the entire intersection at night. Whether it’s kept loaded with film or memory cards or not, at night the intersection strobes with enough regularity for people to come and watch out-of-towners—or inattentive drivers—set it off one after another.
Yet I know that if I ever get ‘flashed’ there, I’d deserve it. That intersection is near several cafes and night clubs and full of pedestrians and bicyclists at all hours, and I once saw a particularly horrific motorcycle accident there, so while the timing of the light might be a little suspicious I respect the need for stepped-up enforcement, for the light.
For a list of automated enforcement laws by state, along with a map showing which states allow either type and a list of communities using cameras, click here.
What do you think of camera systems? Any firsthand experience?