Much-Maligned Speed Cameras Do Save Lives, Finds IIHS

September 2, 2015
Gatso speed camera

Gatso speed camera

Speed cameras face a lot of resistance in the U.S.—so much that 13 states have banished them and in some places, some public officials have lost their jobs over them.

Yet they do work in slowing drivers down, and if widely implemented they could save thousands of lives.

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Those are among the points underscored as the result of a study spanning seven years, looking at Montgomery County, Maryland, where speed cameras were introduced in 2007, and by 2014 there were 56 fixed cameras plus 30 portable cameras and six mobile speed vans.

The organization had originally studied that Montgomery County program in its first year; then, it noted that six months into the program the proportion of drivers going at least 10 mph over the limit had fallen.

Now, seven years later, the IIHS says that the likelihood of drivers exceeding the limit by 10 mph or more is 59 percent lower in two nearby Virginia counties without speed cameras. And versus those comparable roads in the Virginia counties, there’s been a 19-percent reduction in the types of crashes that would result in either a fatality or incapacitating injury.

And researchers found that fatal and incapacitating injuries were reduced by 39 percent on roads with speed limits of 25 to 35 mph.

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By extension, the IIHS projects that 21,000 of such fatalities or injuries could be prevented nationwide if speed cameras were to be implemented in the same way.

Encouraging safer driving, or putting the squeeze on drivers?

Part of the Maryland implementation involved so-called “speed camera corridors,” which focus a mix of permanent installations and temporary cameras along particular routes.

Of course, this approach isn’t going to win friends locally. Among those drivers surveyed in the Maryland county, 95 percent were aware of the speed cameras, and more than 75 percent had reduced their speed because of the program.

Perhaps most surprising, 59 percent—yes, nearly three out of five—had received a ticket levied via speed cameras. Although the IIHS notes that there must be supporters even among those who’ve been ticketed, as 62 percent of locals surveyed approved of speed cameras on residential streets.


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