01 June 2013

Why cities love speed cameras

A set of speed cameras in a box in a four-lane tunnel in Washington D.C. has issued over 61,000 speeding tickets in the past seven months.
The revenue from speed cameras and red-light cameras has grown to become a noteworthy piece in the District’s $12.1 billion budget since the devices made their debut 14 years ago. Overall, they took in $84.9 million in fiscal 2012. Since the current fiscal year began Oct. 1, the 10 most-profitable speed cameras have issued $29.5 million in tickets...

So far this fiscal year, the camera inside a 5-foot-tall steel box on K Street is by far the most productive in the District. After its $8.1 million in revenue, a camera on southbound D.C. 295 ranks second with 33,495 tickets valued at $4.6 million.
What to watch for:
There are orange warning signs — “Photo Enforced” — hanging beneath the 25 mph signs on either end of the tunnel, but they are missed or ignored by an average of 305 drivers a day who receive speeding tickets in the mail. 
Pro and con arguments at the link.


  1. Just for the record, the DC government recently commissioned a study that concluded that certainty of enforcement with small penalties is the best way to change people's behavior. Infrequent enforcement just doesn't work, and frequent enforcement with high penalties just annoys people.

    There was legislation before the council last session to use the money to buy a lot more traffic cameras, and to reduce the fines, with the goal of increasing compliance with the law.

    Once councilmember (Mary Cheh, ward 3) has been quoted as saying that she doesn't think the goal should be to raise money, she really does want people to stop speeding.

    DC seems to get singled out a lot as a jurisdiction using the cameras as a "cash cow", and they have raised a lot of money, but even the council is not of one mind on this.

    1. Does the setup also record and ticket out-of-state license plates?

  2. @ Minnesotastan: Does the setup also record and ticket out-of-state license plates?

    Of course it does. 60% of workers in DC come from MD and VA. They are not given free range. And DC tends to hate its tourists, so you will be hunted down.

    That said: enforcement is needed in DC (and other places). DC does not have a local driving style, like other big cities. This makes traffic horribly erratic. Imagine mixing thousands of self-important "secretaries to the deputy assistant manger of unimportant affairs" with clueless tourists who can't find their way because there are no street signs.

    On top of that DC is trying to become more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the US, but that growth will have to come without more driving because the roads are stuck and there is no space to build new ones

    1. My birthplace (Garfield Hospital). Enjoyed the cherry blossoms, but glad I left in the 1950s.

  3. Are not the laws of the land decided by the populace ?
    If the average driver exceeds the speed limits on a regular basis, surely that is a majority vote that says that the speed limit is too slow.
    I understand and agree that some drivers exceed the limits by too much, and become a threat to you and me, but if, and I see this is true daily, 90% of us drive a little bit over the speed limit, that signifies that the set speed limit (on a road where this happens) is too low.
    I have always been a "petrolhead" and love my fast European cars, but give me a road without speed limits (or if I choose to ignore the set limit) I tend to cruise along at 60 to 65 kph (110 to 125 kph on highways).
    Speed cameras are just a tax, 99.9% of people do not drive recklessly, reset speed cameras to 15-20k's over the limit in order to catch the 0.1%.

    1. I've not encountered them. Are they set right at the limit, or is there a grace gap of a couple mph? Anyone with experience know?

    2. It's not a speed issue usually but a mix between predatory short yellow lights and scofflaws who don't care about who they may kill by running lights. Personally I'd like to see longer yellow lights, thus NO excuses and more police enforcement. I think cameras can help dealing with this, but people actually need to see their fellow citizens being handed tickets by police officers.

      To address the poster above, if we want more liveable and healthy cities we should be cutting down on both the speeds of vehicles and on vehicles themselves. Speed limits on highways are a different animal, but people have a right to be safe (and breath clearly) in cities when biking, walking etc.

  4. I have heard that Switzerland bases its fees for driving tickets on the earnings of the ticketed individual, which I think is brilliant.


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