Gawker dished out some richly-deserved ridicule to Tennessee State Senator Jon Lundberg yesterday, following reports that he is co-sponsoring legislation to outlaw the specific speeding camera that nabbed him doing 60 in a 45 zone last October. Lundberg denied that the incident had any impact on his decision to sponsor in the legislation, and contested the violation to boot.
But the case is a telling one. State governments around the country have demonstrated hostility to automated enforcement programs. Twelve states specifically forbid the use of speed enforcement cameras, except in very limited circumstances, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Nine states prohibit red light cameras. Others, like New York, have yet to enact legislation that would enable cities to use these traffic enforcement tools.
The Ohio legislation, framed as a defense of due process and privacy, has received mostly favorable coverage in the press and has enjoyed the support of groups like the Ohio ACLU and Ohio PIRG. One Ohio PIRG official characterized speed cameras as “cash cows designed to rip off drivers.” Ohio Lawmaker Ron Hood went so far as to assert that red light cameras are themselves a safety hazard.
Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute on Highway Safety, told the Washington Post last year that these kind of debates tend to get distorted: “Somehow, the people who get tickets because they have broken the law have been cast as the victims.”
Lost in these debates is the fact that automated enforcement saves lives. A 2011 study by IIHS comparing cities with red light cameras to those without them found that in the 14 largest U.S. cities, the cameras reduced fatal red-light-running collisions by 24 percent. Even more impressive, they seemed to promote safe driver behavior more generally. The researchers found that cities with red light cameras saw 17 percent fewer fatal crashes at signalized intersections, per capita, than cities without cameras.
Between 2004 and 2008, that added up to 159 lives saved in those 14 cities alone. If automated enforcement had been installed in all 99 of the U.S. cities with populations over 200,000, some 815 lives would have been saved over those four years, the report found.