Making Traffic Camera Programs Work

Although controversial in the United States, when deployed thoughtfully, automated enforcement can save lives and make roads safer for all users.

2 minute read

December 15, 2022, 10:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Stoplight with two lights and mounted traffic camera against blue sky with white clouds

BIGCHEN / Traffic camera

A new study assesses attitudes toward automated traffic enforcement and makes recommendations for using traffic cameras to make streets safer and more equitable. As Kea Wilson explains in Streetsblog, the researchers looked at how people perceive traffic cameras and how messaging can alter their views.

In the study, 60 percent of respondents believed that automated enforcement is “mostly about raising revenue,” reinforcing the belief that traffic cameras serve as a cash grab for cities. Yet “Despite evidence that traffic enforcement in general is being used to line city coffers, automated enforcement specifically isn’t a very good cash cow — because local motorists quickly warn each other of the location of new stationary cameras and drive more carefully when they’re nearby.”

This leads to the first recommendation: using good messaging to clarify the role of traffic cameras and debunk myths. Other recommendations include careful camera placement that doesn’t feel like a ‘gotcha,’ but rather uses data to place cameras in areas known to be unsafe; setting appropriate fines to ensure the program doesn’t perpetuate inequity; and spending the revenue on “self-enforcing streets,” which the authors define as infrastructure that makes it difficult to speed, for example. 

On how not to spend speed camera revenue, the authors point to “extractive contracts with private firms that take home a hefty percentage of fines and sometimes a bonus per violation, creating an incentive to keep the dangerous drivers rolling in a way that charging cities a flat fee doesn’t.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2022 in Streetsblog USA

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