Speeding Tickets and Agenda

If you ever need an example to demonstrate that security is a function of agenda, use this story about speed cameras. Cities that have installed speed cameras are discovering motorists are driving slower, which is decreasing revenues from fines. So they're turning the cameras off.

Perhaps a better solution would be to raise the fines to the remaining speeders to make up for the lost revenue?

EDITED TO ADD (3/31): Too many people thought that above comment was serious. It's not. The whole incident illustrates why fines should never be considered part of a revenue stream: it gives the police a whole new agenda.

Posted on March 28, 2008 at 1:42 PM

Comments

averrosMarch 28, 2008 2:02 PM

> Perhaps a better solution would be to raise
> the fines to the remaining speeders to
> make up for the lost revenue?

Are you serious? Why not shoot them on spot and confiscate all their posessions?

The idea that revenues of the government ("good of the society", strength of the State, etc) are more important than individual rights is the foundation of communism and fascism alike.

That what "soft" American fascism looks like - people thinking that ticketing people who didn't do any harm to anyone is OK because it benefits the State. There's only a little logical step from that to sending "nonproductive members of society" to the labor camps.

alanMarch 28, 2008 2:20 PM

Anytime law enforcement becomes a revenue center, the system becomes corrupt.

It does not matter if it is speeding tickets or unauthorized substances or anything else. Once enforcing the law becomes a way to raise revenue, the law enforcers eventually revert to plundering to raise even more.

AVMarch 28, 2008 2:23 PM

@averros

I understand your viewpoint. In this case however the actions of the speeder do increase the risk of harm to others. IMO that's where the speeders 'individual rights' end.

NealMarch 28, 2008 2:26 PM

averros, you seem to be forgetting that you need to break a law to get a ticket. Are you seriously saying that it's your right to speed and run red lights?

AnonymousMarch 28, 2008 2:29 PM

Averros is not saying that there is a right to run red lights, speed, or break the law. At least I don't think he/she is saying that.

If someone runs a red-light, and there is absolutely no one hit, injured or even inconvenienced by it, then why do we care enough to ticket them?

NickMarch 28, 2008 2:32 PM

I don't think it is necessarily true that the fines are a revenue center, but that they offset some of the costs associated with enforcing the law. If I get a $150 traffic ticket, I'm pretty sure that the $150 doesn't cover the officer's salary, benefits, cost of the patrol car, cost for dispatchers, other technology used, the judge's salary and other court workers associated with the task.

In general prosecuting crimes costs a lot more than they make from the fines (just look at the war on drugs). Shoot, if law enforcement was profitable, I bet Black Water would be all over it. The problem is that when the money from fines drops, that money needs to come from somewhere else.

Rionn Fears MalechemMarch 28, 2008 2:33 PM

@Anonymous
You ticket them when they break the law and don't cause harm. Driving through a red light when you don't see any cars coming usually doesn't hurt anyone. However! It hurts people often enough that it's a ticketable offense.

Just because nothing bad happened doesn't mean you're doing the wrong thing. The law is meant to decrease the frequency of collisions, and to assist the free flow of traffic.

BrianMarch 28, 2008 2:35 PM

It's an externality, the people bearing the burden, are not the ones making the decision. The city council can add a scofflaw tax under the premise of improving safety, but the revenue goes into the general fund. If safety were the actual intent, it would make more sense to channel those funds into traffic engineering, or the local DOT.

The same happens with law enforcement writing citations. it becomes a source of general funding and cops willing to spend a few extra hours writing citations can make overtime, and help fund municipality.

Similar examples can be found with the "war on drugs", only those are a lot closer to 'shoot them on spot and confiscate all their posessions"

Baron Dave RommMarch 28, 2008 2:40 PM

According to conservatives, cutting revenue automatically leads to increases in amount of money taken in. They might be catching fewer scofflaws, but they're spending less money (eg manpower) to do it. In theory. As this example demonstrates, the reality is often quite different.

And Republicans are always soft on crime when it's theirs, as averros demonstrates. As Bruce said last night, 42,000+ people die in traffic accidents every year. I have no problem with providing comeuppance to the arrogant bastards who don't know how to drive but think they own the road. Traffic fines should be increased, regardless of what happens with the cameras.

We need some reality based models.

GmanTerryMarch 28, 2008 2:45 PM

That's why we have RICO laws. If the state can't raise enough money they just steal your property/cash with the approval of the Supreme Court. They don't need to charge you with anything to take your property. All you need to do, for instance, is buy a plane ticket with cash and have cash on you at the airport when they question you. All gone! There is no due process, they just steal it and good luck getting it back.

RodMarch 28, 2008 2:53 PM

@AV

understand your viewpoint. In this case however the actions of the speeder do increase the risk of harm to others. IMO that's where the speeders 'individual rights' end.

------------------------

I agree with most here that traffic violations are dangerous and deserve enforcement. I also know that some smaller cities do see a positive cash flow from speed traps and the city managers get upset when that revenue drops.

However (the offense of speeding) is not really a problem if we are talking about multi-lane divided highways. The Federal Highway Safety Commission and several state DOT's have realized for some time that NOT driving right is far more dangerous than speeding. As Germany has .72 deaths per 100,000 drivers on the autobahn compared to .84 deaths per 100,000 drivers on US highways, it would appear that speeding is not dangerous on the highways, so long as the "drive right unless passing" law is strictly enforced.

Slightly off topic and specific to just one traffic offense, but food for thought none the less.

JasonMarch 28, 2008 2:56 PM

According the linked article

* Red light cameras do close to nothing to decrease the number of accidents and very little to decrease injuries in the accidents that do happen.
* The cameras are pushed as a revenue generator, but they fail in that regard, as well since people actually seem to slow down. Some slow down to the point of slamming on their brakes and getting rear-ended to avoid running a red light.

* The injuries from that sort of collision are typically less than those from a T-bone intersection collision.

* The cameras fail to generate enough revenue in many cases to even pay for themselves.

iguacufallsMarch 28, 2008 2:56 PM

That's why we need more roundabouts in the states - no more red lights to fund the police departments!

Tom CourtneyMarch 28, 2008 3:02 PM

Perhaps a better solution would be to raise the fines to the remaining speeders to make up for the lost revenue?

While there are other problems with this idea, it may or may not increase revenues. Increasing the ticket increases the cost of speeding, which will make it still less attractive.

Angel oneMarch 28, 2008 3:10 PM

averros is clearly a little off the deep end here, but he does address a good point - the purpose of catching law breakers is not to raise revenue for law enforcement. Is cameras reduce speeding, then they are absolutely serving their purpose of serving the public good.

mooMarch 28, 2008 3:15 PM

I think they should keep the cameras and institute the death penalty for running a red light.

Then there would be no more fluctuating revenues to worry about, and not very many assholes running red lights either. Everybody wins!

LoUCMarch 28, 2008 3:27 PM

"Perhaps a better solution would be to raise the fines to the remaining speeders to make up for the lost revenue?"

Classic! Just how many instances of getting &%*-slapped by the Law of Unintended Consequences are necessary before a person sits down and studies even basic economics? My guess? 52,312. And we're on what, 3,009 so far?

Buckle up, we've got a long, painful ride ahead.

On a different note, perhaps a better solution would be to stop permitting the State to extort wealth (for those who understand only PC-speak, that means "raise revenue") from its citizens through use of its police force.

Mark J.March 28, 2008 3:30 PM

The idea that accidents and traffic flow problems are always caused by speeders is also flawed. I've seen many, many "law abiding" drivers causing traffic tie-ups and accidents. The problem is with driver education, which is an oxymoron in this country. Answer a few multiple choice questions and drive around the block and you're legal to drive anywhere in the country.

DaedalaMarch 28, 2008 3:38 PM

If someone runs a red-light, and there is absolutely no one hit, injured or even inconvenienced by it, then why do we care enough to ticket them?

Because they get used to it and start running when they shouldn't. Pedestrians don't like being hit by cars (I sure didn't).

The article is a good discussion of the cost/benefit tradeoffs. The reduction in overall injuries is 5%; it's low enough to seriously consider other (possibly cheaper) means of making intersections safer.

I had an interesting discussion with a city traffic planner about what to do with the intersection where I was hit by a car, as it's a bad intersection. They promised to change the traffic light pattern.

David RobartsMarch 28, 2008 3:38 PM

You could always ticket those who rear end the car that stops in front of them for following too closely to make up for the revenue.

I've heard rumors that some jurisdictions have decoy red light cameras - installations that don't actually have the means to catch lawbreakers, but look like they do - to get the decrease in illegal driving without the cost of the camera (I don't know if any such rumors are true).

I'd like to see camera enforcement of passing laws in merging zones. Many highways would flow much smoother if drivers didn't use the shoulders to pass on the right and force themselves into the stream of traffic at the bottleneck.

JohnMarch 28, 2008 3:47 PM

Speed law enforcement is a pretty difficult problem. In my state it is against the law to use speeding tickets for local revenue. But in practice fines are used for local revenue in odd ways.

Speed limits are considered necessary. I don't know if they are, but they are considered so. In the 60s in Texas, speed limits were not enforced on open roads, and I understand in Germany Autobahns do not have limits. So maybe they aren't necessary always.

But once you have speed limits, the state needs a mechanism to enforce them. The state does not have the personnel to enforce speed laws itself, so must farm enforcement out to the localities. Yet, the locality has no incentive to enforce the state's speed limit. Thus, fines are used as inducement. Without the incentive, cops would simply ignore speeders. They have enough work to do.

Texas tries to limit the incentive to prevent abusive speed traps. The fines go to the state, which recompenses the local police department with a percentage of the take. 30% IIRC. Thus fines ease police dept budgets. Only a small amount goes to the local government.

It gets abusive anyhow. I live next door to one of the worst speed traps in North Texas. The next door town does not have property taxes out of political religion, and thus relies on sales tax and fines to finance town government.

Raising fines is not the answer. There really are poor people who cannot pay them. If they fail to appear, they eventually get their license suspended with additional fines piled on. It can run to the hundreds of dollars. The effect is not coercion to pay, but unlicensed drivers all over the state who can't afford to pay and can't afford not to drive.

Practically, the courts have to toss the charges. Houston jails for example are so overcrowded that the judge directs the defendent to plead not guilty, and then dismisses the charges.

Alternatively, poor people serve jail time in the city or county jail until officials are convinced that no money is to be had from them. Then the officials kick the person out, fine paid through time served. The jails are so badly overcrowded that the justice system cannot enforce minor laws.

It turns out that the cheapest way to get out of a traffic fine is to offer to serve jail time. You will spend a night or two in jail, then be dismissed by the judge for time served.

So there's the problem. You need personnel to enforce the law. For that, you need to pay them. If you don't have the personnel, you must farm out enforcement. And you need to pay that too.

Raising fines is a non-solution. The whole traffic enforcement system breaks down due to people's inability to pay and dreadfully overcrowded jails.


Captain NedMarch 28, 2008 3:56 PM

How about following the "bible" of roadway design published by AASHTO and setting speed limits at the 85th percentile speed? Has it ever occurred to the speed Nazis that the limits are artificially low for the specific purpose of revenue generation? Besides, the German autobahn statistics tell us that speed is not the defining factor in highway death rates.

I work on the road and spend every day out there. The problem is not those who drive faster than some arbitrarily-set limit. The primary problem is those who believe that they should enforce the limit by refusing to stay to the right. I understand that you want to abide by the limit, and that's just OK. Where I part company with you is when you go vigilante and try to force me to abide by your rules. If I'm driving too fast the State will catch me and punish me. It's not your job.

The other major classes of problem-creators are those who cannot put down the damn cell phone and pay attention to the farging road combined with those few amongst the senior population whose driving skills have deteriorated to the point where they're only comfortable ticking along at 45 in a 65. Since 65 here really means 75 (I've been driving past cops in crossovers at 75 for the past 20 years and they've never once woken up to look at me), the 30 MPH difference between these drivers and the rest of the road population is a serious menace.

I remain convinced that the problem is not absolute speed, it's relative speed. Right now the Interstate near me is posted for 65 max and 45 min. Given the 85th percentile speed and the design of the road, I'd rather see a 75 max (with strict enforcement) and a 70 min. If you're unwilling to keep up with the flow of traffic on the Interstate, you don't belong there. Period.

JohnMarch 28, 2008 4:23 PM

"Perhaps a better solution would be to raise the fines to the remaining speeders to make up for the lost revenue?"

Perhaps a better solution would be to recognize that speeding shouldn't be a "crime" in the first place, and that traffic "enforcement" shouldn't be a revenue stream.

Going fast(er) is fine as long as nobody is harmed. If somebody is harmed, the that would be prima facie evidence of recklessness.

When one looks at stupidly abusable police state discretionary power, traffic "enforcement" is *extremely* high on the list.

Mr. EMarch 28, 2008 4:29 PM

In regards to the red light-runners, why don't we also ticket the parties that are hurt if there happens to be an accident? (no puns about adding insult to injury)

You should be checking to see if it's safe to move or turn before you do it anyhow. Not just trusting that a green light means it's safe for you to proceed.

Mr. EMarch 28, 2008 4:48 PM

@John

I've often thought that most fines should be income based. As you point out people who are not doing well financially have a hard time trying to pay unreasonable fines and it can really cascade in their life to the point of losing everything.

Someone who runs a red light and makes $60K/year can easily pay a $150 fine. Someone who makes $8/hour can not.

mooMarch 28, 2008 4:51 PM

@Mr. E: traffic incidents are still going to happen. Insurance companies already apportion blame (one driver, or the other, or some mix of both, is "at fault" and that determines who pays who and how badly their premiums go up).

Blaming the victim, even if they were not "at fault", is no solution to the problem.

I recommend that we completely get rid of traffic fines and adopt a mandatory death penalty for "at fault" drivers who cause an accident. After only a few years, there would be very few bad drivers left and the rest of us could then drive safely and in peace.

Peter E RetepMarch 28, 2008 4:57 PM

A further, related story on local radio:

That many intersection cameras also do not capture,

which is to say these are defocused out of plane except for the intersection,

and so have no actual deterrent or evidentiary capacity beyond the red light, by the choice of city councils/civil administrators in many jurisdictions.

This requires additional expense, labor, and manufacturing costs.
What's up with that?

Mr. EMarch 28, 2008 4:57 PM

@moo

Right, because the death penalty deters 100% all the crime for which it's a potential punishment: Murder, espionage, treason and kidnapping. (There are probably more but these are the ones I can think of off the top of my head)

It has nothing to do with blaming a ``victim''. We *all* assume that we could have something very horrible to us when we drive. We just choose not to think about it all the time.

Besides, I believe we do deal with negligent drivers in accidents, why not red light based ones?

I can appreciate your idea, but there will always be bad or distracted drivers. :)

JohnMarch 28, 2008 5:02 PM

"If I get a $150 traffic ticket, I'm pretty sure that the $150 doesn't cover the officer's salary, benefits, cost of the patrol car, cost for dispatchers, other technology used, the judge's salary and other court workers associated with the task."

You would be 100% totally, completely wrong because the overwhelming majority of people who are ticketed simply pay like sheep.

The actual cost is 15 minutes of opportunity cost of the officer's time to write the invoice, and for the treasury to cash your check. The actual salaries and car are all "sunk" costs that need to be paid regardless of whether he spends all day taxing citizens on the interstate, or taking down drug dealers.

If we wanted this nonsense to stop, all we would need is for *every* traffic ticket to be challenged in court and appealed. That would drive the cost up so high that it wouldn't be worth it to write so many tickets.

But as things currently stand, traffic tickets are a clear, easy money maker for the state.

Mr. EMarch 28, 2008 5:33 PM

@John,

I totally agree that most people pay without ever considering that they can go fight it.

I've wondered, but haven't tried this yet, if you could pull the ``open source'' argument:

If I can not make 100% sure that the company that sold the govt the detection equipment and the company that sold the calibration equipment (who knows they might even be the same one!), is not some how fudging the data, then how can I really trust the govt?

So, pony up all the source code, firmware, schematics, etc that allow the creation of these devices.

What's that you say? The company refuses because of trade secrets? OK, then I move for a dismissal.

http://www.groklaw.net/articlebasic.php?...

AnonymousMarch 28, 2008 5:49 PM

People consider whether they can fight it, but the court system is designed for the wealthy, not the worker.

If you want to fight a ticket, you usually need to take off at least 4 hours from work to be at court. Even if you only make $40k per year, that's $80 in lost income right off the bat.

Then consider that most police officers are very good at lying on the stand. They appear to be telling the truth because they tell the same lies that other officers tell, over and over again. Plus, he's on the stand every couple weeks, so he knows the judge & bailiffs, etc. So the judge is predisposed to accept the officer's word over the citizen.

But note also that the judge's salary is also indirectly paid out of the traffic receipts. In many places, judges are elected, so they need to appear to be hard on crime.

So the judge usually convicts, but reduces the fine to $100. Sometimes, the citizen gets lucky.

So when the average person looks at the cost-benefit-risk analysis, it breaks down like this:

- pay the ticket: $150 fine
- beat the ticket: $80 wages (20% chance)
- lose the ticket: $80 wages + $100 fine (80% chance)

More often than not, the citizen pays an extra $30+ for the privilege of exercising his rights. And on average, the citizen pays an extra $10 overall.

So most citizens rationally conclude it is better to pay the ticket.

For a more extreme example:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/08/22/...


AnonymousMarch 28, 2008 6:10 PM

@Daedala

"If someone runs a red-light, and there is absolutely no one hit, injured or even inconvenienced by it, then why do we care enough to ticket them?

Because they get used to it and start running when they shouldn't. Pedestrians don't like being hit by cars (I sure didn't)."

After "they get used to it", and they succeed in damaging something/someone, _THEN_ you hit them with minimum jail time, massive fines, and, if necessary, summary execution (this latter punishment can be reserved for those who are drunk at the scene of an accident).

Seems simple enough to me.

Alternatively, we can do as we do today and spend large amounts of time and money catching "violators", but then simply release with negligible consequences. This has the effect of spreading the cumulative harm accident-makers cause more evenly, onto people who haven't done anything wrong at all. Doesn't sound fair to me. Nor particularly safe.

Lawrence PingreeMarch 28, 2008 6:19 PM

I think that there's a point that one reaches where the technology does not give a person to be a person. At this point, a reasonable person would not implement the technology. Government and any corporation has a difficult time being reasonable when it comes to losing $. I think we've reached a point where as a people we need to really evaluate whether technology "should" be implemented even if it "could".

RoyMarch 28, 2008 6:33 PM

A serious problem with redlight cameras is in Sixth Amendment violations: " to be confronted with the witnesses against him"

It would help to balance things out by applying the laws both ways. When a police officer issues a ticket that is later proved unwarranted, the officer should be arrested and prosecuted for false arrest, for filing a false police report, and perjury. When the redlight camera is proven wrong, the company that made it should be prosecuted for filing a false police report and for perjury.

Right now the burden is entirely on the citizen. Let's get some balance here, so that every side can weigh the pros and cons of any action.

DaleMarch 28, 2008 7:05 PM

Of course it is a function of agenda and cost/benefit. I'm guessing it a case where the salesman was just very good:

"These camera will pay for themselves, so in effect they better than free!"

The real answer (assuming the goal was deterrence, not just revenue), is to buy 20% real cameras, and 80% dummies. Move the real cameras around as needed .

NFGMarch 28, 2008 7:08 PM

I'm all for speed traps, but I'm totally against automated speed cameras. If the gov't trusts me to drive slower when conditions demand it, why can't I drive faster? All of my speed-camera tickets include pictures of me on a totally empty road doing 13km/h over the limit. I get four of these within three years and I lose my license.

Fighting them's nigh impossible: The gov't stacks the deck at court, and if I lose I have to pay for the court's time, and the time of every expert they fly in from out of state.

I don't mind the money, I consider it a luxury tax for having a sweet car. But I hate being part of a faceless, unfeeling machine that tickets me because of a rule and not because of the individual situation.

And let's face it, the reason governments attack speeders isn't just because of the money: it's because it's easy. You cannot put automated cameras up to detect most crimes, but speeding's easy. It's far easier than forcing everyone to take a proper driving course, enforcing road etiquette, or penalizing inconsiderate or aggressive drivers.

Nope, it's easier to come after me for doing 80 in a 60 zone on a four-lane road with no corners and no traffic. I'm the big threat.

LoUCMarch 28, 2008 7:20 PM

@Roy

"A serious problem with redlight cameras is in Sixth Amendment violations"

Red light cameras aren't run by the Feds.

@ Mr. E

"I've often thought that most fines should be income based."

Right. Any government agency (since they all can levy 'fines') should have full access to all your private financial data, so they can "hurt" you when you "deserve" it.

Which way to Cuba, again?

OmnifariousMarch 28, 2008 7:47 PM

I think that this is largely a demonstration that laws about speeding that specify hard limits on the speed of your car are a bad approximation for trying to get people to stop behaving dangerously.

The speed that is safe is totally a function of driver competence and the situation. This is widely recognized (at least unconsciously) and it's why people speed. The police have discovered a marvelous arbitrage in being able to ticket people for behavior that actually isn't that dangerous.

When you have police enforcing it, speeding has a gambling-like payoff. Usually it gets you want you want, and every once in awhile it lands you with an uncomfortable confrontation and an obligation to pay a bunch of money to someone.

When you have a traffic camera enforcing it, they payoff structure changes to make it much less psychologically attractive.

AnonymousMarch 28, 2008 8:20 PM

Nick,
Your statement ""If I get a $150 traffic ticket, I'm pretty sure that the $150 doesn't cover the officer's salary, benefits, cost of the patrol car, cost for dispatchers, other technology used, the judge's salary and other court workers associated with the task."" is true but...
the $150 does reduce the overall cost of the police force. Police are still available to actually go after crime.

LoUCMarch 28, 2008 8:24 PM

@Anonymous

"the $150 does reduce the overall cost of the police force."

No, it increases the "revenue" of the police force. That's different than decreasing the cost.

kyhmMarch 28, 2008 10:43 PM

One thing about speed cameras and enforcement, which never seems to come up in these discussions is the impact of context. It's one thing to be cruising at +50% of the posted limit on a clear, dry road, quite another when negotiating other traffic moving +/-10%. It's still another to speed through a school or playground zone.

Personally I think enforcement of speed limits should be based on the dangers posed to the general public. I hate to see speed cameras on empty rural roads, I tolerate them on busy arterial roads, and I'd applaud their placement in every school and playground zone. This already matches Bruce's musing about higher fines, since where I live the fines are already stiffer for speeding in a school/playground zone.

Related is the issue of survivability, or how the odds of death vary with the speed of impact. Once I read up on that and considered how the risks of pedestrian impact change in different context I found I started slowing down a lot more often in populated areas.

Re Rod's comment about the accident rates on Autobahns, I'm told that driving instruction is more thorough, and examination in Germany is stricter than in North America, so there's likely a difference in average skill level as well as other factors.

On the subject of red light running, last time I was in Britain I noticed that it almost never happened. The reason was simple, about 3 seconds before a light changes from red to green, the yellow comes on. As a result, people were ready and moving as it went green, and anybody running a red was almost guaranteed to get hit. I'm pretty sure in 3 months there I never saw a red light run, even when there was no traffic at all.

Mark J.March 28, 2008 11:09 PM

@Captain Ned

Well said.

I was out in Utah a few years back and the highway limit was 75. Most folks were doing 80. It was heaven. That's a speed I can live with. This morning on my 35 mile highway trek to work here in IL, I passed no fewer than 6 police cars, 3 clocking traffic and 3 with someone pulled over. What a waste of police resources.

AnonymousMarch 29, 2008 4:07 AM

@kyhm

"Related is the issue of survivability, or how the odds of death vary with the speed of impact. Once I read up on that and considered how the risks of pedestrian impact change in different context I found I started slowing down a lot more often in populated areas."

You needed to read about this first? Maybe it's just me, but the fact that hitting things is bad, and hitting them going faster is worse, is, well, kinda obvious, isn't it? You don't even need a formal education as far as I can tell.

Racing around in residential or other built-up areas is just plain stupid. Do people need to read about that first as well? The limited sight-lines, corresponding reduced reaction time, much larger set of objects to hit ... I mean, what the hell? Do you people need to be told it's a bad idea to drink out of an unflushed toilet too?

"Personally I think enforcement of speed limits should be based on the dangers posed to the general public."

The problem with this kind of attitude is that it leads to a deadlock: the only safe speed for the general public is zero. And who are you to dictate some set of this population is to be bureaucratically offered up for human sacrifice? (Think about this. What other practical effect of all this traffic law, assigned speed limits, etc is there? The non-thinking nitwits on the road press the accelerator until they are at the limit, regardless of circumstance. Just obeyin' the law, they are thinking.)

If, as it is around here, you need to have electronic signs on the road with messages like "Hey! Drive to road conditions!" on them, there are much deeper design and implementation problems at work, problems that will not disappear even if moving violations were ruthlessly enforced. How to say it? In essence, traffic law is an exercise in plausible deniability for the dangerous drivers on the road.

This is why I suggested, above, that rather than wasting massive resources on enforcing traffic law prior to an accident, on the (failed) theory it will reduce accidents and injury (as you say, "based on dangers to the general public"), enforcement should be a function of _actual harm caused_.

This is hardly new either, as it is how it is done in almost all other areas of life. For example, we do not design the internet to minimize the risk of copyright violation, and hire a legion of copyright control cops who can check into your traffic, write you digital tickets to "teach" you not to step on the digital safety of someone else. Instead, copyright violations are prosecuted by the harmed party, liability assessed on actual harm, and so on.

Interestingly, in Europe there are even movements afoot which are removing road signage, on the (plausible) theory it makes for a safer environment:

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/...

Can you imagine it? Instead of drivers alternating their fixation on the idiotic speed limit signs, and the donut-eating cop with the radar parked at the curb, or looking around for radar-controlled cameras, red-light cameras ... they can concentrate on the matter at hand: safely operating their vehicle.

Radical ideas, probably not coming to North America any time soon. The "we need a law" faction leads to the installation of bullshit red lights at intersections that don't need them. I know of controlled intersections less than 100m apart! Eventually all intersections will have a light, we'll be moving only 5% of the time while on the road ... this process leads to the aforementioned limit of zero.

Most amusing of all though is that while enduring this, we'll be shoving entire oilfields out our exhaust pipes. Not even hybrid vehicles will help much here. Isn't it just hilarious?

StudentMarch 29, 2008 8:06 AM

I find it rather amusing that people are so upset over speeding limits. If there was in any other field anybody on this blog would be ready to cut the throats of somebody who broke them. Imagine airplane pilots ignoring their set attitudes... Or ship captains breaking the speed limits for the waters they are in.

Speed limits works. It's one of the most efficient ways to drop the number of accidents and deaths on a road, short of rebuilding the road to a higher security (and speed) standard.

Oh, and don't give me the crap about running a red light or speeding because you don't see anybody so nobody is at risk. I have been nailed by a guy who "knew" that nobody would cross the road at that red light in the middle of the night and was lucky to survive. We have the speeding and red light rules to avoid accidents and minimize the effect of them. Staying under a specific speed gives the driver a reaction time suitable for the road and lets the designers choose the amount of room needed for cars running of.

Why does speeding seem to shut down the higher brain functions even of security professionals? Is it so important to be exempt even from the most basic of security rules? It might not be perfect, but it is a huge lot better than nothing.

AnonymousMarch 29, 2008 8:54 AM

@Student

"Speed limits works."

Unlikely, for many reasons (the biggie: why are so many people being killed on the roads today, despite all the enforcement efforts?) But feel free to cite a source that backs it up. Note: the question is probably rhetorical, since various rules on "ethics" have probably precluded the definitive experiment. So instead, simulation has been done. Here is one:

Jackson JSH, Blackman R (1994). "A driving-simulator test of Wilde's risk homeostasis theory". Journal of Applied Psychology.

The Wikipedia summary of this reference is:

"A 1994 study by Jeremy Jackson and Roger Blackman showed, consistent with the risk homeostasis theory, that although increased speed limits and reduced speeding fines significantly increased driving speed, there was no effect on accident frequency, with the 24 participants maintaining the same level of risk and risky behaviour. It also showed that an increased accident cost caused large and significant reductions in accident frequency but no change in speed choice. The abstract states that the results suggest that regulation of specific risky behaviors such as speed choice may have little influence on accident rates."

Whoops! Increase cost of accident -- maybe, dare I say it, minimum jail time, massive fines, etc -- results in a reduced accident frequency! Independent of speed choice!

But I suppose that is the 'wrong' conclusion. Especially if you are of the boot-licking, authoritarian bent. At least if that authority is being directed to some other person.

"It might not be perfect, but it is a huge lot better than nothing."

A quick rule on debate: when you misrepresent an argument you look stupid, not your opponent.

Traffic volumes are climbing faster than road construction can keep up in almost all cities. In inner city cores, roads can no longer be constructed.

Physical reality is not subject to majority vote, or the number of tickets written by the police. Time for new approaches.

raiMarch 29, 2008 10:35 AM

policing is a business, all the Minnesota officers who can will pimp the badge for an employer during their off duty hours, and once,on the scanner I heard a minneapolis officer call his sergeant to ask for the rest of the shift off so he could take a job that "paid $40 an hour in cash", the sergeant let him off,

Then they have these private businesses like traffic school and they have conflict of interest agreements with the courts so that they can charge people money to go to the harrassment school for 8 hours with a bunch of others who are all paying hundreds of dollars, then they will send a recommendation to the court to 'just drop it' thus making private money off their public jobs. they also rent out squad cars to businesses. One minneapolis officer rented his squad to 'markers liqour store' for years, eventualy he rammed a van into a crowd of people during a holiday fest. the city spent a half million dollars proving it was the vans fault not his, do ya think they would have done that for a citizen?

modern policing is a business with a lot of cash and untaxable income for the players with badges to pimp

just a car driverMarch 29, 2008 4:06 PM


For years I have said that we need to remove the "slow traffic keep right" signs and replace them with "left lane for passing ONLY" signs. There are some states that I drive in (Great beer and cheese, but terrible drivers) who seem to only drive in the left lane. It is on the edge of bizarre. I have to pass 90% on the right, and they are completely oblivious. The have 3 -4 lanes going one direction with traffic completely backed up for miles because of people driving side by side across all lanes...Its not the speed that kills, its the drivers that can not figure out what the left lane is there for. Speed limits on the highways were used to save fuel, and the campaign of 55 saves lives was too effective and false. Come on! Hell I still think of a big Indian crying when I see a paper bag on the side of the road..

If the money going into the system slows down in one area, it will be increased in another. period. So not only will the cameras cost you more tax money, if they actually "work" in reducing traffic violations then it will cost you even more in taxes. (its the same thing with tobacco taxes, etc. we will really be in a pickle if everyone actually stopped buying the products)

But it is not about keeping people safe, it is about keeping tax payers around to pay taxes.

If they raise my taxes any more I am going to stop working and live off of the taxes of others, but dont worry, I wont speed. ;)

leadfootMarch 29, 2008 4:26 PM

In Finland, a speeding ticket is based on your annual salary which the police can look up on the computer in their cruiser. A colleague of mine received a speeding ticket that cost him 2 weeks of his annual salary. Be careful what you wish for...

markmMarch 29, 2008 4:45 PM

Averroes, etc., I think Bruce was being sarcastic about raising the fines to the remaining speeders to make up for the lost revenue, to make the point that turning off the speed cameras proves that the cameras were about revenue, not safety. There clearly is a relationship between speed and safety - if you don't see that, just imagine Grandma getting her 1950 Nash souped up so she can hit 180mph on the autobahn - but in the USA most speed limits are set arbitrarily at significantly lower speeds than most people could safely drive the roads.

Red light cameras are a different issue, which Bruce's post did not touch upon - and by now enough statistics are in that it's quite clear that as used in US cities, the cameras collect revenue at the expense of more crashes. Longer yellow lights and a few seconds of red all ways do far more to prevent right-angle crashes without increasing rear-end crashes as the cameras do, but often the cities will reduce the yellow-light time so they can write more tickets. And they'll make it more trouble than it's worth to contest mistaken tickets, even when your car has never been in that city...

In Seoul, South Korea, the law against running red lights appears to be self-enforcing (from what I could tell in a few days there). As someone says the UK does, they program the lights a little differently, turning on the yellow while leaving the red on for a couple of seconds before going green. Secondly, they tell me that by the laws there, if someone fails to clear the intersection before their light goes red and you can manage to get going at green fast enough to t-bone them, they have to buy you a new car. There's no necessity for the cops to write tickets when other drivers enforce such a steep penalty. Not that I'd recommend Seoul for traffic safety in general. Too much making three lanes out of two, and the cops appeared to be all too experienced in cleaning up quickly after accidents and keeping the traffic moving...

MarkMarch 29, 2008 7:46 PM

If the US follows the UK, these cameras will be used as part of a nationwide surveillance network of all traffic movements, complete with all the attendant dangers to liberty. Depending on your current viewpoint, this is either an incidental to the creation of a massive stealth tax from the public, or the real reason behind introducing it.

Either way, the public would benefit greatly from a penalty mechanism for speeding drivers that minimizes the economic impact on govt - positive or negative. This would reduce govt incentives to play fast and loose with either the facts regarding speeding and safety, or with our liberty. Some time-wasting exercise would suffice. Memorizing the Highway Code for a specified number of hours might be a good example, providing as it does a time penalty to the driver and a road safety benefit without creating another new lobby group to distort the political, legal or law enforcement landscape.

MarcMarch 30, 2008 7:22 AM

This seems to be an accounting problem. Since the revenues collected are used to subsidise all state expendature, governments start to rely on the funds as part of their regular incomes. If they treat it as a bonus or use it only to subsidise better roads and enforcement, such things wouldn't happen. Less accidents and infringements would mean less need for revenue.

It's a classic economic externality. The current arrangement creates downward pressure to keep things unsafe - taken further they'll deliberately create traffic blackspots to keep revenue up.

Governments shouldn't be able to profit from their societies' unsafety or insecurity. It's too dangerous.

Jared LesslMarch 30, 2008 2:36 PM

Put all traffic ticket revenue into a statewide pool, which gets evenly redistributed back to individual districts by some population-based metric.

Cities and towns would still get revenue for writing tickets, but they would not directly profit from writing lots and lots of them. Or rather, they would, but only if everyone else in the state did the same thing. But then there'd be major incentive for police to "cheat" and simply collect the revenue from all the other cops' work. Human nature being somewhat lazy, the cheaters would eventually come to dominate the system.

The goal here is that they police traffic to an extent that makes it safe without going overboard out of greed, and still recieve a fair amount of cash for the effort involved.

shoobe01March 30, 2008 3:48 PM

Note about fines: Anyone gotten a ticket lately? I got a speeding ticket in the town I work in (not the same as the one I live in), and the fine wasn't too bad. Like, $40. But the fees were over $100. Yes, if you got a moving violation in this city with a zero dollar fine, you'd still have to pay about $100 to the city.

Based on a few parking violations I have gotten over the last few years (mostly travelling, so not all in the same city, or state even) this seems to be getting routine. Municipalities are upping fees as they feel like it.


Germany and road safety: While I agree with drive-right, pass-left, the autobahn has like 40% of the mileage without speed restrictions it had just a couple decades ago. Even the germans seem to think slowing down around cities is important, and as the country develops, its all cities.


On removing signs: Its been years, and I have no link, but I recall reading some good work on the fact that excessively slow speed limits in school zones are more dangerous to the kids. Drivers spend all their time looking at the speedometer, and for cops running radar, and not enough avoiding children in the street.

pfoggMarch 30, 2008 6:31 PM

While the economic pressures are disturbingly 'off' here, it looks like the cities were, and are, acting reasonably. They *thought* that they had a cheap way to make certain dangerous intersections substantially safer (significantly fewer accidents, and the fines would more than cover the cost of the cameras, and even turn a profit). Everyone signed off on that, but it turns out it's an expensive system for a marginal net reduction in serious injuries (t-bone accidents down, rear-end collisions up, revenue reduced instead of increased, and the article doesn't compare property damage statistics, but they're relevant too). The next logical step is to drop the cameras and look for a cheap (net-profitable?) way to reduce serious accidents more effectively than the cameras. Reducing accidents without increasing taxes is still a big win for elected officials, and increasing net revenue is a win for bureaucratic department heads.

SteveJMarch 31, 2008 3:58 AM

The UK adjusted the economics of this in 2005. Revenue from speed cameras (we've never really been into stoplight cameras) now goes to the Treasury instead of local authorities. The Treasury distributes it back to local authorities indirectly, but not according to how many tickets each one issues.

So, the local authorities don't get the cash from their cameras, and the Treasury can't make decisions about where to place them. So it is no longer the case that individual cameras are expected to "pay for themselves", and I don't know of any great number of cameras being removed for being "too successful". The result of this is that after many years of increases, total revenue from speeding tickets dropped slightly last year. The Department for Transport doesn't think this is bad (I know that because I know an official who works on road safety there). I don't know whether the Treasury shares their sanguinity, but I doubt it's a major issue for them compared with other, larger revenue sources.

Deaths and injuries on the road continue to fall, although of course it's not really clear how much of this fall is attributable to speed policy. A significant part is probably down to the fact that recent cars do a bit less damage when they hit people than older models.

SteveJMarch 31, 2008 4:06 AM

@Jared: "Then there'd be major incentive for police to "cheat" and simply collect the revenue from all the other cops' work."

There's no evidence of this happening in the UK. Strange as it may seem, British police forces do appear to want to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on their roads. Sure, they have other priorities as well, and often don't spend as much on road safety as the people in charge of road safety would like. Some local authorities think there are better ways to improve road safety than speed cameras, so they do other things instead. But on the whole they are actually doing their jobs: police chiefs are too closely audited to just sit still and wait for their annual funding check.

pluckyMarch 31, 2008 7:15 AM

"So they're turning the cameras off."

Suuure they are. More likely they're being turned off for that purpose and turned on for a different one.

Brian MankinMarch 31, 2008 8:01 AM

@ moo

I think they should keep the cameras and institute the death penalty for running a red light.

Posted by: moo at March 28, 2008 03:15 PM

- - - - - - - - - -
Perfect! I'll make a clone of your car and run a few reds late at night when the police are all doing their rounds at donuts-are-us. You get the death penalty, and I get away scott free (assuming Scooby and those pesky kids don't interfere).

Bruce SchneierMarch 31, 2008 8:17 AM

"Are you serious? Why not shoot them on spot and confiscate all their posessions?"

Of course I'm not serious. As you point out, it's a dangerous slippery slope.

In general, police fines should never be considered a source of revenue. It perturbs the agenda of the police much too much.

LCMarch 31, 2008 9:08 AM

I usually play devils advocate when i post here, however, this is one of my pet peeves, I have long known that speed traps are more often used to generate revenue first and then to increase public safety.

you can see speedtraps in your area by visiting speedtrap.org they also have a sample letter you can send to your legislators at

http://www.speedtrap.org/sampleletter.html

JohnJMarch 31, 2008 10:05 AM

Re: Basing fines on income.

It seems to me like those with less ability to pay fines should have more incentive to not speed or run red lights.

If someone is running a red light or speeding because they’re behind schedule, I have no sympathy. Their lack of planning doesn't justify putting other's safety at risk.

Re: Red light/speed cameras

In general I vehemently oppose them. They are just another step towards a surveillance state.

One intersection I drive through daily has a relatively short amount of time for the left turn lanes. It is a daily event for me to see 3-6 vehicles run the red turn light. I commonly think that if ever a red light camera were to make sense, this is where it should be installed. Yet even here if the traffic signal was programmed with more time to allow vehicles through the issue could probably be resolved.

Re: Traffic fines in general

The system needs an overhaul. The entire concept of traffic enforcement as a revenue source should be discarded. Law Enforcement is supposed to serve & protect the public by enforcing the laws, not to serve itself by padding the local budget.

Replace the fines with points against a driver’s license. Say, one point per 5MPH over the limit, a half point for a parking violation, 3 for passing on the shoulder, 4 points for running a red light, 15 for DUI, etc. When you accumulate some number of points, maybe 25, your license is suspended for 6 months. If caught driving on a suspended license the license is fully revoked for 5 years and jail time is mandated. Points stay on a license for some set period, say 18-24 months. This makes it a non-monetary venture and the individuals can make their own risk/reward judgments (not that they’d necessarily choose wisely, but at least the choice is theirs).

If a financial incentive is still needed, then the state could provide some funding per point to the localities. The state could generate the revenue for this from any number of sources, but I'd say a gas tax should cover it. As long as the tax was annually adjusted so that it came to just enough to cover the payout, in theory all citizens would be financially incented to comply with the traffic laws. The state could promote law adherence = cheaper gas.

AndyMarch 31, 2008 10:51 AM

My friends in the police tell me that over here in the Thames Valley (UK) there are only about a half dozen actual cameras working at any time. Most of the time the boxes that the cameras go in are empty, apparently.

They're also must more keen on mobile speed cameras - otherwise people just get to know where the cameras are, and just slow down around them.

Also, I believe that while there is no blank speed limit on German autobahns, there are around roadworks and junctions.

BMurrayMarch 31, 2008 1:07 PM

The essential problem here is perceiving fines as a source of revenue. It's a disincentive to lowering crime (or increasing compliance; however you want to look at it) which is exactly not how we want government to be motivated. It's another example of the intrinsic failure of treating governments as revenue streams. Increasing fines to compensate does not solve that problem -- government is still motivated to maintain revenues (a second or third order metric for the actual problem) and not to achieve perfect compliance.

ac.smithMarch 31, 2008 2:03 PM

Interestingly enough speed limits actually increase accidents unless they are set to the average speed of all drivers that use that stretch of road.

ekzeptMarch 31, 2008 5:33 PM

"We need some reality based models."
Amen! Also need evidence-based models.

"How about following the 'bible' of roadway design published by AASHTO and setting speed limits at the 85th percentile speed? Has it ever occurred to the speed Nazis that the limits are artificially low for the specific purpose of revenue generation? Besides, the German autobahn statistics tell us that speed is not the defining factor in highway death rates."

Indeed, I wonder what the marginal return on lives saved is for enforcing a 65 mph limit versus a 70 mph one? Probably not much. Anything over 40 mph can be very fatal. You can't die 110%

No, the popularity of driving has been used for social engineering. Wasn't the 65 vs 70 imposed to "save gasoline"? Rubbish! A surcharge on drivings of aerodynamically poor profiled vehicles would make more sense, or outlawing Hummers! And the idea of trying to achieve energy conservation by slowing everyone down is as facetious as the daylight savings time device.

D0RApril 1, 2008 2:53 AM

These Dallas officials missed the whole thing. The final aim of a speed camera is to force motorists respect the speed limit, so the ultimate success is when revenues from fines drop to zero. The purpose of the Government is to protect people, not to earn money. It's crazy that they don't seem to understand that.

steve laudigApril 1, 2008 10:43 AM

150 years ago the authors of the Indiana Constitution attempted to dedicate all fines and forfeitures to the Common School fund. this lasted for a while till the forfeiture craze triggered the legislature to divert this to police and prosecutors. its a shame. the schools should challenge it of course but haven't.

JKBApril 1, 2008 11:21 PM

The purpose of the cameras has never been proven to be to achieve compliance with the speed limit or not run red lights. DC government actually admitted it a few years back. It is revenue.

Doubt it? Look at what cities in North Carolina did when it was ruled that 90% of the fines (penalties) had to go to education. http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/11/1132.asp

They shut the cameras down when they couldn't profit from it.

Want to get rid of the cameras? Get legislation or, better yet, constitutional amendments that the revenue from the fines and penalties has to be used for the children. They'll be offline before you the ink dries on the signature.

bobApril 2, 2008 7:35 AM

If they want compliance with speed limits, they should develop speed limits that people agree with, not let them be set by politicians.

If they want to decrease traffic light accidents all they have to do is make the yellow light 5 seconds long; that will eliminate 95% of red light running.

JGApril 3, 2008 8:13 AM

At least the article admits the cameras increase rear-end collisions. It fails to disclose the better low-tech solution. Leave the light yellow for half a second longer. No need to slam on the brakes and just a little more time to clear the intersection.

A previous poster mention left turn lanes. Nearly all left hand lanes allow protected turns before permitted turns. It should be other way around. That prevents competing traffic from having to clear the intersection. Another low-tech and efficient approach.

@Baron Dave Romm "According to conservatives, cutting revenue automatically leads to increases in amount of money taken in."

Your swipe at conservatives is both inaccurate and unnecessary. What conservatives say is that reducing the tax RATE often increases revenue. It happens when the tax rates are high enough and far-reaching enough to interfere with the economy, just like they are now. Reduce tax rates, the economy improves and leads to more revenue.

NetLockSmithApril 3, 2008 2:31 PM

I used to work for municipal gov't in a town of 25,000. The parking meters and tickets funded about 1/4 of the budget. They couldn't afford to remove them if they wanted to.

GeorgeApril 23, 2008 6:07 PM

http://www.thenewspaper.com/rlc/news.asp?...


4/23/2008
Court Slams Florida Toll Roads Over Bogus Ticketing
After innocent firefighter nearly loses job over bogus cheating accusation, Florida judge bans toll road photo tickets.

E-PASSA Florida judge fed up with the treatment of an innocent driver accused of "toll cheating" yesterday ordered Florida toll roads to stop issuing tickets to anyone with valid E-PASS or SunPass accounts. Circuit Judge John Galluzzo also ordered lower court judges in Seminole and Brevard counties to tear up any toll violation ticket issued to motorists with a transponder.

"The Florida Department of Transportation, Florida Turnpike Authority, and Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority are hereby enjoined from filing any toll violation action in the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida... against any prepaid or guaranteed account holder," Galluzo's order stated.
......

Galluzzo overturned Eriksson, ruling not only that Baird was denied due process but also that the concept of photo enforced toll citations violated due process.

"The prosecuting authority has the burden of proving the act occurred and that the appellant committed the act," Galluzzo wrote. "A photographic image of the rear of a vehicle attached to a citation, without proof as to who the driver was at the time of the violation, even in light of this statutes' rebuttable presumptions, is insufficient to enforce the citation issued to the registered owner of the vehicle as against that owner.... The statute attempts to impermissibly shift the burden to the owner of a vehicle to prove they were not the driver."

GeorgeApril 23, 2008 6:12 PM

http://www.thenewspaper.com/rlc/news.asp?...


4/23/2008
Court Slams Florida Toll Roads Over Bogus Ticketing
After innocent firefighter nearly loses job over bogus cheating accusation, Florida judge bans toll road photo tickets.

E-PASSA Florida judge fed up with the treatment of an innocent driver accused of "toll cheating" yesterday ordered Florida toll roads to stop issuing tickets to anyone with valid E-PASS or SunPass accounts. Circuit Judge John Galluzzo also ordered lower court judges in Seminole and Brevard counties to tear up any toll violation ticket issued to motorists with a transponder.

"The Florida Department of Transportation, Florida Turnpike Authority, and Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority are hereby enjoined from filing any toll violation action in the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida... against any prepaid or guaranteed account holder," Galluzo's order stated.
......

Galluzzo overturned Eriksson, ruling not only that Baird was denied due process but also that the concept of photo enforced toll citations violated due process.

"The prosecuting authority has the burden of proving the act occurred and that the appellant committed the act," Galluzzo wrote. "A photographic image of the rear of a vehicle attached to a citation, without proof as to who the driver was at the time of the violation, even in light of this statutes' rebuttable presumptions, is insufficient to enforce the citation issued to the registered owner of the vehicle as against that owner.... The statute attempts to impermissibly shift the burden to the owner of a vehicle to prove they were not the driver."

BrianMay 13, 2008 9:47 PM

Really, I think the solution would be to get rid of the cameras, and have police watch more for dangerous aggressive driving. Just speeding alone isn't dangerous, though driving fast + tailgating/other stupid driving should be a worse fine than driving slowly and doing committing the same offenses. To allow for more minor consequences for people who just had an attention lapse, people who doing things ride your ass ten feet behind you at 80 mph for more than five seconds (which has happened to me) should have their license automatically revoked upon video evidence that the offense took place.

On speeding:

There’s actually zero evidence that speed itself is the cause of most accidents… and ’speeding’ is not a legitimate construct, because it means going faster than a number that is arbitrarily set. It’s generally other factors that cause the accidents, which when combined with high speeds end up deadly. These factors are inattention, dangerous maneuvers, tailgating, and drunkenness. The government in the mean time will keep making up lies to justify the ticketing of motorists.

Speeding isn’t ‘cool’, it’s just trying to get to your destination on time. I agree that street racing is generally quite stupid, but what needs to be the issue is making RECKLESS DRIVING socially unacceptable, not speeding responsibly.

I've done 88 in a 55 mph zone, straight road, few people around, most doing 15 over already. I didn't endanger anyone. Yet if I were to do the speed limit in heavy rain, I'd be crazy. This whole 'speeding' thing makes people pay too much attention to dumb numbers instead of common sense. Instead of 'checking their speed' when there's a cop around, people should be paying more attention. The whole 'speed kills' campaign probably kills more people than it saves.

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