States Encouraged to Implement Speed Cameras as Road Fatalities Keep Rising

Amid a spike in U.S. traffic deaths during the coronavirus pandemic, new federal guidance allows states to use billions of dollars in federal highway money to implement road safety measures such as speed cameras.

The move comes shortly after the Department of Transportation released a report showing that 2021 had the highest projected number of traffic deaths in 15 years. Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration says speed cameras can cut the number of injury crashes by nearly 50 percent, according to the Associated Press.

Recently, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg promised to use funding in President Joe Biden's infrastructure law to help reduce traffic fatalities. His department said cameras should help stop speeding and make roads safer, according to the AP. But states and cities across the country have received complaints about them.

In the Seattle area last year, traffic cameras issued over 20 times more tickets than police officers did, a dramatic increase from only three times more tickets in 2019, news website Crosscut reported. According to the report, in nearby Burien and Auburn, lawmakers are removing the traffic monitoring systems after data showed the cameras did not significantly improve road safety.

In Ohio, state Representative Tom Patton had proposed seven laws aimed at making it harder for police departments to send out tickets based on speed cameras, WJW-TV reported.

Patton argued that the cameras don't make roads safer because drivers don't even know they have received a speeding ticket until 30 days later, when they get it in the mail. He argued that the presence of a police car causes people to slow down more than a camera does.

Similar criticism has been voiced in Pennsylvania. Driver Dennis O'Sullivan told WTXF-TV he received a ticket through the mail after a speed camera caught him allegedly speeding in a work zone in Bensalem. Shortly afterward, he received the warning that should have preceded the ticket.

"I never had any opportunity to modify anything because I was never notified of the first violation," he said.

Other drivers in Pennsylvania expressed frustration about the cameras to WTXF, saying they did not trust them as much as they trusted a real person to give them a ticket.

In Chicago, cameras issued more tickets in a 10-month period in 2021 than in the previous three years combined after the city decided to ticket drivers going 6 miles an hour or more over the speed limit, the Illinois Policy Institute reported. A ProPublica investigation showed the camera ticketing reflected racial disparities. The rate of traffic citations from the cameras was twice as high in majority Black and Hispanic neighborhoods between 2015 and 2019.

"The consequences have been especially punishing in Black neighborhoods, which have been hit with more than half a billion dollars in penalties over the last 15 years, contributing to thousands of vehicle impoundments, driver's license suspensions and bankruptcies," ProPublica's report said.

However, the federal Transportation Department promoted the cameras' use in its safety strategy released last week.

"Automated speed enforcement, if deployed equitably and applied appropriately to roads with the greatest risk of harm due to speeding, can provide significant safety benefits and save lives," the department said.

car crash, California, truch
Following a spike in traffic deaths, the U.S. Department of Transportation is encouraging the use of speed cameras. Above, a truck that went off the road on October 10, 2021, in Rock Creek, California. Photo by George Rose/Getty Images