In Arizona, cameras that nab speeders record a murder, too
Controversy flares after shooting death of a worker inside a camera-equipped van.
Photo-based enforcement of speeding laws has its advocates and its opponents, like most things. But the battle over the technology has been especially pitched, never more so than now that an Arizona man has been killed in a drive-by shooting of a camera-equipped van.Skip to next paragraph
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The suspect in the crime has been charged with first-degree murder, with police stating that the alleged gunman knew someone was inside the van because its interior light was on. But even before Sunday's shooting, it was clear that Arizona's deployment of photo enforcement had tapped a reservoir of resentment – even vitriol – against a technology that some discredit as a government grab for speeding-ticket revenue or as a "Big Brother is watching you" violation of privacy.
In late 2008, a man attacked a photo-enforcement camera with a pickax, as the state was expanding its program, and some motorists have covered camera lenses to blind them. Arizona last fall became the first to employ a statewide system of photo enforcement for traffic scofflaws, but use of the technology is increasing throughout the US.
The system's defenders say its use is on the rise for two simple reasons: It improves safety, and it is an effective way to bring to justice those who disobey traffic rules.
The Arizona Department of Public Services cites a preliminary study, by traffic systems analyst Simon Washington at Arizona State University, showing that the number of injury-producing crashes related to speeding was reduced when the cameras were deployed. The success of cameras in reducing crashes is what led former Gov. Janet Napolitano to ask for an expansion of the program, says the DPS. The idea is to use traffic cameras – some of which are fixed and some of which are mobile – in locations at risk for speeding-related accidents, such as road-construction zones and freeway interchanges.
Speeding is a factor in nearly one-third of all fatal crashes in the United States, according to the DPS. Every year more than 13,000 people die from speeding-related collisions.
"The people who are against these cameras claim that we are doing this to save money," says DPS spokesman Jim Warriner. "But that is not true. The only reason is to make our highways safer."
Several studies cited at the libertarian National Motorists Association website, though, report an overall increase in crashes after cameras were installed at red lights in Virginia and North Carolina in the US, Ontario in Canada, and in Australia. Some Arizonans have complained that photo enforcement is a highway hazard, because some motorists slam on the brakes when they realize a camera is on them. The state, local governments, and the companies that make money off of photo enforcement are the only winners, they say.