In 2012 1310 people died on Pennsylvania roads, that’s larger than the population of 994 municipalities in the State and equal to one fourth of the population of Cameron County. That grim statistic includes 168 pedestrians and 16 bicyclists. Speeding was the primary cause of 371 traffic deaths.
Speed cameras have been found to reduce crashes and injuries. Washington DC recently published a report that included crash and injury trends at 257 speed camera locations. The report looked at crash data for those locations up to 3 years prior to camera installation, and for up to 3 years after camera installation. The results found a 15% reduction in crashes in 20% reduction in injuries.
In Pennsylvania State Senator Mike Stack has introduced a bill in the PA Senate S1211 which authorizes the use of speed cameras on US1 (Roosevelt Boulevard) in Philadelphia.
The idea of using cameras to catch drivers doing what they shouldn’t draws in populist ideas of big brother and that the cameras are cash cows for strapped municipalities. And the media eats it up. For example an article in Phillymag.com recently carried this headline - Roosevelt Boulevard Crashes Have Increased Since Red Light Cameras – True, but perhaps it should have read Roosevelt Boulevard Fatalities Decline 65% Since Red Light Cameras (from 124 to 43 over 4 years). Minor fender benders have increased but fewer people are dying, and that’s the point. Furthermore those crash statistics were taken for the entire highway not just the 8 intersections with red light cameras.
Much of the populist rabble rousing has come from the National Motorists Association (NMA). The NMA also opposes current DUI laws , black boxes in cars and traffic calming in general, claiming that the relationship between the speed of a striking vehicle and pedestrian mortality is greatly exaggerated. They also have proposed a $20,000 stop sign tax on the responsible agency (based on alleged time lost and fuel consumed).
Finally let’s talk about revenue. It is likely that Speed Camera revenues will follow a process similar to the Red Light Camera program in Pennsylvania. The costs of maintaining and administering the cameras are deducted from revenues by the sponsor, in this case its the Philadelphia Parking Authority. The remaining surplus is then deposited into a restricted PENNDOT Motor License Fund account. This account known as ARLE is disbursed to municipalities through a competitive grant program to fund transportation safety improvement projects across the state.
Finally speed cameras should part of a more comprehensive approach to traffic safety. Along Roosevelt Blvd PennDOT’s safety efforts have included signalizing five mid-block crosswalks; removing five mid-block crosswalks; installing twelve pull-off areas in the median to provide police a safe location for enforcement and a visual presence; enhancing median pedestrian refuge areas in two locations; and installing speed advisory signs on three bridges over the Boulevard.
As Professor Stephen Glaister Director Royal Automobile Club Foundation which published a comprehensive report on the subject in 2010 - “Speed cameras should never be the only weapon in the road safety armory, but neither should they be absent from the battle.”