Speed cameras: Good or bad?

A speed camera.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: If you were driving down a desert highway in Arizona late last night, you witnessed something big. No exploding cacti or anything like that. But the state Department of Public Safety shut off all its speed-trap cameras at 11:59 p.m. It's back to old-fashioned patrol car enforcement -- despite the fact that the cameras reduced speeding and brought money into the struggling state's coffers.

Eve Troeh reports.


Eve Troeh: The Arizona legislature spent $20 million to install speed cameras on state roads where there were lots of accidents. The cameras catch anyone going more than 10 miles over the speed limit.

Arizona State University economist Tim James says the cameras greatly reduce speeding. But, he says, many drivers don't think that's the point.

Tim James: There's always a perception that really what it's about it not control people's behavior, but it's a program that's always driven by revenue generation.

James is from the UK, where speed cameras have been widely used and disliked for years.

James: Speed cameras are referred to as "state money boxes" or "piggy banks."

In Arizona, the cameras have brought in much less money than expected. The program collected about $78 million in the past two years, less than half of what the government predicted.

Russ Rader is spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. He says decreased revenue shows the program is working.

Russ Rader: So the camera programs may generate a lot of tickets initially, but that revenue tails off as the cameras slow drivers down.

Rader says calling the cameras a sneaky way to tax citizens is just a ruse for what's really going on: Lots of people think speeding is OK.

Rader: Let's face it, we all speed to a certain degree during our daily driving, but the idea that we should let people set their own speed limits at more than 10 miles an hour over the posted limit is just ludicrous.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety says it would like to put more officers on the road now that the cameras are shut off. But the state simply doesn't have the money.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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