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Speeding Drops When Cameras Deployed

May 01, 2002
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Speeding Drops When Cameras Deployed

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of motorists speeding on neighborhood streets in the nation's capital dropped sharply after police began using cameras.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety measured travel speeds on seven streets before the cameras and at the same sites six months after deployment. The sites tested were among 60 locations in the city where cameras have been used.

The number of motorists traveling more than 10 mph above the speed limit decreased significantly at each of the seven sites. The decline ranged from 38 to 89 percent.

For comparison, the researchers also observed speeds during the same time periods at eight sites in Baltimore County, Md., which does not use cameras. In each case, the proportion of speeding motorists stayed about the same or increased slightly.

"The research provides clear indication that speed cameras and red light cameras cause many drivers who would break the law to abide by it," said Richard Retting, the institute's lead researcher.

About 70 communities around the country use cameras mounted at intersections to catch drivers who run red lights. Speed cameras, which measure how fast a vehicle is traveling, are used in only about a dozen communities, Retting said.

The American Civil Liberties Union and others say the cameras infringe on privacy rights. Critics also complain the system unfairly assumes the owner of the car is the person behind the wheel.

Last month, Hawaii's governor ordered a halt to use of speed cameras amid complaints. The next day, the Legislature voted to repeal the three-year pilot program.

Proponents say the cameras make the streets safer for law-abiding drivers and reduce the number of police chases.

The District of Columbia started using speed cameras last summer. Five are mounted on unmarked police cars and rotated among 60 sites. By the end of March, 251,474 tickets had been issued and $10.5 million in fines collected.

Washington police spokesman Kevin Morison said the insurance industry study mirrors observations made by the department. He said one in three motorists passing the cameras last July was speeding, compared with one in eight in March.

"Clearly our own results and now this independent study show these cameras are having their intended effect, and that's to slow people down," Morison said.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, is among the harshest critics of traffic cameras, saying cities are using them to boost revenue.

Armey spokesman Richard Diamond questioned the objectivity of the insurance industry, which he said benefits from tickets because they lead to higher rates for policyholders.

"If you are seeing lower speeds, that's often just a result of people slamming on their brakes when they realize there is a camera there," Diamond said. "It's a common phenomenon, and it's more of a safety problem than a safety benefit."

The insurance institute plans to release its study this month.

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