Why Speed Cameras Make the Roads More Dangerous (and What to Do About It)
Traffic is moving quickly on a winding two-lane highway. Then, you take a corner and face a wall of red lights. You slam on the brakes just in time – but the driver behind you isn’t so fast. When you get out to inspect the damage, you try to see what caused the pileup: There’s no deer in the road. No accident. No, this time, the collision was caused by a speed camera.
Speed cameras: good idea, dodgy results
The purpose of speed cameras is safety. Everyone is safer when drivers travel within the speed limit. To enforce those limits, States throughout the U.S. use speed cameras to crack down on drivers who go too fast.
There’s a problem, though. While the cameras do ticket those who aren’t obeying the limit, writing tickets isn’t their goal. Safety is. And as long as the sight of the camera causes braking blackspots – where a line of drivers punches the brakes for fear of getting a ticket – they undermine their own objective.
There are political problems, too
“In almost every jurisdiction, the impetus and decision to install photo enforcement comes from politicians and law enforcement, and not from traffic safety engineers or as a result of traffic engineering studies,” said an anti-photo enforcement movement in Arizona. What followed this statement is a long list of recent fatalities and collisions linked to speed cameras.
Arizona isn’t the only State with an anti-photo enforcement movement. Public opinion on the tactic is overwhelmingly negative. “Photo enforcement has been placed to a popular vote in many US communities and the public has rejected cameras the large majority of the time,” said Maryland Drivers Alliance. There are many complaints, from anger at mass surveillance to the fact that drivers ticketed by a camera can’t exercise their right to face their accuser in court.
Driving safety remains a serious issue
In a recent report, the telematics analysis firm Wunelli (a LexisNexis company) revealed that when speed cameras are visible, hard braking is six times more likely on average. In some locations, it’s 11 times more likely.
What’s a hard braking event? When a driver drops at least 6.5mph in one second, they’re braking hard. If you’ve got a bag sitting on your passenger seat when you change speed like that, it’ll end up on the floor.
The conclusion seems clear. Speed cameras incite “poor driver behavior,” according to the founding director of Wunelli, Paul Stacy. “These findings really put into question the value of speed cameras as a road safety tool,” he said. That assertion is only underscored by what happens after drivers pass (hopefully unscathed) through a braking blackspot. Is it any surprise? They speed up again.
There’s a better way to achieve road safety
Despite the stated purpose behind speed cameras – making the roads safer – it seems that all they really accomplish is issuing the occasional ticket while making the roads more dangerous. There are better approaches. Drivers who use insurance telematics, for example, have an incentive to eliminate speeding as well as hard braking. Safer drivers get better premiums. Instead of wielding a stick, we can offer a carrot.
As it turns out, safety is a carrot in its own right. Drivers in a 2015 LexisNexis study demonstrated that the discount is less of a draw than the opportunity to become a safer driver. Insurance telematics can deliver that via smartphone app, engaging drivers every time they get behind the wheel with driver coaching and scoring.
The result? Fewer tickets, fewer collisions, fewer claims. Roads are safer. Drivers get a product they want. And insurers have the opportunity to strengthen customer glue with frequent communication and improved customer satisfaction. Sounds better than a speed camera, don’t you think?