Automated Speed Enforcement – It still sucks, but at least it is not arbitrary.

Written by Gregory Monte.

Using Your Judgement When Driving

Unlike the “Traffic Law Nazis” who I have described in previous blog posts, I don’t have a problem when people speed – as long as they are doing so in a prudent manner.  Issuing tickets just because drivers are travelling above the official limit is just plain silliness.

What is my reasoning?

I spend four hours a day on the road (PA, NY & NJ) and can say with certainty that very few people obey the limits set by the state.  While the Traffic Law Nazis out there will say that you are a terrible individual if you are going above the limit in any circumstance, clearly the majority of drivers don’t agree.

I will add that, despite the prevalence of speeders, accidents are a rare occurrence. I commute 200 miles each day to and from work and maybe see one every other week. And these are not major accidents – just simple “fender-benders.” Drivers, quite naturally, care about their lives and the condition of their cars.  They use their judgement given the existing conditions and decide how to proceed safely.  That could mean going 35 mph in a 65 mph zone when it is snowing and it could mean going 75 mph in that same speed zone if the weather is calm and sunny.

Just so I am clear, I am not defending those drivers who do 80-90 mph and who weave in and out of traffic, nor am I condoning excessive speeding in school zones and urban areas.  That shit is just plain dangerous.


Automated Speed Enforcement – The Equalizer?

Which brings me to automated speed enforcement.

One of my main complaints about speeding is that it is arbitrarily enforced.  If you get a ticket under normal circumstances, you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  You got “lucky” while all of the other fellow speeders got off free and clear.  Automated speed enforcement takes away this “luck” issue.  Everyone who travels above the limit gets a ticket automatically.

Having acknowledged this, I am not comfortable with the idea of law enforcement surveilling me 24/7/365 like some kind of Big Brother.  I am in no way suggesting that I would like my speed to be measured by satellite on every road that I travel.  Targeted automated speed enforcement, however, is another matter.  For example, New York

“Currently … has 290 speed cameras that are able to issue one million automated $50 tickets in 140 areas in the vicinity of a school.”

How can you argue with this seemingly reasonable proposal?  Don’t we want to keep “the children” safe?


The Caveat

As long as there are protections put in place, I could actually get on board with this kind of program.  Unfortunately, in my estimation, a recent New York bill goes too far:

“The current rules allow speed cameras to be used 30 minutes before a school activity starts until 30 minutes after it is completed. The bill A6449 eliminates the connection to school times so that cameras can be used from 6am to 10pm, even during summer vacation.”

This appears to me to be a “revenue” grab, pure and simple.  Also, I would want to know what protections are afforded to drivers who are issued tickets.

Pennsylvania actually codified certain restrictions on these automated systems in order to protect its citizens against many of the potential abuses.  The most important one is found in Title 75, Section 3369 which relates to active work zones:

“An automated speed enforcement system may not be used unless:

(1)  At least two appropriate warning signs are conspicuously placed before the active work zone notifying the public that an automated speed enforcement device is in use.

(2)  At least one of the signs indicates if the automated speed enforcement system is active or not active.

(3)  An appropriate sign is conspicuously placed at the end of the active work zone.”

And this protection doesn’t just apply to work zones.  Title 75, Section 3370 indicates:

“The city may not use an automated speed enforcement system unless there is posted an appropriate sign in a conspicuous place before the area in which the automated speed enforcement device is to be used notifying the public that an automated speed enforcement device is in use immediately ahead.”

Without these types of warnings, automated speed cameras are nothing more than technologically advanced speed traps. If you are interested in more commentary on this topic, check out my post – Why do cops hate the term “speed trap” so much?


Pennsylvania is a Reasonable State When it Comes to Speeding

I will conclude by reinforcing that Pennsylvania is one of the few states that treats motorists fairly when it comes to speed. In a blog post called Speeding Tickets in PA – More Reasonable Than Many Other States,  I cited Title 75, Section 3368(c)(4):

“No person may be convicted upon evidence obtained through the use of [speed-monitoring] devices … unless the speed recorded is six or more miles per hour in excess of the legal speed limit.”

In other words, you get a 6mph “break” when it comes to speeding.  Even more reasonable, in that exact same section, drivers are given a 10mph “break” when the speed limit is less than 55mph – you cannot be convicted of a speed violation …

“… in an area where the legal speed limit is less than 55 miles per hour if the speed recorded is less than ten miles per hour in excess of the legal speed limit.”

Further evidence that the legislature erred on the side of caution when it came to speeding tickets was its decision not to allow local police to use radar. 

Title 75, Section 3368(c)(2) indicates that:

“… electronic devices such as radio-microwave devices, commonly referred to as electronic speed meters or radar, may be used only as part of an automated speed enforcement system or by members of the Pennsylvania State Police.”

Our legislature specifically noted that local governments were likely to abuse radar to collect more revenue for the town’s coffers. That is why they restricted its use:

“.. proponents of radar in municipalities are concerned more with revenue raising than with safety.”

Despite what the Traffic Law Nazis claim, issuing speeding tickets is not necessarily all about “public safety.”

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