A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore: Modern technology advances making speeders, traffic offenders think twice on the roads

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It was inevitable with today’s advanced technology that our local and state police departments would catch on and make use of it to monitor and enforce traffic laws.

Speed and red light cameras are showing up all across the United States. Even if you have the means to employ stealth technology, it’s likely Big Brother will always remain one step ahead.

If you grew up in my generation, many of you lead-footed speeders were able to outsmart Big Brother by employing radar detectors, that is, until Big Brother countered by replacing that technology with Lidar, an acronym for light detection and ranging or light (laser) imaging, detection and ranging.

The fact is these new speed cameras render your radar detectors nearly useless. The radar beam, almost always “Ka band,” is angled across the road, thereby weakening the signal available to approaching detectors. In fact, camera enforcement of traffic speed doesn’t always use radar. Non-radar systems are on a fast growth track now.

The first speed camera systems in the USA were in Friendswood, Texas in 1986 and LaMarque, Texas in 1987. Neither program lasted more than a few months because of negative public response.

Today, the use of motion-activated cameras to enforce speed limits and monitor traffic lights has become more pervasive. Red light cameras take photos of automobiles when they enter the intersection while the light is red. Speeding cameras, though currently much less common in the U.S., use similar technology to photograph motorists who exceed the speed limit.

The cameras, usually mounted on or near traffic signals in busy intersections, also photograph license plates and send a citation to the offender.

In the interest of due process, under most circumstances, a law enforcement official will review the photographic evidence to make sure a violation has occurred before a citation is sent. And, similar to traditional officer enforcement of traffic laws, most red light camera systems allow motorists to be in the intersection while the light is red for about a half-second before issuing a citation to diminish the urge to slam on the brakes when approaching a yellow light when a monitoring device is detected.

So, if you are already within the intersection when the light changes from yellow to red, you are safe and won’t get a ticket.

Some jurisdictions use similar technology for other traffic violations, such as illegal rail crossings or toll booth violations.

U.S. government safety watchdogs are calling for broader use of traffic cameras to catch speeders, who are an under-reported factor in many traffic fatalities.

The fact is the act of speeding has few negative social consequences compared to an arrest or conviction for driving under the influence or texting while driving. Most drivers are aware that speeding is a threat to safety, but many still acknowledge it as common driving behavior.

Many states have enacted legislation either permitting, limiting or prohibiting the use of speed or red light cameras at the state or local level. Enforcement can be limited to a particular area or community. Penalties usually are more lenient than those used with traditional enforcement.

Some localities operate speed and/or red light cameras even if the state does not specifically permit it. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety maintains a list of all communities using automated enforcement. The list changes and is updated regularly.

According to the Governors Highway Association, 13 states have passed laws that prohibit (with very narrow exceptions) the use of speed cameras while 28 states have no law addressing them. All other states either permit the use of speed cameras (two plus Washington D.C.) or limit their use by location or other criteria (seven plus the U.S. Virgin Islands). Twelve states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands currently have speed cameras operating in at least one location.

Regarding red light cameras, 21 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands have enacted laws permitting some form of use, with nine states and the District of Columbia fully permitting them, and 12 states and the Virgin Islands allowing limited use.

Ten states prohibit use, and 19 states have no state law concerning traffic light camera enforcement. Today, 24 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands have red light cameras currently operating at least one location.

Across the river, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld cities’ use of traffic camera enforcement for a third time, striking down as unconstitutional legislative restrictions that included requiring a police officer to be present if a citation is issued.

Luckily for Kentuckians with a lead foot, the Commonwealth has been slow to act and currently there are no speed or red-light cameras being used in the state.

If caught speeding or running through a red light in other states you can fight the camera law, but the law usually wins. According to my research very few people ever beat the system because fighting the ticket is nearly impossible. It’s hard to argue with video and photographic evidence.

But here is the good news: unlike getting pulled over by a police officer, speeding and red-light infractions do not go on your driving record. If you pay the ticket within the prescribed time, it will not result in points assessed against your driving record.

Also, luckily for you, speeding and red light camera tickets are not transmitted to your auto insurance company and will not negatively affect your insurance rates.

Drivers who get pulled over and ticketed by the police are charged under the Highway Traffic Act and suffer the consequences of increased insurance costs, and possible policy cancellation. This has always been a strong deterrent and has helped kept our roads safer.

The other drawback to receiving tickets from speeding cameras and red-light cameras is that if somebody else was driving your vehicle, legislation requires the notice to be issued to the registered owner of the license plate. The registered owner is, therefore, the person responsible for responding by the date noted on the summons.

To avoid detection or prosecution, drivers may want to consider the following:

— Drive at or below the legal speed, and stop running through red-lights.

— If speeding, brake just before a camera in order to travel past its sensor under the speed limit.

— Use GPS navigation devices, such as WAZE, which contain databases of known camera locations to alert drivers. These databases may, in some cases, be updated in near-real-time. The use of GPS devices to locate speed cameras is illegal in some jurisdictions however.

— Although ineffective, passive laser detectors or radar detectors that show when the vehicle’s speed is being monitored exist. Use of these devices may be illegal in some jurisdictions.

— Install active laser jammer or radar jammers which actively transmit signals that interfere with the measuring device. These devices are illegal in many jurisdictions.

Short of vandalizing cameras or removing, falsifying, obscuring or modifying your license plate, all of which is against the law, you are at the mercy of Big Brother and I would encourage you to alter your driving habits to avoid violations.

Remaining a step ahead of the government is futile. I suspect there will come a day when drone technology will be utilized to catch those last remaining speeders who just can’t bring themselves to let up on the gas pedal as they breeze through a red light.

Be Safe My Friend.

Keven-Moore_10221

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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