GRIDLOCK GUY: A bigger picture of speed cameras

You are probably being watched or listened to right now. If you are reading this online, your every internet movement is being cached to create a big data-consumer profile for targeted ads. Did you mention that you ran out of pancake mix or coffee this morning. Go scroll your social media and you may (or may not) be surprised at what ads appear.

All that said - we are long past the era of expected privacy. And the argument that guaranteed laws of such should apply to automated law enforcement on public streets falls flat.

Multiple Metro Atlanta cities have opted to add speed-detection cameras in school zones, as permitted by a 2018 law. Many people have opposed such enforcement, saying the technology just makes for a revenue grab or that the devices can be inaccurate. They are not totally wrong.

But the safety results are undeniable. Atlanta Public Schools (APS) implemented speed cameras last fall and, after a grace warning period, issued around 41,000 speeding citations in the 10 different school zones in the first three months. Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Reed Williams did a thorough write up on these cameras and on the mostly positive reviews parents near those schools gave them.

Gwinnett County Schools has expanded its speeding camera program to 16 cameras around 12 different schools. They added the most recent five schools in August of 2023 and say the cameras have cut down speeding in those areas by 50%. Much like with the APS cameras, Gwinnett’s automated speed traps only operate when the flashing school zone lights are flashing. They also only nab speeders for going more than 10 mph above the speed limit.

Where opponents can really gain steam is when the algorithm makes a mistake and humans do not catch it. Last November, the City of Jonesboro had to refund school zone speeders who got tickets when schools were not in session. The drivers were in school zones where the speed limit lowers when school is in. But while school should have been in at that time, it was not. Yet the drivers still got pinged.

One driver initially disputed the claim, but that was dismissed. They next went to the media, which helped uncover an error in the Clayton County city that affected many others.

In the City of Atlanta, the cameras detect a speeder and then take a snapshot of the license plate. The Atlanta Police Department then reviews each incident before mailing the vehicle’s owner the citation. So humans do provide a safety net to the auto-enforcement.

Drivers can protest the infraction if they were not driving the car or if it has been stolen. Proving one wasn’t speeding is more difficult, as the Jonesboro driver encountered. But that is possible.

The State Road and Tollway Authority uses a similar system to nab unauthorized drivers in the tolled HOT and Express Lanes that line large sections of I-75, I-575, and I-85. Vehicles without Peach Passes that use the pay lanes are automatically fined.

Automated enforcement is efficient, as it frees up officers to patrol for heftier violations. But one price is often the need for hiring a third party to run the technology. This can mean they get a small percentage or a flat rate per ticket. However, this is a small sum for the deterrent to speeding that these speed cameras can be.

As is often true when new laws are discussed, some will argue that speed cameras unfairly tax drivers in that neighborhood. Or naysayers will claim that the enforcement unevenly ensnares people of color or of lower incomes.

While people of lower income or with language barriers may be less equipped to fight wrongfully levied tickets, the cameras themselves do not see race or background. The cameras are not profiling. They are simply, objectively detecting obvious speeders at certain times.

If someone in a neighborhood near a school does not want to be, as critics say, taxed again, they simply need to drive close to the speed limit in school hours.

Widespread surveillance is not coming; it is here. Cameras nab toll violators. Criminals in stolen vehicles ping off of widely used FLOCK cameras, which have helped catch many on the run. Numerous cars use dashcams to help plead cases in crashes. Doorbell cameras help catch wrongdoers often, including that one neighbor that never picks up after their dog.

Speed cameras do make law enforcement in that arena almost too easy. But the numbers do not lie. Speeding tends to decrease when drivers know they could be caught. This is true on GA-400 when people brake at the sight of an officer running radar. And it is true around our most precious citizens when drivers know that school zone cameras can nab their fast cars in a jiff.

Automated speed cameras are far from perfect, but they are helping cut into a big problem.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.





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