Freeze Frame

Richard Diamond
by Richard Diamond
freeze frame

Automatic speed cameras have dotted European highways for well over a decade– despite the fact that there's no conclusive proof that they improve safety. In fact, an official British government report recently stated 'No significant difference was observed in the personal injury accident rate for sites with and without speed cameras.' And yet the bane of European roadways is coming to a freeway near you. By the time spring arrives, at least two US states will install photo radar cameras on their highways, issuing millions of dollars worth of fines to hapless motorists.

In October, the Scottsdale, Arizona City Council approved a plan to place photo radar cameras on Loop 101, a freeway that encompasses the Phoenix metropolitan area. It's a no-brainer for Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano; under the plan, the state takes a 46 percent cut of the estimated $22 million annual haul while Scottsdale bears all the political risk. Unsurprisingly, Napolitano views Scottsdale's scheme as a pilot program. Even before its implementation, the governor has publicly expressed her desire to expand the photo radar program throughout the state.

Meanwhile, Illinois is planning to install speed cameras on its interstates. Government officials are busy haggling over how to split the loot with the private company running the program. The state shouldn't be too bothered about the exact arrangement. Once the cameras are erected, Illinois' revenue collection effort will quickly dwarf their Arizona colleagues' relatively limited and leisurely program. No wonder: a single high-speed round-trip on an Illinois freeway could cost a motorist $1375.

The Illinois legislature authorized the ticket cameras to 'protect vulnerable highway laborers'. To that end, Illinois' unmanned speed cameras will snap all motorists who fail to observe the reduced speed limit in designated work zones, and automatically send them a $375 ticket. A second offense costs $1000. Officials admit they may place two cameras a mile or so away from each other. Those so trapped will lose their license for 90 days, receive points on their license, and pay higher insurance premiums.

Of course, the "saving workers" argument is entirely suspect. According to a study prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, automobiles caused just twelve percent of highway worker deaths nationwide. Lawmakers behind the Illinois program cooked the books by including fatalities caused by construction vehicles– such as highway workers hit by their own dump trucks. Be that as it may, Illinois and Arizona are about to experience what happens when history is ignored…

In 1986, two Texas towns, La Marque and Friendswood, began the first US implementations of photo radar. The programs didn't even last the year. 'You could say there was a good bit of unhappiness,' La Marque's former mayor Jack Nash told the Los Angeles Times. Friendswood fared no better. 'I'm certain it's a good system if you want to make money, but you're going to find that the community is going to lose its reputation very quickly,' said Galveston County Constable Paul Bess. 'It won't come back to my area.'

Every time photo radar is put to a direct popular vote, it loses. Big time. Peoria, Arizona voters ran photo radar out of town by a 2-1 margin in 1991, AND sent the police chief packing. The following year, two-thirds of eligible voters in Batavia, Illinois turned out for a referendum on speed cameras. They rejected the devices and booted the main camera proponent from the city council. Anchorage, Alaska completed the anti-camera trifecta in 1997. The state legislature canceled the photo radar program just four days before voters enacted a referendum banning cameras. Months later, Alaska's Court of Appeals found the photo radar program 'unreliable'.

Some long-term speed camera programs have been incredibly successful– in raising revenue from out-of-towners. The District of Columbia complains of 'taxation without representation' on its license plates but practices it on the residents of Virginia and Maryland. Official documents reveal that 'outsiders' received well over 75% of the $155m photo tickets issued by the federal city since 1999. Likewise, commuters traveling between Scottsdale and Phoenix receive 98% of Paradise Valley, Arizona's automated speeding tickets.

The lesson is clear: speed cameras that target local residents are the first to go. The forthcoming Arizona and Illinois programs– and their political backers– aren't likely to last long. [A Scottsdale resident has already launched a last-minute effort to put freeway cameras to a vote.] When given the opportunity, US voters consistently reject automated speed traps as both invasive and ineffective. It's a tribute to the American system of government that our representatives' not-so-hidden addiction to speed camera revenue is– and will continue to be– stymied by a combination of common sense and political will.

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  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion:
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?