Speeder cameras effective, say local officials

By Andrea Kelly
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 07.10.2009

The county's speed cameras appear to be slowing down drivers, who've learned where to ease up on the gas pedal.
The fixed-location cameras are leaving slow speeds in their wake, and "excessive speeding" is down by as much as 90 percent at one of the camera sites, according to a county report. Other locations surveyed showed reductions of 40 percent to 60 percent in excessive speeding.
"Excessive speeding" is 10 or more miles per hour over the speed limit, the point at which the camera will take a photo for the Sheriff's Department to review before issuing a citation.
On Valencia Road near Wilmot Road, the cameras have resulted in a slower-speed zone for nearly a mile in each direction because people are slowing down as far as 4,000 feet away.
If the county hoped to make any money, drivers have outsmarted the system.
Since the goal was to make the roads safer, the cameras appear to be doing their job, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said.
In Tucson, four fixed red-light cameras catch people, mostly left-turners, going through intersections on red lights. A mobile photo radar van for speeders provides a bit more of a surprise because it moves several times a day in the city.
In unincorporated areas, cameras are fixed in place.
While overall speeds have gone down, it's noteworthy that the people going the fastest have slowed down, Huckelberry says.
On East River Road, more than 13 percent of the drivers were going 10 or more mph over the speed limit before the cameras were installed. Results from the new study in June showed less than 2 percent of drivers going more than 10 mph over.
The county will review speeds again, along with accident data, when the cameras have been in place for a year.
"If it reduced accidents and speed, we'll talk about expanding the program," Huckelberry said.
The program could be expanded with the addition of more cameras.
American Traffic Solutions collects money only from the fee drivers pay on tickets issued, so the county doesn't pay for time spent when speeders don't trip the camera, Huckelberry said.
In a party-line vote, Republican Supervisors Ann Day and Ray Carroll voted against the cameras in January. Democratic Supervisors Sharon Bronson, Ramón Valadez and Richard Elías voted for the contract.
Day said that while slowing drivers is a good thing, she wonders whether the effect of the cameras is enough to make a difference. "This is just saying that traffic slows down (up to) 4,000 feet on either side — well that's true. But what about the number of accidents and if they speed up again after the cameras, which I certainly witness. Is that improving safety?"
She said she'd also like to know whether it's safer overall to have fixed cameras or mobile vans.
Elías said traffic safety was the point, so slowing people down is a good sign. He's not sure this speed study is enough to give the county a definitive picture of the system.
If anything, the county should wait to see a full year of data to gauge longer-term effects on traffic, he said.
Elías, Carroll and Day said they all have received calls about the photo enforcement, and more negative than positive.
"I still hear from constituents that it's the most obnoxious form of government that they've ever been subjected to," Carroll said.
The reduction in speeders, and consequent reduction in citations, has led other governments to discontinue the photo enforcement contracts, Carroll said.
Contact reporter Andrea Kelly at 807-7790 or akelly@azstarnet.com.