Trend Watch: Governments Ceding Control of Roads to Outlaw Drivers

Traffic cameras have spotted hundreds of thousands of drivers speeding on Arizona highways since the 2008 launch of an automated enforcement program. Yet the AP reports that what should be a highly successful safety measure is in danger of disappearing. The reason: Law-breaking motorists are staging what amounts to an insurrection against the state, and they might be getting the upper hand.  

maskedmoron.jpgTo some in Arizona, reckless deadbeats like this guy have attained folk hero status.
Though more than 700,000 tickets were issued to drivers going 11 miles per hour or more over the speed limit from September 2008 to September 2009, many drivers are refusing to pay their fines -- and officials appear to be siding with the law breakers. Even Governor Jan Brewer believes the program, initiated by her predecessor Janet Napolitano, was "created more as a revenue source," according to a spokesperson.

Lt. Jeff King, photo enforcement district commander for the state's Department of Public Safety, which includes the Arizona Highway Patrol, says his agency "just wanted drivers to go the speed limit and did not understand all the backlash."

"Instead of spending so much time focusing on getting rid of cameras, why don’t they focus on the real problem, the root problem, which is getting people to drive the speed limit?" Lieutenant King said. "If everyone was to drive the speed limit, the cameras would never flash."

Logic of this sort doesn't stand a chance in the face of anti-enforcement hysterics, including camera defacement and drivers donning disguises to conceal their identities. No matter that a camera operator was murdered last year; the culture of scofflaw motorist entitlement has taken on the air of a populist crusade.

"I see all the cameras in Arizona completely coming down (in 2010)," said Shawn Dow, chairman of Arizona Citizens Against Photo Radar, which is trying to get a voter initiative banning the cameras on the November ballot. "The citizens of Arizona took away the cash cow of Arizona by refusing to pay."

Arizona isn't the only place where the public may soon see reduced protection from law-breaking drivers. PublicCEO has the story of Steve Nolan, a city council member in Corona, California, who claims to support camera enforcement but is nevertheless waging a Facebook campaign to convince fellow lawmakers to reduce driver penalties. He's also opposed to cameras he feels don't improve safety because they are located at the entrance to a shopping mall.

[Nolan] predicted public sentiment would reach the point where the issue will factor in Corona city elections. "At some point in time my colleagues will wake up to the fact that 20,000 to 24,000 people in 18 months will have been cited." Many will be Corona voters.

In nearby Moreno Valley, meanwhile, a pilot camera enforcement program may be dropped due to "public outcry at expensive fines." And the mayor and police chief of Chattanooga, Tennessee have been forced by state legislators to defend their town's use of cameras, which they say are saving lives. Along one stretch of road, crashes have dropped from 101 in 2001, before cameras were installed, to four last year. (In New York City, red-light running is down at camera-equipped locations by as much as 72 percent, yet the program remains at the mercy of our own skeptics.)

Chief Freeman Cooper describes Chattanooga automated enforcement as "a 'voluntary program' in that motorists have a choice on whether they will violate traffic laws."

(h/t to Bernie Wagenblast)