House Transportation Committee Looking To Restart Federal Funding Of Red Light Cameras

from the back-to-buying-stuff-everyone-alreadys-knows-doesn't-work dept

Federal funds — banned since 2015 from being used by states to purchase red light/speed cameras — are possibly headed back to buying tech that hasn’t done anything to make driving safer.

In 2012, language was added to the federal transportation bill that denied states federal funding for traffic cameras.

“A state may not expend funds apportioned to that state under this section to carry out a program to purchase, operate, or maintain an automated traffic enforcement system…

But it didn’t become law until 2015, and was expanded to exclude automatic license plate readers.

“None of the funds made available by this act may be used to acquire a camera for the purpose of collecting or storing vehicle license plate numbers,” the House-passed language states.

Some of that may be rolled back with this year’s budget proposal, The Newspaper (which did all the previously-cited reporting) reports:

The US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Wednesday will review sweeping legislation that would, among other things, encourage local governments to set up speed cameras using federal taxpayer dollars. The move would reverse a ban on federal funding for both red light cameras and speed cameras that has been in place since 2015.


“Notwithstanding subparagraph (A), a state may expend funds apportioned to that state under this section to carry out a program to purchase, operate, or maintain an automated traffic system in a work zone or school zone,” the proposal states.

The bill [PDF] also adds this language, which doesn’t do much to clarify what these guidelines might entail.

Any automated traffic enforcement system installed pursuant to subparagraph (B) shall comply with speed enforcement camera systems and red light camera systems guidelines established by the Secretary.

If this passes, it will reverse a half-decade ban on federally funding this mostly-useless tech. As The Newspaper notes, the federal government was an early adopter of traffic enforcement camera systems, providing funds for several pilot programs around the country more than 20 years ago.

But as report after report showed these cameras did little to increase safety, legislators began to reconsider the federal government’s involvement in programs that appeared to do nothing more than generate revenue.

And it’s not as though the tech has improved over the years. Accuracy isn’t necessarily the goal. The more tickets issued, the more every party involved (local governments, traffic cam manufacturers) benefits. Well, not every party. Drivers are part of the equation but they’re viewed as little more than mobile ATMs. Automated systems cut down on payroll expenses and replace it with cheap mailed tickets that, in many cases, can’t even be challenged in court. Win-win for governments. Lose-lose for the people paying their salaries.

In other words, there are several good reasons for the federal government to stay out of the automated traffic enforcement business. Those reasons apply to local governments as well. But the federal government shouldn’t be making it easier for local governments to indulge their desires to turn residents into revenue streams.

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Comments on “House Transportation Committee Looking To Restart Federal Funding Of Red Light Cameras”

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TaboToka (profile) says:

Been there, done that

Automated systems cut down on payroll expenses and replace it with cheap mailed tickets that, in many cases, can’t even be challenged in court.

Exactly, which makes them an administration (civil) fine instead of a criminal fine. In Texas, if the driver refuses to pay, then the state can do nothing.

Local authorities (cities/counties) cannot install traffic light cameras anyway:

Sec. 707.020. PHOTOGRAPHIC TRAFFIC SIGNAL ENFORCEMENT SYSTEM PROHIBITED. (a) Notwithstanding any other law, a local authority may not implement or operate a photographic traffic signal enforcement system with respect to a highway or street under the jurisdiction of the authority.

(b) The attorney general shall enforce this section.

Anonymous Coward says:

You can use one of these anti-camera infra red licence plate frames with concealed infra red LEDs which can prevent cameras from getting your plate number.

I use those when I go to Disneyland, because it is in the Constitution Free Zone, where there are more ALPRs along the roadways, so that any such cameras cannot record myh plate number.

I also use it when driving into Mexico or Canada, so that their cameras that record the plate numbers of vehicles exiting the United States cannot get my plate numbers. All the footage will show is a big blur when they go to play it back.

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I also use it when driving into Mexico or Canada….

What I wanna know is, do you honestly travel 1,380 miles to cross the border into other countries, only for the pleasure of pissing off the border patrol??? Weird sense of humor there, Jack. Expensive one, too.

(Interstate 5 is alleged to be 1,379.4 miles between the two end points, San Ysidro, CA and Blaine, WA.)

Boba Fat (profile) says:

Hard to tell from here, but it does smell a bit

It depends on the final details.

"in a work zone or school zone" could just mean an alarm and video record of people speeding through people in the road", to help the on-site law enforcement catch violators. Or it could be the good old ticket mill we know and loathe.

But "guidelines established by the Secretary" does seem like another way of saying "we’ll change the rules when you stop watching".

fairuse (profile) says:

State Lobby for this - revenue generator?

In Maryland speed cams are about the size and shape of electric or phone utility boxes. Must be costly because the cams are shuffled around in my county.

Some counties use red light cams. They are so twitchy a bit of a roll when stopped triggers some.

All of this is mailed to the registered plates owner – pay or license can be revoked. Add in MD going "EasyPass" for all via auto tag readers. I see windfall for jacked license tags.

Gov’ment helping Gov’ment.

unforgiven (profile) says:

I support traffic cams

I’ll go against the grade here. I’m 100% in support of traffic cams. If people are violating laws meant to protect me and my children on the highways, they should be face consequences. We already know the boys in blue only selectively enforce the law nor are there enough of them to actually enforce traffic safety laws. Plus I simply don’t trust even half of them to honestly and fairly enforce anything. If we’re not going to enforce these laws, then they should be repealed. Otherwise the registered vehicle owner should be fined and made responsible for policing his own household and whomever he allows into his vehicle.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I support traffic cams

I think the issue is what seems to be the US tendancy to make everything a cash generator. It’s not that the cameras are inherently bad if used to really help road safety by catching real offenders, it’s when the camera and/or light are adjusted to maximize revenue – with side effects making safety worse. We don’t have that in the UK – fines go to central govt so there’s no local incentive, and I believe that light times are governed by a publicly available formula.

Rocky says:

Re: Re: I support traffic cams

I don’t know how common it is in the rest of the world to rig the cameras to maximize their revenue flow, but so far I’ve only seen articles about it happening in the US.

Also, in some countries a fine cannot be issued to the owner of the car if they didn’t drive it since that would mean fining someone for something they didn’t do. That also means the incentive to rig cameras isn’t there.

unforgiven (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I support traffic cams

However laws can be changed to make the registered owner liable for traffic offenses committed in their vehicle. People and companies are already liable for damage that occurs by other drivers operating their vehicles. That’s part of why a company like Amazon tries to lessen their liabilities by using contractors, when in reality Amazon is an employer, regardless of this contractor scam they use.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I support traffic cams

If people are violating laws meant to protect me and my children on the highways, they should be face consequences.

Okay… but you then go on to support consequences for people that are not violating laws: owners that maybe weren’t driving, and drivers who maybe didn’t break the law (as stated in the article, some fines can’t be challenged in court). Why should vehicle owners be conscripted into policework? And why is whether is was "meant to" protect you and your children more important than whether it actually does? Evidence suggests that red light cameras may be more likely to endanger people, in various ways; e.g., because yellow lights get shortened to increase revenue, and because people will attempt unsafe stops to avoid tickets.

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