The Power of Automated Enforcement
by Charles Territo
Introducing automated enforcement to any municipality is a challenge, but for the technologists behind the scenes, cameras are the ultimate tool to reduce traffic violations. American Traffic Solutions’ Charles Territo argues that cameras’ critics are largely wrong, and that Vision Zero provides an opportunity to reclaim the debate.
In 1987, the founders of American Traffic Solutions deployed the first speed safety camera in the United States in Paradise Valley, Arizona – a small town in metropolitan Phoenix sandwiched between much larger, bustling neighborhoods unable to curtail increasing traffic-related collisions.
At the time, we were a small company with a passionate belief that technology could make roads safer. The Phoenix area was growing rapidly and law enforcement was struggling to deal with the challenges of speeding on local roads, which were not designed for speedway-style driving.
Not surprisingly, the nation’s first speed cameras were met with skepticism. Some questioned the ability of the technology to accurately match the speed of a vehicle with an image of the license plate. Others were angered by the reality that the law would now be enforced 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Gone were the days of the officer on the side of the road and the quick flash of the headlights from oncoming traffic warning speeders to slow down.
Now, technology was being used to change driver behavior, and it was working. In the first year in Paradise Valley, we saw a 30% decrease in speed-related crashes. Not long after, New York and Philadelphia began experimenting with cameras at intersections to enforce red-light running. In New York, red-light running declined over 70% at camera locations.1 Philadelphia saw much the same, with red-light running violations falling 48% at camera locations in operation for 12 months and crashes declining 24% at locations with cameras in use for three years.
Today, there are more cameras being used to enforce traffic laws in the U.S. and around the world than at any other time in history. What began as a tool focused on speed and traffic signals spread throughout the country, with the variety of automated enforcement expanding as quickly as its use. Today, automated cameras are used to enforce against red-light running, passing a school bus stop arm, driving in bus lanes, violating pedestrians’ right of way in the crosswalks, blocking the box, parking in bike lanes, passing stop signs, as well as violating the speed limit of a city or highway, in intersections, school and construction
The technology is at an apex, but prioritizing safety has costs, and for companies, individuals and municipalities, that often stands in the way of introducing new tools. Any urban center that has introduced automated enforcement knows that criticisms follow a well-trod and largely inaccurate path: we hear accusations of privacy invasion and profit-driven enforcement again and again. The fact of the matter is that the revenue generated from safety cameras is rarely significant enough to make a dent in the fiscal health of a city, large or small. And the data collected by cameras is a key tool for designing safer streets in the future.
According to the National Safety Council, the cost of traffic collisions in the U.S., including medical expenses, wage and productivity losses and property damage, will eclipse $152 billion in 2015. These costs pale in comparison to the toll that tens of thousands of fatalities take on society. But the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has listed red-light and speed safety cameras as one of the leading and most cost-effective interventions available for reducing traffic deaths. In California, the CDC found that outside of increased use of seat belts and motorcycle helmets, widespread installation of red-light and speed cameras would have a greater cumulative safety effect than any other type of enforcement, estimating the prevention of 170 fatalities, more than 14,000 injuries, and a combined economic savings of more than $500 million.
»When a municipality turns on a safety camera, it receives reams of data on traffic volume, vehicle
speeds, the commonness of violations at certain days and times and the impact of weather conditions.«
Nationwide, road design and traffic enforcement strategies have come to rely on the data that enforcement cameras naturally provide. When a municipality turns on a safety camera, it receives reams of data on traffic volume, vehicle speeds, the commonness of violations at certain days and times, and the impact of weather conditions. For law enforcement and traffic engineers, this is a guide to understanding the symptoms and root causes of local traffic fatalities. In New York City, speed, red-light and bus lane cameras, as well as data integrations with the Taxi and Limousine Commission, were attributed to a 10% reduction in traffic-related fatalities in one year, a reduction that’s expected to climb.
The critics of automated enforcement are not quiet, but Vision Zero provides an opportunity to hit the reset button and reclaim the debate. More than 30,000 Americans are expected to lose their lives in preventable collisions in the next year. With this sobering statistic in mind, Vision Zero is a moral obligation. For Vision Zero to work, everyone fromtransportation engineers to individual drivers must contribute to the effort to save lives, and in the private sector, we are no exception. For American Traffic Solutions, the undeniable, statistical success of automated enforcement has defined our trajectory. As business owners in the U.S. transportation network, like fleet managers, car manufacturers, or asphalt producers, we are responsible for prioritizing safety. If we are truly serious about reducing and eventually eliminating road deaths and serious injuries, we have an obligation to try to use every technology available to achieve that goal.
This nation’s appetite for technology is insatiable, and an unprecedented era of innovation has revolutionized how we live in less than a generation. From the smartphone and Wi-Fi in the tech world, to the mapping of the human genome and life-saving drugs in the medical world, these advances help us to live better, and longer, lives. Traffic safety cameras and sensors have the potential to save thousands of lives. They can and should be the technological centerpiece of any Vision Zero initiative.
To view Vision Zero efforts across the U.S. visit: visionzeronetwork.org