Seriously, if a police cruiser was not there to catch you going 72 in a 65 mph zone, were you really speeding? Yes, many courts say, if a dreaded speed camera snagged you.
Some cameras do better than others: One in Washington, D.C., may be the "big daddy" of them all. Perched high above New York Avenue in the nation's capital, it has doled out $11 million in tickets in just two years, according to a Freedom of Information inquiry by AAA.
No wonder it's such a money maker. As each ticket averages about $150, that's an average of 101 tickets a day. No cop could hand out that many tickets.
According to The New York Times, there are 582 communities in the U.S. using speed cameras. I can tell you that Albuquerque, New Mexico is one of them, because that's where I got snagged in July of 2012 as I was driving a MINI Countryman cross-country to mark MINI's tenth anniversary in the U.S.
The Times also reports that there are currently 66 bills related to photo speed cameras that have been presented by legislatures in the U.S. so far this year -- some looking for permission to install them to get in the revenue gravy, and some to ban their use.
The controversy? While some contend that it is a cost-effective way for communities to clamp own on speeding (they don't have to pay salaries or health insurance to cameras like they do cops), others beef that the use of cameras are notorious for abuse. Communities contract with third party camera operators who install the cameras for free in exchange for a cut of the ticket revenue. That is an incentive to set the cameras at speeds that will issue the most tickets, and perhaps take advantage of road patterns that actually motivate speeding at more than five miles per hour above the stated speed limit.
It is ironic that the capital of the U.S. government makes extensive use of speed cameras. It dates to 2010 when Mayor Adrian Fenty raised speeding fines as a way to close his budget shortfall. Current Mayor Vincent Gray lowered the fines last November.
As several states and numerous communities ponder whether to beef up camera use, while at the same time their police forces are under budget pressure and are losing headcount, there is less opposition to the mechanical cops than one might think. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety surveyed drivers in 14 cities and found two-thirds supported their use.
One reason: As word spreads of so many speed cameras in force, people do change their behavior. Since 2001 when Washington, D.C., started using the cameras, traffic deaths are down 73%, according to the Times.