Rantz: Washington will permanently install freeway speed cameras

Feb 5, 2024, 6:46 PM | Updated: Feb 9, 2024, 4:01 pm

freeway speed cameras...

Freeway speed camera (Photo curtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo curtesy of KIRO 7)

Washington lawmakers are laying the groundwork for a permanent new fixture on state highways: Speed cameras.

The bipartisan House Bill 2485 introduced a pilot program for automated speed enforcement cameras on a small number of highways within the state of Washington. The pilot is supposed to test the cameras’ effectiveness in reducing speeding and, by extension, accidents on specific high-risk highways. During the pilot, drivers would not receive infractions, which betrays the true purpose of this program.

While the bill is framed as a public safety measure, a closer look suggests that the initiative might be more financially motivated than safety-oriented. And with bipartisan support, if this bill passes, you can count on the pilot turning into a full-fledged endeavor.

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Traffic cameras don’t yield great results

It’s structured as a pilot program, ostensibly a temporary measure to gauge the effectiveness of speed cameras on highways. But it’s hard to imagine any meaningful data could come from a program that doesn’t offer any consequences to speeding drivers.

The pilot program must fund community engagement and outreach. That is, the state would openly explain that the speed cameras will not offer tickets. Why would speedy drivers change their behaviors under those circumstances? And even if the cameras did result in tickets, it’s unlikely to offer any meaningful results because sometimes traffic cameras work, and other times they don’t. It all depends on the infrastructure, time of day, and driving habits in particular areas.

The city of Kent installed red light cameras at dangerous intersections. The intersections with red light cameras saw an astounding 144% increase in collisions. According to The Kent Reporter, red-light infractions increased by 4.4%, from 32,491 in 2021 to 33,934 in 2022, too.

Lynnwood yielded similar results after adopting the technology in 2007. Since then, both tickets and crashes trended upward between 2017 and 2021. After lackluster results, both Burien and Auburn abandoned their traffic camera systems.

This data suggests that automated enforcement might not be the panacea for traffic safety that proponents claim it to be.

It’s about the money

The financial aspect of these enforcement measures cannot be ignored.

Much like red light cameras, automated speed enforcement generates substantial revenue for the municipalities that deploy them. Fines collected from speeders can contribute significantly to local budgets, raising reasonable concerns that the primary motivation is financial rather than altruistic. This is especially true given driving on freeways is vastly different than on surface streets.

If it’s 2 a.m. on a Tuesday, driving a little over the speed limit is hardly dangerous. And you might have to briefly accelerate to get around an unsafe driver, or to avoid an accident. Should you be ticketed for these behaviors? That’s where the state is headed.

If safety were the paramount concern, efforts would focus more on engineering and infrastructure solutions and educational campaigns. An increased police presence would also help, but Democrats have an aversion to law enforcement. However, these methods directly address drivers’ behavior and provide tangible improvements in road safety without the worry that this is yet another Olympia money grab.

Privacy concerns

Washington drivers have reason to worry that the state is headed towards a pay-by-the-mile tax to usurp the gas tax. This would only work with GPS in the car or sophisticated AI-based surveillance.

Implementation of highway speed cameras could be a step in that direction, and it raises significant privacy concerns. The automated data collection on drivers, their locations, and travel patterns opens up a Pandora’s box of potential privacy infringements. In an era where personal data is increasingly vulnerable, a new layer of government monitoring is troubling.

If we give in to this, there will be less pushback regarding pay-by-mile monitoring. The pilot normalizes government surveillance. And if that becomes the norm, who knows what kind of government surveillance comes next?

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Well-intentioned or not, it’s the wrong move

The goal of reducing traffic accidents and enhancing public safety is obviously universally shared. But how we reach those goals is important.

The method of automated speed enforcement via highway speed cameras, as proposed in House Bill 2485, is fraught with too many reasonable concerns. The evidence from similar enforcement technologies suggests that the effectiveness of such measures in improving safety is debatable at best.

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Coupled with the significant financial incentives for Olympia and the privacy implications for individuals, the push for highway speed cameras appears to be less about safety and more about revenue and control. As such, we must scrutinize these sneaky measures thoroughly, reject them wholeheartedly, and demand alternative, more effective means of achieving the noble goal of safer roads for all. And if lawmakers were truly serious about safety, and not funding, they’d jettison the bad idea.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow Jason on X, formerly known as TwitterInstagram, and  Facebook.

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Rantz: Washington will permanently install freeway speed cameras