Speed camera program helps save lives. Lawmakers should vote to keep it. | Editorial

Philadelphia Inquirer – Opinion

Speed camera program helps save lives. Lawmakers should vote to keep it. | Editorial
by The Editorial Board

In the last three years, speed cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard have helped cut down on speeding violations by 95%, reduced the number of serious crashes by more than 20%, and cut injuries to pedestrians almost in half.

Given those encouraging results — amid a local and national increase in traffic fatalities — you would think making the pilot program permanent would be an easy call in Harrisburg.

Yet despite the clear benefit to public safety, Pennsylvania legislators are waffling on whether to reauthorize the use of speed cameras, along with the state’s successful work zone camera program. Without action soon, the use of these lifesaving efforts is set to expire at the end of 2023.

As lawmakers reconvene next week, they should ensure that does not happen.

Nationwide, speeding was a contributing factor in almost 30% of all traffic fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Higher speeds also make collisions deadlier for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. When speed cameras were first installed on Roosevelt Boulevard in 2020, it was not uncommon for vehicles to be traveling twice as fast as the posted limits of 40 mph and 45 mph.

Opponents typically cast speed cameras as an ineffective money grab and an imposition on hardworking people. While no one enjoys getting a traffic ticket in the mail, state officials have designed the program so that municipalities don’t just start installing cameras as a cash cow.

Money from speed camera citations goes into a centralized statewide fund for street safety projects — not into the coffers of the municipality where the camera is located — so there’s no incentive for any community to install cameras to raise money to cover budget shortfalls or to pay for new programs.

The signs warning drivers of the cameras are also highly visible, emphasizing that the measures are meant to save lives, not to function as speed traps.

Furthermore, rather than producing significant revenue on a consistent basis, proceeds from the cameras have declined by 95% since they first went live. That reduction indicates that the cameras have successfully helped change behavior and reduce speeding.

As former City Council at-large candidate Melissa Robbins told Fox 29 in reference to getting a speeding ticket from a camera on Roosevelt Boulevard, “I never did it again, because, obviously, I don’t want to get busted!”

Unlike police enforcement, which can be uneven depending on whether an officer is patrolling a particular location, traffic cameras can change motorist behavior because they are always in the same place and can create the expectation of consistent consequences. Data show that it is this expectation of accountability, rather than the severity of the fine, that is most effective in reducing lawbreaking. Cameras also allow police officers to focus on more serious crimes instead of handing out traffic citations.

Along with the benefits of speed cameras that have been seen on Roosevelt Boulevard, cameras have improved safety for state highway workers, reducing work zone crashes by up to 50%, depending on location, according to PennDot. Given that roadside workers suffer a disproportionate amount of construction deaths, reauthorization is a pro-worker policy.

While Harrisburg drags its feet, the demand for more speed cameras in Philadelphia is growing. Safety advocates have identified several other locations in the city that would benefit from the introduction of automated enforcement. Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker, who helped implement the program when she was on City Council, has been supportive of these efforts in the past.

But without a successful vote this month to extend the program, improving public safety and slowing traffic on these dangerous stretches of roadway will be out of reach. Legislators must act and help safeguard motorists, pedestrians, and construction workers in the state.