Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Land of the Free

From a car magazine article I saw a couple weeks ago:
Photo Radar Dead on Arizona Roads

Arizona pulled the plug on its state roadway photo radar network in mid-July. It didn't work in just about every way possible: Many citizens resented its intrusive nature. American chauvinists didn't like that the system was operated by—and funds expatriated to—an Aussie firm named Redflex. Violators ignored the tickets, and less than a third of the 1,200,000 ticketes issued were ever paid—including those issued to a man in a monkey suit who deliberately collected dozens of tickets and fought them all in court. Process servers couldn't keep up with the unpaid (typically) $181 tickets.

Tragically, the operator of a van carrying a mobile speed camera was shot to death while parked by the roadside.* Dozens of units were vandalized with Silly String, clubs and axes. The state had projected that it would rake in $120,000,000 from its citizens; it collected just $78,000,000. Redflex predicted that accidents and deaths would spike on state highways now.
I bet two things are true:
  • The state cared much less about safety than revenue
  • There will be no spike in accidents, because there was no reduction in accidents after the radar was put in place.
It warms the soul when citizens give the single digit salute to overbearing government.

* Apparently, the shooter didn't realize the van, which had been parked alongside the road, was manned.

45 Comments:

Blogger Mark Frank said...

"there was no reduction in accidents after the radar was put in place"

Are you sure? In the UK there have been some truly moronic attempts to show that speed cameras do not reduce accidents when they clearly do. But of course the two places could hardly be more different. It depends on how many accidents in Arizona were due to speeding, how effective cameras are in reducing speeding, and what other measures to reduce speeding the cameras replaced.

"It warms the soul when citizens give the single digit salute to overbearing government. "

Why are cameras more overbearing than other measures, such as patrol cars, at maintaining speed limits?

If you really think it is overbearing to use technology to enforce speed limits then surely the real answer is to change/abandon the speed limits, not force the taxpayer to fund a less efficient method to enforce them?

October 27, 2010 8:19 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

"Are you sure?"

No, but the burden of proof should be on the enforcers, not the citizens. I have seen a number of studies but not one showing any actual improvement in safety. You're making a lot of unsupported assumptions, such as that electronic enforcement reduces the amount of speeding (given the ticket data here, that seems unlikely). Not to mention that states have a strong tendency to put these system in where they will generate the most revenue, not where they are most likely to improve safety. Again, note that one of the big "failures" of the system from the state point of view is the lower than expected revenue. Just ask, why did they project that and track it in the first place, if safety is the concern?

October 27, 2010 8:42 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark:

In the US, excessive speed causes a tiny fraction (< 5%) of all accidents. Even if speed cameras completely eliminated those, there couldn't be a spike.

If safety was the primary concern, then enforcement would go to things that do cause accidents, like following too closely, and unsafe lane changes, failing to use turn signals, etc. However, since those don't offer the sample rate that watching a stream of cars with radar does, there is no revenue in policing them.

So the police don't.

It has long been established that setting the speed limits at the 85th percentile speed (that is, the speed at or below which 85% of the drivers are going) provides the safest results.

Giving the photo camera cash cow to governments encourages them to lower the speed limit to enhance revenue.

Just as red light cameras cause local governments to have yellow lights shorter than they should be.

October 27, 2010 9:16 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

SH

I am not making any assumptions. I am not claiming that they work in Arizona. It is a very different place from the UK. If the cameras are in the wrong places then clearly they won't make a difference. But, surely the solution is to put them in the right places - not abandon them!

The State is bound to have made a revenue projection. It doesn't follow that was the main motivation. If there had been zero revenue because everyone to kept to speed limits I think that would have counted as a major success.


What confuses me is what speed cameras have to do with State interference. You might believe that other methods are more effective - that' something to be assessed and measured. But I can't see anything wrong in principle in using cameras to enforce the law.

October 27, 2010 9:21 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Mark Frank wrote: "...surely the real answer is to change/abandon the speed limits..."

That's a bit overly simplistic. First, there is no single speed limit that makes sense: what makes sense on a perfectly clear day with good road conditions and light traffic is completely different than what makes at night in a blizzard on icy roads in heavy traffic.

Without speed cameras, drivers pretty much ignore the speed limits (at least on the roads I'm most familiar with) and drive at a distribution of speeds that is for the most part reasonable. This creates a pseudo-speed limit for the condition. Those who are going at the pseudo-speed limit are in absolutely no danger of getting a ticket from a human cop. Those going substantially above the pseudo-speed limit may still get a ticket, which is acceptable since they are probably pushing the safety envelope as well.

Speed cameras throw that whole equilibrium out of whack, slow everybody down most of the time, and piss off most people (in the US anyway), while having (at best) limited effect of safety.

October 27, 2010 9:52 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Bret

Seems to me that you are saying abandon speed limits and let drivers decide what is a safe speed. I can't think of an industrialised country that has that policy - I look forward to seeing the results.

October 27, 2010 10:05 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Not exactly.

I'm saying pick an arbitrarily low speed limit and have cops ticket those who are driving significantly faster than the rest of traffic and who happen to be over the posted speed limit.

That's pretty much how it works in California where the use of radar by the police was prohibited on the freeways for many years. It seems to work quite well.

October 27, 2010 11:42 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark:

Speed limits provide a standard against which to charge an infraction; in many places (California among them) patrol officers only pull over those whose speed is well above the flow of traffic, whatever it might be.

If the flow of traffic happens to be 85 mph and the speed limit is 65, no one is getting pulled over.

The big problem with speed cameras is driver reaction to them. Flow of traffic approaching a camera is 85. Reach the camera zone, and people start slamming on their brakes, not because 85 wasn't safe, but because they don't want to pay a speed tax.

Which means the very existence of a speed camera creates a hazard.

Most US highways are very lightly patrolled. As Bret says, drivers go the de facto, not the de jure, speed limit.

So the US (on highways, in general) already has the policy you are talking about.

October 27, 2010 4:58 PM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

"If the flow of traffic happens to be 85 mph and the speed limit is 65, no one is getting pulled over."


I have to say that was not my experience when I lived in Atlanta for 2 years - but that was in the 80s. More to the point. If the limit you wish to enforce is 85 there is no reason why you shouldn't use cameras to help the police enforce that.

Have you a reference showing that speed cameras cause accidents (I don't mean somene's blog - I mean an actual study from a reputable organisation).

Here are a few showing they prevent accidents in the UK (I can't find any US research):

2005 BMJ: Effectiveness of speed cameras in preventing road traffic collisions and related casualties: systematic review

http://www.bmj.com/content/330/7487/331.full

"Conclusions Existing research consistently shows that speed cameras are an effective intervention in reducing road traffic collisions and related casualties"

2004 Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology
http://www.parliament.uk/documents/post/postpn218.pdf

"The strategy cites research which found that speed was a major factor in around one third of all road crashes"

http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roadsafety/speedmanagement/nscp/nscp/coll_thenationalsafetycameraprog/ationalsafetycameraprogr4598.pdf

Earlier you pointed out that excessive speed causes 5% of all accidents. This was a link to the blog of a minor journalist who doesn't seem to feel the need to quote sources. In the UK it is true that breaking the speed limit contributes to 5% of all accidents. However, as Dept of Transport annual reports (http://www.dft.gov.uk/adobepdf/162469/221412/221549/227755/rrcgb2009.pdf ) consistently point out:

"Exceeding the speed limit was reported as a factor in 5 per cent of accidents, but these accidents involved 17 per cent of fatalities. At least one of exceeding the speed limit and travelling too fast for the conditions was reported in 13 per cent of all accidents and these accidents accounted for 27 per cent of all fatalities"

i.e. speeding or driving too fast account for a rather large proportion of serious accidents.

Of course it may be different in the USA.

October 27, 2010 11:02 PM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

"If the flow of traffic happens to be 85 mph and the speed limit is 65, no one is getting pulled over."


I have to say that was not my experience when I lived in Atlanta for 2 years - but that was in the 80s. More to the point. If the limit you wish to enforce is 85 there is no reason why you shouldn't use cameras to help the police enforce that.

Have you a reference showing that speed cameras cause accidents (I don't mean somene's blog - I mean an actual study from a reputable organisation).

Here are a few showing they prevent accidents in the UK (I can't find any US research):

2005 BMJ: Effectiveness of speed cameras in preventing road traffic collisions and related casualties: systematic review

http://www.bmj.com/content/330/7487/331.full

"Conclusions Existing research consistently shows that speed cameras are an effective intervention in reducing road traffic collisions and related casualties"

2004 Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology
http://www.parliament.uk/documents/post/postpn218.pdf

"The strategy cites research which found that speed was a major factor in around one third of all road crashes"

http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roadsafety/speedmanagement/nscp/nscp/coll_thenationalsafetycameraprog/ationalsafetycameraprogr4598.pdf

Earlier you pointed out that excessive speed causes 5% of all accidents. This was a link to the blog of a minor journalist who doesn't seem to feel the need to quote sources. In the UK it is true that breaking the speed limit contributes to 5% of all accidents. However, as Dept of Transport annual reports (http://www.dft.gov.uk/adobepdf/162469/221412/221549/227755/rrcgb2009.pdf ) consistently point out:

"Exceeding the speed limit was reported as a factor in 5 per cent of accidents, but these accidents involved 17 per cent of fatalities. At least one of exceeding the speed limit and travelling too fast for the conditions was reported in 13 per cent of all accidents and these accidents accounted for 27 per cent of all fatalities"

i.e. speeding or driving too fast account for a rather large proportion of serious accidents.

Of course it may be different in the USA.

October 27, 2010 11:02 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Out of interest, in the UK Swindon, Oxfordshire and Norfolk councils have recently abolished speed cameras in order to save money. I expect there are others now too (Dorset?).

(And cos everyone hates them. People hate them because, unlike policemen on the roads, they have no discretion and some are obviously traps, not safety devices).

October 28, 2010 6:11 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

"Out of interest, in the UK Swindon, Oxfordshire and Norfolk councils have recently abolished speed cameras in order to save money. I expect there are others now too (Dorset?)."

Actually for different reasons. Swindon because that was the political line. Oxfordshire because central government keeps the revenue from camera fines (unlike other fines) and is cutting down on how much it gives back.

"(And cos everyone hates them. People hate them because, unlike policemen on the roads, they have no discretion and some are obviously traps, not safety devices)."

Not so, recent public opinion surveys:


Angus Reid opinion poll

54% support speed cameras


Institute of Advanced Motorists.


safety cameras received a 70 per cent approval rating overall.

What is it about this subject that no one is prepared to actually look up the research and check their facts?

FYI. I have twice been caught by speed cameras. I drive better as a result.

October 28, 2010 6:48 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

What is it about this subject that no one is prepared to actually look up the research and check their facts?


Welcome to the internet, Mark.

(PS. are you related to a certain creeper perchance?)

October 28, 2010 6:59 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Mark, please read the first two paragraphs of the IAM piece. A majority is both in favour of cameras and in favour of cutting funds for cameras? Are you sure you want to run with that as a proof of public support?

My day is always brightened when I see human nature defeat statisticians.

October 28, 2010 9:24 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Peter

I have no problem with the IAM introduction. Opinion polls often give confusing and contradictionary results. I think these two polls (plus others) are a pretty strong refutation of the statement:

everyone hates them

October 28, 2010 9:31 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Perhaps, but not of the statement: a majority opposes them

October 28, 2010 9:35 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Peter

"Perhaps, but not of the statement: a majority opposes them"

Fortunately I was not claiming that.

Actually these two surveys offer weakish evidence that the majority of the public support cameras - but not strong evidence. There is little evidence that the majority do oppose them. There are other surveys that support the view that the public supports cameras - but the only ones I know are rather out of date.

October 28, 2010 9:45 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Mark Frank wrote: "If the limit you wish to enforce is 85 there is no reason why you shouldn't use cameras to help the police enforce that."

You seem to be purposely ignoring the point, but I'll try one more time.

At certain times we wish to enforce an 85 MPH speed limit, at other times 75, at other times 65, ... depending on traffic conditions and the flow of traffic in the localized area. Speed cameras, at least at this point, do not have the capability to automatically adjust intelligently.

BTW, Atlanta and California have much different attitudes towards traffic regulation.

October 28, 2010 9:55 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Mark, I think if you smell the way the political winds are blowing these days pretty much all over the West, you will admit that costly government programmes are going to have a hard time survivng on the basis of "weakish" evidence of ambigous support and a lack of unanimous hatred.

October 28, 2010 10:12 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Bret

"Speed cameras, at least at this point, do not have the capability to automatically adjust intelligently."

Speed cameras note speeds when they exceed a certain limit (they also note the time and give a strong indication of driving conditions). They don't decide whether to act on those speeds. People do that - hopefully intelligently - they certainly have the option to act intelligently.

October 28, 2010 10:22 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

The problem is that a cop on the ground observing drivers has more information about relevant traffic conditions than a judge with a speed and time snapshot.

October 28, 2010 11:22 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Earlier you pointed out that excessive speed causes 5% of all accidents. This was a link to the blog of a minor journalist who doesn't seem to feel the need to quote sources.

Going to the blog of a minor journalist, I searched on text in his assertion: [US DOT accident causation] The second hit was the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey.

Table 8 shows 5% for traveling too fast. According to their methodology, that boxed is ticked whenever the vehicle was traveling too fast for environmental conditions, which means the number of crashes that could plausibly be associated with exceeding the speed limit is less -- and my bet is much less -- than 5%.

It is also worth noting from that table that there are plenty of accident causes that dwarf speed.

Gov't agencies patrol speed because it yields revenue, not because it has anything to do with safety.

Of course, the proof will be in the body shop. Any bets as to whether there will be a spike in accidents because these cameras went away?

October 28, 2010 3:07 PM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Hey Skipper

Well that is certainly more like it. It may be that speed is less of a factor in the USA. However, there are important difference between this survey and the DoT information.

1) The US survey only investigated crashes where:

At least one of the first three vehicles involved in the crash must be a light passenger vehicle that was towed or will be towed due to damage.

This excludes a large number of cases where a pedestrian or cyclist is damaged by a vehicle. This is a major source of road casualties in the UK and many of these are due to excess speed.

2) The US survey reports the "critical reason" for a crash - in fact it appears that for a given crash there can only be one critical reason. The DoT reports speed as a "contributing factor". They are doing rather different things. The US survey does not address the question

"if any of the vehicles which were travelling over the speed limit or too fast for the conditions had been driving at the correct speed would the crash have been avoided or injuries been less severe"

I would also point out that the data were gathered based on driver reports (as opposed, for example, to witness statements, or police assessment). Not many drivers are going to admit they were going too fast (or even think they were going too fast).

October 28, 2010 11:37 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark:

I should have mentioned that in the context of camera enforcement, excess speed is defined solely with respect to the posted limit. It is in this regard that I assert the enforcement is solely a time tax, because there are almost no highway accidents in clement conditions whose primary cause is going too fast for the road or the car. If there were, then there would be a significant rate of single car accidents with very long skidmarks preceding them.

There aren't. In fact, single vehicle accidents are exceedingly rare.

October 30, 2010 8:31 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

At least one of the first three vehicles involved in the crash must be a light passenger vehicle that was towed or will be towed due to damage.

This excludes a large number of cases where a pedestrian or cyclist is damaged by a vehicle…


No doubt, but unless there is some reason to believe that accidents involving pedestrians or cyclists are uniquely likely to have a speed component, then including them will change the sample size, but not the rate.

2) The US survey reports the "critical reason" for a crash - in fact it appears that for a given crash there can only be one critical reason. The DoT reports speed as a "contributing factor". They are doing rather different things. The US survey does not address the question.

For good reason. Think about a crash where someone runs a yield sign they didn't see (because the sign was hidden by an untrimmed tree, just around a sharp bend, and the required advance warning sign hadn't been installed) and they get T-boned by another car which couldn't see the impending right of way violation because of a building going right up to the road's edge. (I was the T-boning car in just this mishap while living in England)

It wouldn't matter if I was going the posted speed (which I was), or twice the speed. The fact of the accident was due solely to DOT negligence. Any speed I would have been going in excess of about 8 mph would have influenced the amount of ensuing damage, but would have absolutely no role in causing the accident itself.

Confining this to highway driving, think of every accident you have been involved in or know of. I'll bet the cause will be down to unsafe lane change, failure to yield, inattention, or following too closely.

Except for inclement conditions.

Up here in Anchorage, there is a multi-lane highway that spans the 10 miles between Eagle River (where I live) and Anchorage itself.

The police ruthlessly patrol this section; anything over 75 (65 posted) is risking a ticket. During the summer, there are lots of tickets, and no accidents.

In contrast, and symptomatic of premier league denial, when the snow flies, there are cars littering the landscape in every conceivable attitude. (Last March I had a front row seat. In a steady snow, with about 3" new on the ground, I was doing 40 in a 65. A pickup passed me (on the wrong side) doing about 50. At the next bend in the road, a very gradual one, BTW, the truck twitched right, then left, then he went sliding across two lanes and punted another pickup into the median before recrossing the highway and ending up in the ditch.

Excess speed? Certainly.

Speeding? Not that a speed enforcement camera would have noticed.

It is also worth noting the dropping of the nationwide 55 mph speed limit was supposed to result in wholesale carnage.

Didn't.

October 30, 2010 8:31 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

"if any of the vehicles which were travelling over the speed limit or too fast for the conditions had been driving at the correct speed would the crash have been avoided or injuries been less severe"

I addressed the speed limit part of this above.

Beware of any sentence formulation containing multiple conditions joined with "or". You have absolutely no idea what weight to apply to any of them. If every accident involved driving too fast for the conditions (by definition well shy of the speed limit), then the whole sentence is still true as written.

As for "injuries less severe", that is a stunning bit of nonsense, unless the writer is advocating reducing the national speed limit to 15 mph. Of course faster will hurt more, that is brute physics. The question is whether faster means more often, not more painful.

I would also point out that the data were gathered based on driver reports (as opposed, for example, to witness statements, or police assessment).

Except for single vehicle mishaps, there will be more than one driver report. Also, the examples provided in the report (IIRC) to demonstrate how the data was parsed referred to evidence other than driver reporting.

——

It is worth noting how photo speed enforcement is similar to red light enforcement. The entity that sets the penalty is the same one that sets the yellow light interval. Many localities using these cameras positioned them at intersections with intervals less than guidelines recommended, or brute physics would allow.

In California, opponents insisted that a consequence of these cameras would be more rear end collisions. The state conducted a study, which concluded that wasn't the case.

The study excluded any rear end collision happening before the crosswalks defining the intersection.

(My search string: california red light camera rear end collision study)

October 30, 2010 8:32 PM  
Blogger erp said...

Skipper, thanks for mentioning this:

It is also worth noting the dropping of the nationwide 55 mph speed limit was supposed to result in wholesale carnage.

Didn't.


The 55 mph rule was merely Nixon’s version of a federal power grab and had nothing to do with safety.

We traveled thousands of miles all over the US, Canada and Mexico during the years the 55 mph rule was in effect and except for the many tickets (I got five myself) given out, it didn't slow down traffic.

It’s the hot rodders swerving in and out of traffic lanes at high(er) speed or people driving too fast for conditions that are the menace, not the stately 85 mph fair weather cruising along the interstates. Strangely enough, although we always hoped to see these dangerous speeders getting a ticket up ahead, I don't remember even one of them at the side of road with a police care parked behind them.

Traffic cameras are pure and simple revenue enhancers. If safety was really the issue, cars would have governors that restricted speed to 15 mph and we’d all be a lot healthier because we’d be walking or bicycling a lot more – why people might even take to traveling by rail. :-}

October 31, 2010 6:37 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

ERP and Hey Skipper

There continues to be confusion between the need to enforce speed limits and the best way of enforcing them.

I could go on about the correct speed limit and the relevance or not of the US survey. But at the end of it all do you seriously doubt that there should be speed limits of some kind and they should be enforced? After all every other industrialised country has speed limits, enforces them under all normal conditions, and the policy is generally accepted by drivers and the population at large. Of course, different societies will have a different attitude to risk and place the appropriate speed limit at different levels - but there has to be a limit at some level on some roads.

Once you have established the need to enforce speed limits, there are lots of ways of getting people to stick to them - cameras are just one option - with their own place in the strategy. And like any other method they can be misused. A lot of your examples are based round freeways and limits of 55, 65 or faster. But, in the UK at least, it is urban accidents which are associated with the most accidents, the most casualties, and where almost all speed cameras are located (It is also difficult to use patrol cars to monitor speeds in a network of urban roads). In fact motorways (as we call them) are rarely monitored for speed because the accident and casualty rate is so low. In an urban context exceeding the speed limit can mean the difference between hitting or not hitting a child, or between a minor injury to a cyclist and death. As Hey Skipper says "Of course faster will hurt more, that is brute physics." Why he thinks that is an irrelevant question I don't know. The difference between severe bruising and a broken neck seems very relevant. As the reports I quoted at the beginning show, the use of speed cameras at strategic points such as an accident blackspot or the approach to a school is both efficient and effective.

It maybe that the Arizona authorities were misusing speed cameras. But I cannot see the objection to the technology in principle

October 31, 2010 9:41 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Mr. Frank:

There are two issues about traffic cams: Controlling speed and preventing accidents, especially those that cause injuries. It’s pretty clear that the former doesn’t affect the latter even if all civilized countries try to do it via posted speed limits and traffic police.

Impaired drivers (alcohol, drugs, etc.) probably cause most accidents. Others major causes are malfunction of the car, tire blowouts, swerving to avoid animals crossing the road, snow, sleet, heavy rain, fog and so on.

I base my conclusions on empirical observations of almost 60 years of driving on highways and in city traffic, not on published studies which are usually written by those with an agenda.

Note: Imposing a 55 mph limit nationwide did NOT lessen accidents and repealing it 22 years later did NOT cause the catastrophic carnage that "experts" predicted. Pretty conclusive evidence wouldn’t you say?

Cameras can slow down traffic because people are tired of having their money confiscated by officialdom, but they don’t add to public safety.

October 31, 2010 11:09 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

"I base my conclusions on empirical observations of almost 60 years of driving on highways and in city traffic, not on published studies which are usually written by those with an agenda."

I think that says it all. My personal experience trumps controlled studies because the people that conduct them are biassed. I on the other hand am neutral and unbiassed.

October 31, 2010 2:42 PM  
Blogger erp said...

I think he's got it!

October 31, 2010 3:21 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Mark Frank wrote: "...but there has to be a limit at some level on some roads.

But that's the premise that I'm disagreeing with. For a while, Montana had no speed limits. Any "safe" speed was acceptable. In light traffic with good conditions, 90 was no problem.

Eventually Montana had to have a speed limit for politically correct reasons, but that's a poor reason for speed limits in my opinion. California also has the politically correct version. There's a speed limit but it is universally ignored. For that reason, Californians would reject speed cameras.

October 31, 2010 8:12 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

I meant to say that Montana had no speed limits on some roads.

October 31, 2010 8:13 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark:

There continues to be confusion between the need to enforce speed limits and the best way of enforcing them.

Keeping the discussion on highways here, I think there are only two functions speed limits perform: revenue, and a handy hook on which to hang reckless driving, which would otherwise be difficult to define.

With regard to revenue, the beauty of speed violations is sampling rate. In localities where radar is allowed, the radar unit is outside the sampled traffic stream itself, so it can see every car that goes past a point. That, however, is completely useless for the kinds of driving errors that really do cause the most accidents: unsafe lane changes and following too closely.

The problem proponents of radar speed control face is that their primary assertion is falsifiable on its face. It is easy to compare the accident rate per vehicle mile in Phoenix, where photo radar is in place, against Los Angeles where (last I heard) freeway speeding tickets are awarded by the patrol car pacing the violator.

In LA, the only way you are going to get a speeding ticket is by attracting an officer's attention, which you can only do by significantly exceeding the flow of traffic — which is what presents the real safety issue, not going 85 in a 65.

But, in the UK at least, it is urban accidents which are associated with the most accidents, the most casualties, and where almost all speed cameras are located

I did a driving tour through a good chunk of the UK a little over a year ago. We rented a GPS nav unit along with the car.

It happened to have all the known photo radar locations in it.

They are all over the bloody place.

As Hey Skipper says "Of course faster will hurt more, that is brute physics." Why he thinks that is an irrelevant question I don't know.

Again, keeping the discussion to highways (which don't have the environmental variability of urban roads), I didn't say that question was irrelevant, only that if one takes that as one's starting point, then you are in essence arguing against any speed greater than 15 mph.

Which, of course, we don't do. Highways are designed the way they are to (nearly completely) eliminate extraneous factors from getting between point A and B: limited access, streamlined flow, long sight lines, speed blended merges, etc.

And then we allow a speed we know could easily prove fatal should we screw it up, because highways have reduced the accident rate to a point where the consequences of a crash are, statistically speaking, irrelevant.

November 01, 2010 10:47 PM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Hey Skipper:

You are determined to talk about highways and ignore urban driving. Does that mean you accept that speed limits are a good idea in urban areas?


The problem proponents of radar speed control face is that their primary assertion is falsifiable on its face. It is easy to compare the accident rate per vehicle mile in Phoenix, where photo radar is in place, against Los Angeles where (last I heard) freeway speeding tickets are awarded by the patrol car pacing the violator.

Easy if you can find the data. The closest I could get was this. Los Angeles is the 184th most risky city in the USA for driving (out of 193), Phoenix is 95th. Actually I would say this kind of comparison is useless - too many other factors - you need detailed analysis of what well placed speed cameras achieve at specific points (and then allow for regression to the mean). But if you want to use this type of analysis Phoenix appears to be the clear winner.


I did a driving tour through a good chunk of the UK a little over a year ago. We rented a GPS nav unit along with the car.

It happened to have all the known photo radar locations in it.

They are all over the bloody place.


The GPS will only show where a camera might be. There are actually far fewer cameras than potential places and most of them are mobile. For example, there are only 20 cameras in the whole of Wiltshire. (I know this because I got caught by one in Wiltshire and it was covered in the resulting short course). They are very rarely deployed on motorways for the reasons I mentioned.


Again, keeping the discussion to highways (which don't have the environmental variability of urban roads), I didn't say that question was irrelevant, only that if one takes that as one's starting point, then you are in essence arguing against any speed greater than 15 mph.

No. All I am saying is that speed contributes to serious of injury even if it is not the primary cause of the accident. How much increased risk of injury you are prepared to accept is up to society. 15 mph would be too safe for almost any society. 100 mph too high for most.

November 02, 2010 12:17 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Hey Skipper:

You are determined to talk about highways and ignore urban driving. Does that mean you accept that speed limits are a good idea in urban areas?


The problem proponents of radar speed control face is that their primary assertion is falsifiable on its face. It is easy to compare the accident rate per vehicle mile in Phoenix, where photo radar is in place, against Los Angeles where (last I heard) freeway speeding tickets are awarded by the patrol car pacing the violator.

Easy if you can find the data. The closest I could get was this. Los Angeles is the 184th most risky city in the USA for driving (out of 193), Phoenix is 95th. Actually I would say this kind of comparison is useless - too many other factors - you need detailed analysis of what well placed speed cameras achieve at specific points (and then allow for regression to the mean). But if you want to use this type of analysis Phoenix appears to be the clear winner.


I did a driving tour through a good chunk of the UK a little over a year ago. We rented a GPS nav unit along with the car.

It happened to have all the known photo radar locations in it.

They are all over the bloody place.


The GPS will only show where a camera might be. There are actually far fewer cameras than potential places and most of them are mobile. For example, there are only 20 cameras in the whole of Wiltshire. (I know this because I got caught by one in Wiltshire and it was covered in the resulting short course). They are very rarely deployed on motorways for the reasons I mentioned.


Again, keeping the discussion to highways (which don't have the environmental variability of urban roads), I didn't say that question was irrelevant, only that if one takes that as one's starting point, then you are in essence arguing against any speed greater than 15 mph.

No. All I am saying is that speed contributes to serious of injury even if it is not the primary cause of the accident. How much increased risk of injury you are prepared to accept is up to society. 15 mph would be too safe for almost any society. 100 mph too high for most.

November 02, 2010 2:00 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Here's another "personal experience" -- this time from the Ilya Somin, one of the Volokh conspirators.

November 02, 2010 6:02 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

erp

Here's another "personal experience" -- this time from the Ilya Somin, one of the Volokh conspirators

From Somin's account:

"Both times, the officers claimed I was going over 40 MPH, even though there was heavy traffic and it would have been physically impossible for me to have gone that fast without hitting the car ahead of me (which,I didn’t come close to doing)."

If the limit had been enforced wiht a speed camera the actual speed would have been recorded accurately along with the photograph and he would not have been subject to the whim's of the officers on duty.

November 02, 2010 6:09 AM  
Blogger erp said...

In Somin’s case, the speed was checked by radar -- having a picture of the event wouldn't have changed anything.

Most experienced drivers whether on the interstates or in cities know you drive to conditions, not arbitrary speed limits.

Here in Florida we often have squalls of torrential rain -- it's so dense, it's comparable to a white-out up north. Most people pull over to the side of the road and wait it out. Yet there are always some drivers who subscribe to your school of thought and travel the posted speed of 75 mph. Traffic cams would show they are perfectly safe adhering to the law.

We’d all be better off if we thought for ourselves and stop giving over more and more of our autonomy to faceless bureaucrats.

November 02, 2010 10:23 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

erp

In Somin’s case, the speed was checked by radar -- having a picture of the event wouldn't have changed anything

Read Guanilo's comment further downn.

Radar units can only report the speed of the vehicle that the unit has singled out to measure. In reality, it is seeing the Doppler shift measurement of 2–100 vehicles, and it has no mechanism for showing which vehicle produced the “measured speed” that is it reporting. Some purport to show the offender, the fastest, and the slowest speed measured. But understand that the readout shows a speed. It does not say “red Buick, license # xxx. The attribution of that speed to an alleged offended is entirely subjective.

Somin clearly doubts that the cop's radar reading was accurate.


A camera on the other hand identifies the speed, the model, the color, the reg plate, the location and the date and time. In the UK if you get a ticket you can go on the internet and see the photograph and the related details to verify it was you.


A camera would have made an enormous difference to Somin's case.

Do you have any evidence that people are more likely to drive too fast for conditions because there is a speed limit? Actually do you have any evidence other than personal anecdote for anything you have written on the subject of speeding and speed cameras?

November 02, 2010 10:42 AM  
Blogger erp said...

I didn't say I thought people drove too fast because of posted speed limits, I said, people who blindly follow posted speed limits may be not be driving the proper speed for conditions.

If Somin was in two, three or even four lanes of heavy traffic and, as he states, every car around him was driving the same speed, he couldn't have gone slower even if he wanted to, yet every driver didn't get a ticket. Why is that do you think?

In congested traffic, cameras probably can't get a picture of each individual car out of dozens or even hundreds going by a camera at a given second of time.

Radar has a notorious record of being inaccurate, but few ticketed motorists, even lawyers, have the time, money and energy to fight it in court.

To repeat, I have little faith in "controlled" studies for the reasons already stated.

What is your explanation for the over three decades of 55 mph data which show there was no impact on traffic safety whether the speed limit was lowered or raised?

November 02, 2010 11:40 AM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Erp

"I didn't say I thought people drove too fast because of posted speed limits, I said, people who blindly follow posted speed limits may be not be driving the proper speed for conditions."

Uh? This is a very subtle distinction you are making. If they are not driving the proper speed for the conditions then aren't they driving too fast? If they to do it because they blindly follow posted speed limits and they are not driving too fast because of the limits?

"If Somin was in two, three or even four lanes of heavy traffic and, as he states, every car around him was driving the same speed, he couldn't have gone slower even if he wanted to, yet every driver didn't get a ticket. Why is that do you think?"

Poor subjective judgment by the police I guess - should have used cameras.

"In congested traffic, cameras probably can't get a picture of each individual car out of dozens or even hundreds going by a camera at a given second of time."

I can assure you they can and do - having been caught by one.


"Radar has a notorious record of being inaccurate, but few ticketed motorists, even lawyers, have the time, money and energy to fight it in court."

I guess you mean radar guns as used by the police? All the more reason to use cameras instead which are accurate and objective.


"To repeat, I have little faith in "controlled" studies for the reasons already stated."

Yes - you think controlled studies from such organisations as the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the British Medical Journal are more likely to be biassed then your own personal memories or someone's blog.


"What is your explanation for the over three decades of 55 mph data which show there was no impact on traffic safety whether the speed limit was lowered or raised?"

Could show me the source of your data? I can only find traffic safety figures going back to 1994. In any case, as I said earlier, analysis at this level shows very little. There are so many other factors. Road safety per vehicle mile has improved steadily in almost all industrialised countries for all sorts of reasons from better vehicles to ageing populations. To isolate the influence of one change in speed limit in such a diverse range of factors is impossible. Particularly as the the 55 MPH limitonly affects major roads which are relatively safe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_traffic_safety#Major_highways). As I have said repeatedly above, it is the 25-40 MPH roads where enforcing the speed limit gives you the biggest benefit.

November 03, 2010 12:36 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Mr. Frank, have it your way. Right now I'm too depressed by the election last night to think about enhancing revenue through speeding ticketing.

The more surveillance and regulation the better. Go Team! s/off

November 03, 2010 5:30 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Mark:

You are determined to talk about highways and ignore urban driving. Does that mean you accept that speed limits are a good idea in urban areas?

There are several reasons I prefer to talk about highways: that is where the photo enforcement was; that is where essentially all mass speed enforcement occurs; and, that is where the long established criteria for properly setting safe speed limits is most abused.

The reason those cameras are put on highways is because the sign on the side of the road (day, dry, moderate or less traffic) is set well below the speed of the 85th percentile driver. The safest speed is the flow of traffic, which on US highways is probably 8-12 mph faster than the sign on the side of the road, which is either set by custom (roads with certain design features get a certain limit, regardless of whether that limit is safest), or by deliberately assigning a limit far below what the road's design warrants. Why? So that local governments can impose a time tax on drivers, many of whom don't vote in the jurisdiction which is farming the money.

Mass speed enforcement is almost unheard of on urban roads, because the speed limits are almost always at what the 85th percentile driver is already doing. Those people who do get pulled over are from direct observation of driving that is too fast for the conditions, which is exactly not what highway photo enforcement is doing.

The GPS will only show where a camera might be.

Every time the GPS gave warning, there was one there. None were mobile. Of course, I have no idea how many were actually operating.

A camera would have made an enormous difference to Somin's case.

The fundamental problem with Somin's case is that the posted limit on that highway is well below what a speed study would show to be the safest limit.

Of course, if it was set intelligently, rather than extortionately, the take would plummet.

What is most offensive about US speed enforcement is that it is revenue, not safety, driven. In the list of primary highway accident causes, exceeding the posted limit is probably at the bottom. However, in terms of the number of tickets awarded, it is way, way at the top.

November 03, 2010 10:19 PM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

OK. I am going to leave this now. I think my case has been made and when Hey Skipper suggests that everytime his Sat Nav indicated a camera he went and determined if there really was one there you know it is time to give up.

November 03, 2010 11:49 PM  

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