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GUEST COMMENTARY: Traffic enforcement cameras won’t live up to safety promises

GUEST COMMENTARY: Traffic enforcement cameras won’t live up to safety promises

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Indiana House Bill 1404, which would allow the use of traffic enforcement cameras in highway constructions zones and on school buses, is nothing more than a revenue-raising scheme dressed up to look like a public safety program.

School bus enforcement systems employ cameras on the exterior of school buses to record alleged passing violations of stopped school buses that are loading or unloading children. Supporters imply cameras will save countless lives. They highlight the sheer amount of potential risk involved with the business of transporting children to and from school.

The reality is quite different. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report, of the 119 school children who were killed in bus-related accidents between 2003 and 2012, 70 percent were struck by the bus, and 30 percent were struck by another vehicle. In other words, school buses were responsible for the deaths of 83 school children while motorists were responsible for 36 across the entire country over that 10-year period.

Indiana’s numbers follow the same pattern. Between 2004 and 2013, six school children in the state were killed in school-bus related accidents, according to data collected by the Kansas State Department of Education. The data show that five of these, 83 percent, were caused by the school bus. The presence of a camera bolted onto the side of a bus would have done little, if anything, to prevent these tragedies.

Likewise, putting speed cameras in highway work zones will do little to protect workers since only around 14 percent of work zone fatalities involve workers and many of these are caused by construction vehicles or other non-traffic related causes, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The purpose of all camera-based traffic enforcement is to enrich the for-profit camera companies and their business partners: the public officials who become addicted to the easy revenue cameras provide. This alliance often leads to many unintended consequences for the communities afflicted with ticket cameras, including corruption scandals, costly legal challenges and lawsuits, as well as disgruntled constituents who rebel against their elected leaders.

This is why many states are shedding camera programs. Indiana lawmakers should learn from their examples.

Once ticket cameras gain a foothold, they will spread throughout the state. If House Bill 1404 becomes law, the next push will be for speed cameras in non-work zones as well as accident-causing red-light cameras at “dangerous” intersections.

Those who perpetuate the myth of photo-based traffic enforcement for safety do us all disservice. Their efforts confuse, mislead and distract from the real solutions for improving highway safety based on sound traffic engineering, reasonable enforcement and widespread public education.

John Bowman is communications director for the National Motorists Association. The opinions are the writer’s.

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