Traffic Cam Bans: Is Big Brother Watching You in Your State?

Posted February 7, 2012 in Driving & Motor Vehicles by Mike Mintz

Film Poster of William Templeton's adaptation of Orwell's book

George Orwell’s book “1984″ envisioned a dark future of war, totalitarian rule and constant surveillance by the government through cameras everywhere.  Many drivers feel that the growing forests of traffic cameras are bringing Orwell’s dark scenario to America’s highways.

Traffic enforcement cameras are unmanned, automatic ticketing machines used by municipalities to enforce traffic laws. The two most typical installations across the United States are red light cameras and speed enforcement cameras.

  • Red light cameras are triggered to take snapshots of vehicles that enter an intersection above a preset minimum speed and after the signal turns red. Cars that trigger the system get a ticket. 
  • Speed enforcement cameras use a technology called “automatic number plate recognition” (ANPR) that identifies the vehicle at point A and then measures the time it takes to travel to point B. If the tagged vehicle passes point B faster than the computer expects it to, that car gets a ticket.

Drivers loathe these systems for being unfair, invasive to privacy and a violation of civil liberties. State and local government that use the systems praise them as a deterrent to traffic violations, a benefit to public safety, and a source of revenue for the state. Not all governments using traffic enforcement cameras, however, are happy with the technology. 

 

Iowa Approves Bill to Ban Traffic Cams

Traffic enforcement camera

A typical traffic cam

In what may be the start of a national trend, an Iowa House Transportation subcommittee last week approved House File 2048, a bill that would ban the installation of new red light and speed cameras. It also requires that existing cameras be removed by July 1. The bill still has to be adopted by the full House, but Iowa governor Terry Branstad has declared his support saying he would sign a bill banning the devices.

 According to TheGazette.com:

“I think there’s a lot of will and a lot of desire to go down this route,” said Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, lead sponsor of House File 2048 and chairman of the three-member subcommittee that will give the measure its initial legislative look this week. “To me I think it’s just because Iowans don’t like the surveillance-camera culture.”

Currently Iowa and Missouri are the only two states in the country that have no state laws about the cameras, but they do have programs using them under local ordinance. Should house File 2048 be signed into law, Iowa would join the other nine states banning automated traffic devices.

 

Should Traffic Cams Be Banned?

Opponents to traffic enforcement cameras say they are not effective and violate civil liberties, often citing concerns that “Big Brother” is watching too closely. They worry about the potential for abuse, and claim that cameras promote unequal punishment under the law because tickets generated by the cameras are civil citations rather than criminal violations.

“The following two arguments have been raised against the Constitutionality of automated traffic cameras,” says Brent Rose, an attorney in Tampa Florida, “(1) it is rare that a camera captures the drivers’ face, meaning the registered owner of the car can receive the ticket by mail for an offense they did not commit and (2) in many cases the privately owned companies that install these cameras receive a portion of the fine from the traffic authorities, which creates a conflict of interest.” 

The fervor of cam bans has taken hold as a real grassroots movement as well, with advocacy sites like BanTheCams.org and BanCams.com providing information and platforms for the public to stage a fight against cams. Public backlash may also be responsible for law enforcement taking a second look at the effectiveness of traffic cams.

Recently, the Kansas City Police Department commissioned a study to explore the effectiveness of traffic cams, and discovered a pattern that may ignite all-out-cam-ban-fever in Missouri, causing them to follow the trend now being set by neighboring Iowa. The report, which you can read here, found that accidents actually increased in some intersections after traffic cams were installed. “Accidents went up at some locations and down in others without any real clear patterns.” Despite the reports’ inconclusiveness there is a town hall scheduled for February 28 to discuss the issue further.

 

List of States with Speed Cam Laws and Red Light Traffic Cam Laws

Want to know what the traffic cam laws are in your state? Check out the chart below. Also, for a national view, you can click the link that follows the chart to see a color coded map of these laws. 

Note: “NE” = narrow exceptions | “Limited” = cams in cities or by local ordinance.

States

Speed Cameras

Red Light Cameras

Alabama

No state law or programs

Limited

Alaska

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Arizona

Permitted

Permitted

Arkansas

Prohibited (NE)

Prohibited (NE)

California

Permitted

Permitted

Colorado

Limited

Permitted

Connecticut

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Delaware

No state law or programs

Permitted

D.C.

Permitted

Permitted

Florida

No state law or programs

Permitted

Georgia

No state law or programs

Permitted

Hawaii

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Idaho

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Illinois

Limited

Limited

Indiana

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Iowa

No state law, but programs operate under local ordinance

No state law, but programs operate under local ordinance

Kansas

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Kentucky

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Louisiana

Limited

Limited

Maine

Prohibited

Prohibited

Maryland

Limited

Permitted

Massachusetts

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Michigan

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Minnesota

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Missouri

No state law, but programs operate under local ordinance

No state law, but programs operate under local ordinance

Mississippi

Prohibited

Prohibited

Montana

Prohibited

Prohibited

Nebraska

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Nevada

Prohibited (NE)

Prohibited (NE)

New Hampshire

Prohibited

Prohibited

New Jersey

Prohibited

Limited

New Mexico

Limited

Limited

New York

No state law or programs

Limited

North Carolina

No state law or programs

Limited

North Dakota

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Oklahoma

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Ohio

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Oregon

Limited

Permitted

Pennsylvania

No state law or programs

Limited

Rhode Island

No state law or programs

Permitted

South Carolina

Prohibited

Prohibited

South Dakota

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Tennessee

Permitted

Permitted

Texas

Prohibited

Limited

Utah

Prohibited (NE)

No state law or programs

Vermont

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Virgin Islands

Limited

Limited

Virginia

No state law or programs

Limited

Washington

Limited

Limited

West Virginia

Prohibited

Prohibited

Wisconsin

Prohibited

Prohibited

Wyoming

No state law or programs

No state law or programs

Source of data: Governors Highway Safety Association website

Click here to view a map of states speed cam laws.

 

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