Pour one out for the Bandit, because if his era hasn’t already passed it’s rapidly coming to a close. Speed cameras, already a widespread fact of life in Europe, have become a grudgingly accepted reality for several states in America, and soon could be for others. One cost benefit analysis report conducted over a ten year period showed a reduction of 28% in accidents at some locations where speed cameras had been installed. That’s an impressive statistic, and politicians that want to launch their own speed camera programs have been quick to embrace the notion of improving the safety of citizens on roadways and insist their interest is only for the public good. It all sounds real nice and well-meaning, but the cynic in me can’t ignore the balance sheet lurking behind that press release. The annual base salary for a first year patrol officer in the LAPD is $30,000. A Gatso speed camera costs £20,000 (roughly $35,000), and requires 240V of electricity to operate. The government issues itself a rate of 4-5 cents per kilowatt hour, so depending on the amps required it could cost around $4,500 a year on the higher end to power each camera. With each camera installed you take a hit of close to $10,000 (assuming you have a significant number of rookies in your department) in the first year, but even with maintenance and operating costs you’ll be saving more than that in the long run, and saving isn’t the half of it.
The camera doesn’t have to waste time pulling people over. All it has to do is take pictures, and it’s sophisticated enough to incriminate multiple vehicles in one go. Any car driving over the horizontal white lines on the roadway that denotes the area where you can be caught speeding can catch you speeding. Underneath these unassuming, pale traitors are piezo electronic detectors that use a simple formula (Speed = Distance/Time) to determine your rate of speed based on when your front tires hit the first line and the successive lines. If you’re speeding then the camera takes two pictures of your car. It’s been reported that in the first year of operation a camera recoups five times the cost of installation, and in five years it generates twenty-five times that. With states facing budget deficits reaching far into the millions those are hard rates of return to let slide. As I’ve demonstrated, any idiot can figure out that the installation of speed cameras translates to the businessman’s favorite refrain- “costs are down and revenue is up.” I don’t like the idea of institutional shakedowns. Especially when I read about such instances as Charlotte, North Carolina, where the majority of the money accumulated by the red light and speed cameras was supposed to go to the schools, but in reality the company operating the cameras was skimming three fifths of the take on each ticket. More than anything I hate the thought that we’re going past a point of no return: never again shall we be able to flash a wide grin as we brazenly flout the law from the lonely confines of our vehicles as we steal an extra handful of MPH’s for the sake of time and kicks.
But sometimes what works on paper doesn’t work in practice: according to the New York Times, former governor of Arizona (the first state to implement speed cameras) Janet Napolitano had projected $120 million dollars a year in revenue generated from speed cameras; they’ve generated $36.8 million. Not because Arizonans, Arizononians, Ari….people from Arizona began scrupulously adhering to the law, far from it. They didn’t bother paying the tickets that were sent in the mail because 1) it’s impossible to prove that they actually received the ticket, and 2) overworked civil servants have bigger fish to fry. Remember that beer I told you to crack and pour earlier? Go ahead and just sip on that.