QOTD: Are Speed Cameras Worth It or Worthless?

QOTD: Are Speed Cameras Worth It or Worthless?

Last night, I was driving down one of Chicago’s main North Side thoroughfares when I passed through a notorious stretch of street that sits between two cemeteries.

This stretch of roadway isn’t notorious because of the two graveyards, however. This particular stretch of Irving Park Road is known in part for being a place where drivers can get a little speed, in part for being the staging area for busses full of Iowans trekking to the mecca of Wrigley Field, and in part for having a very active speed camera.

Now, you might not think it’s all that weird to have a speed camera on a stretch of road where drivers sometimes get on the gas a bit too much. But the City of Chicago has promised to place cameras only within a certain distance from parks and schools — and this particular camera is about as far as it can legally be from a dog park that is so hidden you can’t see it from the street.

Not to mention that there seems to be little risk to pedestrians, since there are no homes or businesses on either side of the road. If there’s a mass of pedestrians on this road and there’s no event at Wrigley, one will have to make sure the walkers aren’t walking dead.

OK, fine, I am venting a bit here — you would be too if you might have to lighten your wallet for being a measly 8 mph over the limit — but I tell this story as a long way of making an argument against speed cameras.

For example, the city claims it’s about safety, but if it’s really about safety, why is the camera placed as far from a small park as it can be within the bounds of the law and aimed at a stretch of road that’s lightly traveled by pedestrians and also happens to be an area where drivers tend to go a bit above the limit?

Also, in my long career of being pulled over for speeding, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten stopped for 10 mph or less over the limit. Not even for a warning. Most cops have common sense and would probably allow up to 10 over, especially if there’s low risk to pedestrians and cyclists, unless of course there was a quota to meet.

A camera, however, is merciless. If it’s programmed to nail anyone at, say, 6 mph over, then there’s no leeway or room for negotiation or allowance for context.

I don’t know if I’ll be paying a fine or not — Chicago gives a mere warning the first time a license plate violates the limit, and I have no idea if my press vehicle had been flashed before — but I find myself frustrated. Not because I might be out $35, but because the whole system feels like a cash grab instead of an effort to truly make our roads safer.

I’m a bit less upset about red-light cameras, as long as they allow for a bit of leeway for those who misjudge a yellow. Red-light running is hard, if not impossible, to justify. But many of us, if not most of us, speed a little. And putting aside the argument that speed limits are set too low, and traveling a small bit over the limit is probably not all that unsafe — that’s a discussion for another day — it seems like cameras are just meant to extract maximum money from our wallets. At least a cop can make a judgment call and decide to let you off with a warning if it makes sense to do so. A camera can’t do that, outside of the aforementioned first-time per plate notice.

So, what say you, B and B? Do you find speed cams to be a cash grab? Or do you think that speed cameras are really making our roads safer and I’m just belly-aching because I got caught breaking a rule?

[Image: Shutterstock.com/Good Luck Photo]

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