All things are relative. On the road, nothing exemplifies this better than comedian George Carlin’s observation that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac. But even if you take that into account, can we all agree that anyone driving 11 mph over the posted speed limit might be a little of both?
That’s the speed that used to trip the sensors on the recently retired Pima County speed cameras. The cameras were shut down Jan. 8 by the Board of Supervisors after it rejected a plan to extend the contract with operator American Traffic Solutions.
It didn’t take long for the news to spread. As the Star’s Joe Ferguson reported Monday, almost 2,000 drivers raced by the cameras — again, at more than 11 mph over the limit — in the week after they stopped handing out tickets. Compare that to their last week of operation, when the cameras caught 634 vehicles.
Clearly, speeding is a problem on these roads, and the county should take measures to increase public safety. They should reactivate the speed cameras or implement a comparable deterrence strategy.
The county’s argument for removing the cameras seemed to be that they were so effective that they had lost their effectiveness — for making money, perhaps.
Although Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry had previously stated that generating revenue was not a relevant consideration for installing the cameras, their removal makes no sense otherwise. Drivers knew where the cameras were and citations were down, but so were speeding and accidents countywide.
A study last year determined the accident rate for the entire Pima County road system had dropped 19 percent since speed cameras were installed and by 13 percent in the areas where the cameras were located.
At the time, Huckelberry said these mixed results were an indicator that the speed cameras were not as successful in reducing speed and crashes. Drivers would just slow down for the cameras and speed up afterward, he said.
But how does that explain away the decrease in accidents? Depending on the data, an argument could be made that the areas with cameras were correctly chosen in the first place due to a higher likelihood of speed-related accidents.
If the county will not consider the static speed cameras, even though they amounted to a net gain financially and in public safety, it should increase enforcement efforts by the Sheriff’s Department and use a mobile radar van, much like the city of Tucson.
Huckelberry was right, though, in saying that many drivers reduced their speed for the cameras then picked back up as soon as they were past them. Speed or red-light cameras and increased law enforcement are not really the solution. Punitive measures can only be so effective.
Pima County has a responsibility to public safety, but it’s not the county that’s barreling down the road at a high rate of speed. It’s not the Board of Supervisors (one would hope) that’s rushing to beat the red.
Cameras or no, it is up to all of us — especially the maniacs — to strive to be more conscientious drivers.