Slowing Arizona

Arizona is doing something that, so far as I know, nowhere else has tried: A statewide effort to automate speeding enforcement on state highways.
by | September 14, 2007

Arizona is doing something that, so far as I know, nowhere else has tried: A statewide effort (see the second item) to automate speeding enforcement on state highways.

I don't know why speed cameras have been much more common on local roads than state highways up until now, but I do know why Arizona is making this a statewide effort. A six-month pilot project in 2006 on Loop 101 in Scottsdale showed that the cameras reduced speeds and accidents.

They also had unintended consequences, as Janet Cornell, Scottsdale's court administrator, documented in an article in "The Court Manager" (which isn't available online). Cornell notes the administrative difficulties associated with the pilot project.

Compared to the same period the preceding year, phone calls went up by 41%, civil traffic hearings were up 42%, defensive driving classes increased by 100% and processed correspondence was up 561%. Phone call wait times increased, the backlog of cases grew, complaints increased and staff members were exhausted.

Cornell has a bunch of suggestions on a how court system can address a challenge like this one, from using technology to shifting staff responsibilities to preparing for media coverage. The bottom line, though, is that when a court system's case volume increases it needs more money.

This seems to get at the heart of the second impetus, other than safety, for governments to try to catch more speeders. The reason: money. The question is whether fines and other financial benefits associated with expanded traffic enforcement, such as fewer accidents to clean up, make up for the administrative costs Cornell mentions. Hopefully, governments know the answer to that question when they are planning enforcement efforts and budget accordingly.

I actually think, however, that the first consequence I mentioned -- reduced speeding -- is more relevant to determining whether, over the long term, enhanced speeding enforcement efforts pay for themselves. It's not hard to imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when technology catches every speeder instantly.

If that happens, no one will speed. Places that are counting on traffic enforcement as a revenue source will be out of luck. I'm looking at you, Virginia.