Stack: Speed cameras can help

The following is an op-ed submitted by Pa. Sen. Mike Stack, D-5th.

Those who speed excessively are a danger to us all.

We’ve seen the catastrophic effects all too often in Philadelphia. Drive up and down Roosevelt Boulevard, which cuts straight through my senatorial district, and roadside memorials mark fatal accidents and serve as stark reminders of what can happen.

The most recent accident occurred in mid-July, when a mother and her three children were killed while trying to cross U.S. Route 1. Earlier this week, a pedestrian was seriously injured after being hit by a car on Roosevelt Boulevard in Oxford Circle.

Over the years, a great deal has been done to enhance safety along this busy stretch of highway, which used to be known as the “kill zone.” Red-light cameras, for example, have helped to prevent dangerous right-angle collisions and reduce the number of red-light running violations continues to decline.

But there’s still more we can do, as these most recent accidents prove.

Roosevelt Boulevard may not be among America’s most dangerous roadways anymore, but it is still a highway of concern for motorists traveling it and residents living around it.

Let’s face it. There’s no better enforcement tool than a strong police presence. And our police do an extraordinary job patrolling this highway and others all around the city. When speeding motorists see a cop car on the side of the road, what do they do? They slow down. But these cops can’t monitor every mile of every highway.

Speed cameras can help. When drivers know these devices are in use and they could face a fine for speeding, they slow down.

This isn’t some new, untested technology. Speed cameras have been used in the United States since 1987, first in Paradise Valley, Ariz. Today, more than 125 American cities and towns use the technology. In locations with speed cameras, fatal crashes have declined as much as 71 percent.

The results shouldn’t be surprising. Six months after enforcement using speed cameras commenced in Washington, D.C., the city experienced an 82 percent decrease in vehicles speeding and a 14 percent decrease in average speeds at seven sites. In New Orleans, speed cameras reduced speeding by 84 percent. In Montgomery County, Md., speeding 10 mph or more over the limit declined 70 percent.

Six speed cameras located for about 14 months on a busy urban highway in Scottsdale, Ariz., reduced average speeds by 9 mph, reduced the proportion of vehicles traveling 11 mph or more over the speed limit by 90 percent and lowered the number of injury crashes by 28 to 48 percent, according to the National Academies’ 2011 report.

The evidence is irrefutable. These devices do exactly what they’re designed to do, which is change driver behavior and force motorists to slow down. Unfortunately, our city doesn’t have the option to consider these devices. That needs to change.

I want to be clear: Introducing speed cameras isn’t about cracking down on the daily commuter who may go a few miles per hour faster every so often to make a pass. This is about putting the brakes on reckless drivers who treat our highways as drag strips and put the lives of other motorists and pedestrians in jeopardy. It’s got to stop.

Some residents don’t like the idea of “big brother” watching them. I understand their concern. Again, I much prefer officers on the street, but that’s not truly achievable given current resources and staffing.

We can and should use technology to help us catch and cite the city’s most egregious offenders. I want to end the days when highways like Roosevelt Boulevard are a haven for speeding, reckless drivers. With speed cameras, we can reduce the rate of crashes and the number of casualties, and truly ensure our roadways are safer.

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