How we became obsessed with driving fast, no matter the cost.
BY HENRY GRABAR
DEC 15, 2021
… Unlike drunk and distracted driving—the two other great causes of death on the road—speeding can be easily patrolled by machine.
In Europe, speed cameras are ubiquitous and so familiar that “radar” is a readily available Halloween costume for French children. In France and other European countries, it’s almost unheard of to be pulled over by a flashing-lights police cruiser going 85 mph. Instead, roads are lined with radar-enabled cameras that distribute tickets by mail. Speed cameras are a part of the reason Europe’s roads are now much safer than America’s; a 2010 literature review found crashes resulting in death or serious injury fell between 17 and 58 percent where cameras were installed. And because speeding is more rigorously enforced, penalties are smaller than in the United States, where a speeding ticket can set you back hundreds of dollars. …
Some civil rights advocates oppose automated enforcement on the grounds that even race-blind cameras are used to scale up America’s traditions of revenue-driven and racist policing. … Still, the prospect of a well-run speed camera program is enticing for city residents who have watched their neighbors die in both collisions with speeding cars and encounters with police. As the activist Darrell Owens, who successfully pushed Berkeley, California, to remove the police role in traffic enforcement, put it recently, “No one’s ever been shot by a traffic camera.”
Generally speaking, Americans find speed cameras unsporting. Like Hunter S. Thompson on the way back to L.A. at three digits MPH, they figure they deserve a chance to talk their way out of a speeding ticket. In contrast, robots are racist. From Pro Publica:
A ProPublica analysis found that traffic cameras in Chicago disproportionately ticket Black and Latino motorists. But city officials plan to stick with them — and other cities may adopt them too.
by Emily Hopkins and Melissa Sanchez
Jan. 11, 5 a.m. EST
ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power.
… But for all of their safety benefits, the hundreds of cameras that dot the city [of Chicago] — and generate tens of millions of dollars a year for City Hall — have come at a steep cost for motorists from the city’s Black and Latino neighborhoods. A ProPublica analysis of millions of citations found that households in majority Black and Hispanic ZIP codes received tickets at around twice the rate of those in white areas between 2015 and 2019.
The consequences have been especially punishing in Black neighborhoods, which have been hit with more than half a billion dollars in penalties over the last 15 years, contributing to thousands of vehicle impoundments, driver’s license suspensions and bankruptcies, according to ProPublica’s analysis.
“We felt the brunt of it the way white people didn’t,” said Olatunji Oboi Reed, a longtime activist for racial equity in transportation in Chicago who has received a handful of camera tickets over the years. “Fortunately, I’ve always been in a situation where I can survive financially, unlike many Black and brown people in the city; one ticket is throwing their whole finances in a hurricane.”
The coronavirus pandemic widened the ticketing disparities. Black and Latino workers have been far less likely than others to have jobs that allow them to work remotely, forcing them into their vehicles more often. In 2020, ProPublica found, the ticketing rate for households in majority-Black ZIP codes jumped to more than three times that of households in majority-white areas. For households in majority-Hispanic ZIP codes, there was an increase, but it was much smaller.
It’s almost as if the vaunted Racial Reckoning of 2020 encouraged an upsurge in black bad behavior, both with cars and with guns.
Similar racial and income disparities in camera ticketing have been documented elsewhere. In Rochester, New York, officials eliminated the city’s red-light camera program in 2016 in part because motorists from low-income neighborhoods received the most tickets and the financial harm outweighed any safety benefits. Miami ended its program in 2017 amid complaints from low-income residents who felt unfairly burdened by the fines. And in Washington, D.C., racial justice advocates are researching the city’s camera-ticketing program after a local think tank in 2018 and The Washington Post last year found that cameras in Black neighborhoods issued a disproportionate share of tickets there.
In general, the black-white bad driving gap isn’t anywhere near as huge as as the homicide gap — CDC data shows blacks die of homicide by firearm 14 times as often as whites and presumably the perpetration ratio is even worse.
But the racial reckoning is causing cutbacks for everybody in traffic safety enforcement, whether by human police or by radar robocops.