In the UK, it’s fixed speed-trap cameras, in America it’s cameras at traffic lights. Automated systems, tickets going out to offenders without having to involve any actual policing.

Both systems have been highly successful….at raking in money, but as to whether either actually contributes to road safety, the jury is still out on that one.

The cameras in America are designed to catch people jumping red lights or making illegal turns at junctions. To some degree, apparently, there are fewer accidents occurring on the junction itself, but the number of people running into the back of the car in front has increased.

The main benefit seems to have been in the funds rolling into the coffers of both the local authority and the operators of the camera systems, although not in all cases it seems. The vast majority of setups are on a revenue share system, but one or two cities have slipped up and all the money has gone to the camera operators.

In St. Peters, Montana, there were over 3,000 tickets issued between January and September 2008 which resulted in a revenue of around $254,000 which was split between the city and the camera company.

In Clive, Iowa, the red-light cameras generated nearly $40,000 in a six month period. However, the city had agreed a strange monthly target system with the operators and, because not enough people were ticketed in any given month, all the money went to the camera company. The city have since renegotiated the deal to get a percentage of all tickets.

The police like the system, saying it is a cheaper system of monitoring traffic violations and frees up officers to concentrate on ‘real’ crime.

Both fixed speed-trap cameras and red-light cameras are fairly cost efficient means of generating revenue through the automated ticketing of offenders, but whether they are anything more than that is open to debate.

What would be preferable, and ultimately more acceptable, is honesty. Rather than say we are introducing speed cameras to improve road safety, using cardboard policemen to prevent crime, enforcing strict parking controls on the pretext of creating more parking spaces or instituting such things as ‘congestion’ charges or ‘green’ taxes on the pretext of helping the environment, be honest and say we are introducing ‘x’ as an efficiency, cost-cutting or revenue measure.

Best of all would be if the money saved or earned were then actually to be used for improvements to road safety, environmental issues or the prevention of crime! It would be a lot more palatable.

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