Imagine it's Monday morning. You're still a little hungover from that Sunday tailgate or boozy brunch, and you're running late to work and cruising a few miles above the speed limit. You turn down an unfamiliar street and — flash! — an unmarked speeding camera snaps your license plate number. A $100 ticket will soon be in the mail.
Sound familiar? For many Americans, it surely does. But it might be a scenario on the wane. Ten states have recently banned both speed and red-light cameras on the basis that they're an invasion of privacy and may cause accidents, and more states are considering getting on board.
Twelve states use speed cameras and 24 have red-light cameras. It's not hard to figure out why states install traffic cameras: Besides the obvious safety appeal, they rake in big bucks. Fines range from $50 a pop to $1,000, depending on the state. Florida collected more than $100 million in fines from red-light cameras alone in 2012. Chicago rolled out its first speed camera on Oct. 16, and plans to have a total of 50 installed within the next year — bringing in a projected $40 million to $60 million. And in Washington, D.C., a mere nine cameras set over a three-mile strip issued 93,313 tickets worth $11.8 million last year, according to The Washington Post.
But not everyone believes these red-light and speed cameras stop accidents. According to a 2013 study done by the Royal Automobile Club Foundation in the UK, speed cameras reduced fatal and serious collisions in 551 cases, but in 21 locations, accidents increased. Red-light cameras, which aim to stop right-angle crashes, are even more controversial — New Jersey, Florida, and other states have reported that after installing them, rear-end collisions increased, since drivers slammed on their brakes to avoid tickets.
The Highway Safety Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill argues that "right-angle crashes are simply much more dangerous than rear-end collisions," so the cameras might still be worth it.
Privacy advocates disagree. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) strongly opposes red-light and speed cameras, on the basis that the data collected by the cameras is being stored in databases and used for other purposes, like monitoring people crossing the Oklahoma-Texas border, for example. "Government and private-industry surveillance techniques created for one purpose are rarely restricted to that purpose," writes Andrew Schneider Executive Director of the ACLU.
Head over to the the Governors Highway Safety Association for more detailed information on each state.