Today's Recession-Proof Biz: Speed Cameras
In tough times, simple pleasures thrive. This is the era of cheap dates, comfort foods and home entertainment. Maybe you just head out for a drive--but not too fast, because in Maryland, at least, state lawmakers have decided that this is also the time to create a statewide network of speed cams, adding a dose of high-priced reality to your driving experience.
It's been less than two weeks since the Maryland legislature approved the use of gotcha speed cams near schools and highway construction zones, the first big expansion of the cameras' use since Montgomery County was allowed to install its cameras in 2006.
Already, there's a petition drive aimed at forcing a referendum that could overturn the camera program. And now, an enterprising blogger devoted to fighting against speed cameras (you know this is a savvy blogger because he snared a domain name--thenewspaper.com--that might have gone for some big money not that many years ago) has taken a look at the money Maryland legislators have raked in from businesses with a special interest in speed cams.
Thenewspaper.com tallied $184,000 in campaign contributions to Maryland's governor and legislators over the past decade from four companies that install and operate speed camera systems. The web site counts $708,000 in donations over the same period from businesses it says have "a direct financial interest in automated ticketing."
But that latter category is rather more broadly defined than the smaller group of four companies that actually make and run gotcha cams. The tally includes donations from several insurance companies, such as State Farm, Geico, and Nationwide, which account for almost $300,000 of the grand total of campaign contributions. It's certainly true that the car insurance industry tends to support speed cams and other devices they believe make driving safer. But insurance companies have all manner of business before the state government, so it's not quite fair to attribute all of their contributions to concern over this one issue.
More important, it's not at all clear that insurance companies profit from speed cams. If cameras do slow down motorists and thereby prevent some accidents, then it makes sense that insurance companies would pay out fewer claims, making their executives happier campers. But the authors of this report argue that insurance companies have a more mercenary interest in supporting speed cams: Insurers, the web site says, "collect millions in extra premium revenue in states like Arizona, California, Colorado and Illinois where certain categories of photo tickets carry license points." So, the argument goes, those companies want to slap ever more drivers with offenses that carry points, the better to charge those motorists higher premiums.
Much as I loathe the craven practices of an industry that discards you as a customer if you dare to use the services you have paid for, I don't see enough of a connection here to saddle the insurance companies with the blame for speed cams. (And I'd consider it credit rather than blame, seeing as how speed cameras have an impressive record of forcing real change in how fast drivers go, at least where cameras are located.) In Maryland, you don't get charged points for a speed cam violation (that's a nice little concession the state makes to the fact that violators don't get to confront their accuser in the traditional sense of the phrase.)
Most of the opposition to speed cams seems to focus on the idea that they are designed more to raise money for the state than to boost road safety. I don't know how you'd actually parse out the relative value of the lawmakers' motivations, but it's probably fair to say that if the state weren't going to make a bundle off the cameras, legislators wouldn't want to take all the heat they get from riled-up drivers on this issue. But what's wrong with raking in a whole load of tax money from speeders? As resistance to taxes has stiffened over the past few decades, governments have turned more and more to taxing sinners and scofflaws. Those fees are hardly equitable, but most people seem to like the idea that smokers, drinkers, tourists, and drivers (drunk and otherwise) are coughing up bucks so the rest of us don't have to.
Surely more of us speed (guilty as charged, your honor) than commit many other violations, so speed cams hit a broader swath of society than some other such taxes masquerading as disincentives. But it's also true that speeding kills, and this just happens to be one of those nice little coincidences in which cash-strapped governments get to do the right thing even as they soak the offenders.
Speed cams: Just one more business we should have gotten into a long, long time ago.
By Marc Fisher |
April 22, 2009; 8:25 AM ET
Previous: Bustin' Loose, Janitorial Division (Say It Ain't So, Chuck) | Next: After Mom's Troubling Words, A Maternity Ward Inquisition
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: skynzfan | April 22, 2009 9:24 AM
Posted by: macuser25 | April 22, 2009 10:28 AM
Posted by: tomsing | April 22, 2009 10:39 AM
Posted by: td_photog | April 22, 2009 10:43 AM
Posted by: photoradarscam | April 22, 2009 10:49 AM
Posted by: free-donny | April 22, 2009 10:50 AM
Posted by: invisiblehand | April 22, 2009 10:54 AM
Posted by: hfmd | April 22, 2009 10:58 AM
Posted by: BurgundyNGold | April 22, 2009 11:00 AM
Posted by: free-donny | April 22, 2009 11:02 AM
Posted by: jocada | April 22, 2009 11:12 AM
Posted by: HateTaxes | April 22, 2009 11:17 AM
Posted by: tomlang | April 22, 2009 11:24 AM
Posted by: fendertweed | April 22, 2009 11:24 AM
Posted by: buffysummers | April 22, 2009 11:25 AM
Posted by: iphoenix | April 22, 2009 11:29 AM
Posted by: newsmkr | April 22, 2009 11:59 AM
Posted by: qball43 | April 22, 2009 12:29 PM
Posted by: tomsing | April 22, 2009 12:44 PM
Posted by: ajsmithva | April 22, 2009 12:52 PM
Posted by: lookingfor2007xc | April 22, 2009 1:01 PM
Posted by: ksu499 | April 22, 2009 1:19 PM
Posted by: conchfc | April 22, 2009 1:30 PM
Posted by: Slinger61 | April 22, 2009 2:27 PM
Posted by: ComfortablyDumb | April 22, 2009 2:32 PM
Posted by: free-donny | April 22, 2009 3:00 PM
Posted by: ceefer66 | April 22, 2009 3:20 PM
Posted by: fendertweed | April 22, 2009 4:03 PM
Posted by: hype1 | April 22, 2009 5:50 PM
Posted by: hype1 | April 22, 2009 6:05 PM
Posted by: srb2 | April 22, 2009 8:07 PM
Posted by: tomsing | April 23, 2009 8:23 AM
Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | April 23, 2009 12:05 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.