The ACLU’s Dangerous Windshield Bias

Photo:  Tinker Air Force Base
Photo: Tinker Air Force Base

Every year in the U.S., about 40,000 people lose their lives in traffic crashes. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, speeding is a factor in 10,000 of these deaths.

In addition to safer street design, one of the proven methods to reduce deadly speeding is camera enforcement. A robust set of studies conclusively shows that speed camera programs save lives. But American cities and towns constantly have to defend their automated enforcement programs from angry motorists who don’t want to be fined for speeding or running red lights.

The latest case is in Iowa, where the state chapter of the ACLU has joined the campaign against traffic enforcement cameras in the statehouse. A bill supported by the Iowa ACLU would ban the use of all traffic cameras statewide, according to the Sioux City Journal.

On its website, the Iowa ACLU questions the safety rationale for camera enforcement, citing the increase in fender-benders after the installation of some red light cameras. It’s a lazy argument that ignores the reduction in far more severe T-bone crashes and the proven, life-saving impact of red light cameras.

The Iowa chapter also says it prefers human police officers to cameras. But entrusting traffic enforcement to police officers raises much more serious civil liberties issues. Racial bias in police enforcement is a systemic problem all over the country, and cops have killed people during traffic stops for minor transgressions.

There are certainly reasons to watchdog camera enforcement programs and ensure that they are set up in a way that fairly incentivizes safe driving. But the ACLU isn’t making recommendations about how to preserve the integrity of traffic cameras in Iowa — the organization is lending its name to an outright ban.

The same attitude is apparent on the national ACLU site, where policy analyst Jay Stanley waves away the life-threatening risk that speeding drivers pose:

For better or worse, speed limits are one area where our laws are out of synch with behavioral norms. Although almost everyone supports enforcement against genuinely dangerous behavior on the roads, many people routinely violate speed limits who would almost never break other laws. As I have discussed before, social norms are often at least as important as actual written law in governing behavior. When the two don’t line up, the results can be interesting.

The lengthy, rambling passage devotes zero consideration to the 10,000 Americans who die — lose their lives — every year as a result of the behavior we have “normalized.”

Other ACLU chapters have played thoughtful roles in crafting automated enforcement systems. In New York, for instance, the NYCLU signed off on bus lane cameras after getting guarantees that they would only capture bus lane violations and that images would not be stored indefinitely.

There’s a role for the ACLU to play in hammering out how camera enforcement should operate. But it’s inexcusable to ignore the toll in human lives caused by dangerous driving, and how fair automated enforcement can prevent it.

471 thoughts on The ACLU’s Dangerous Windshield Bias

  1. We do NOT want frustrated drivers taking the smaller and less safe streets for high volumes of commuting traffic. If you don’t understand this, then you don’t understand the problem.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  2. The MUTCD is for ALL users safety. Suggesting that the FHWA wants to kill more pedestrians is just not credible.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  3. Because I have studied many cities and the results.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  4. Your belief that it is untrue has no foundation. I won’t answer this point again. You believe what you want, I believe the nationally known experts that I am on a first name basis with.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  5. “You mean that motorists comply when the speed limit tells them to do exactly what they would have done if there were no speed limit at all.”

    Correct. And that voluntary compliance creates better safety in almost all cases than any arbitrary number painted on the signs which will NOT get enough compliance to matter.

    Go to our site and the speed limits issue, then the link to state speed zoning rules. You will find that most states specifically say that under posted limits do not change travel speeds or improve safety.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  6. You have blathered on about the Michigan State Police loads of times.
    Of course, when you actually cite them, it turns out that the Michigan State Police never bothers to concern itself with safe and convenient pedestrian access, making your point moot.

  7. No, James, you’re the one who doesn’t understand the science, because you don’t understand the concept of Garbage In, Garbage Out, and because you don’t want to unpack the prior assumptions that go into the research you like to cite, and you don’t want to acknowledge how limited in scope it is.

  8. And when have your “studies” involved research that includes safe pedestrian access as an objective?

    Somehow you never seem to come up with any studies that fit the bill.

  9. The MSP is concerned with all aspects of traffic safety, for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicle occupants. Any false accusation to the contrary is utter nonsense.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  10. If you would take the time to read the MUTCD, you would find large portions of it concern pedestrian safety.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  11. The science of traffic safety engineering is about all users.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  12. Does the science of traffic safety engineering put pedestrian safety above safety for vehicle occupants – or vice-versa? No, traffic safety is about all users.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  13. “The 25 sign is simply wrong if the 85th speed is perhaps 35.”

    85th percentile speed calculated in what way? With reference to motor vehicle speeds? Or does it include bicycle and pedestrians in the 85th percentile speed calculations?

  14. A key problem with 25 signs when the actual vehicle speeds go up to about 35 is that the sign gives a false sense of security to pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicle drivers that cars are only coming at speeds up to about 25. If cars are coming at speeds up to about 35 – it is far safer to tell all users the truth about that, rather than giving them false information that may cause them to make bad decisions.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  15. I will suggest that it is pointless to argue with this dishonest troll. Someone like this is nothing more than an apologist for terror, denying the basic fact that people have the obligation to follow the law.

  16. ” the sign gives a false sense of security to pedestrians, cyclists, and
    other vehicle drivers that cars are only coming at speeds up to about

    Not if it’s actively enforced. (Something I know you hate, because you want public policy to be based around your need for speed.)

  17. What you refuse to admit is there are not enough officers and cities will not install enough money-losing cameras for effective enforcement. It just does not happen, which is why the actual 85th percentile speeds change very little with the level of actual enforcement that is used. Only re-engineering the streets is effective to reduce the actual speeds of travel.

    Cities that CLAIM to enforce strictly are just covering up the truth that they collect a lot of money, but with little effect on speeds.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  18. Exactly. Enforcement is the entire issue.

    Unfortunately, here we run into entrenched problems with police culture. For most cops, traffic enforcement is a low-prestige matter, so it gets very low priority. What’s more, cops themselves are serial breakers of traffic laws; so their biases are always with the speeders and other bad actors.

    But the police departments are not supposed to be in charge of making policy. We need leadership that directs the police to do the job that best benefits society — namely, the strict enforcement of traffic laws.

    (A side note: may I suggest not responding to that particular troll? He is not arguing honestly. He is nothing more than an apologist for terrorism; and no good of any kind can come of engaging with him.)

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