My first month in Germany, I got my picture taken by a mobile speed enforcement camera. We had just purchased a 'hoopty', an old BMW that would be our second car, once our enormous gas guzzling American truck arrived on the boat. I was tooling along on a small road en route to the U.S. Army installation in the town of Buedingen. There was a long line of cars, and as we all approached this tree, I noticed a repetitive flash of light. I wondered to myself why there was a strobe light attached to the side of a tree - wondered for about two weeks, until the ticket came in the mail. Great picture, BTW, you could read the writing on the side of the travel mug I was drinking from. That was 13 years ago.
Germany employed both permanent cameras that controlled speed through specific areas, as well as mobile units that they moved around. I am not an expert, but, I would guess that there are no traffic 'polizei' in Germany. They did have sobriety check points on weekends and holidays, but other than that, I never saw any officer or vehicle that was doing any sort of traffic control or ticketing. I don't have any facts or information to bolster my position, but surely they spend less on law enforcement and use what they have more effectively.
I cannot comprehend the arguments against cameras. The technology was good enough to provide indisputable photographic evidence 13 years ago, and has improved considerably (judging by the red light ticket issued to my vehicle - not me - this past summer). I am sure that some machine, some where, could conceivably make a mistake, but so do cops. Our justice system provides an avenue for disputing the evidence, and your chances are probably better when there isn't a uniformed officer in the court room defending his position.
So what is the problem with the cameras? Big Brother mentality? If you aren't doing anything wrong, then the camera won't even know you are there, as they are triggered by the light turning red, or by an internal radar. Is it really a defensible argument to claim that if an officer doesn't witness the crime, it doesn't happen? We don't apply that rationale to any other sort of crime.
Invasion of privacy? How? No officer is checking out your car, looking at your license, maybe asking you to get out or requesting to search the vehicle. It is a camera taking a picture as you zoom by. If anything, cameras keep cops out of your bidness. Not to mention that the city of Fort Worth maintains a handy listing of where their cameras are located. You can't claim you weren't provided adequate notice. Don't want to be photographed, avoid those intersections.
So, some company is making major money as the primary purveyor of red light cameras. Cities are raking in revenue from the people caught by the cameras. Why should we care? Isn't that capitalism at it's finest? A company saw a need, created a product, gave the most compelling sales pitch, got the contract and is making a buck right along with the cities using their product. Sure, they may pitch the 'safety' side to the public and the 'revenue' side to the government, but isn't marketing about determining your target audience and telling them what they want to hear?
My red light ticket from the city of Fort Worth cost $75, plus a $4 online processing fee. It was a civil, non-moving violation that does not go on my record, which is good, because it wasn't me in the vehicle. The camera took a picture and a 12 second video clip which I watched online.
All-in, what is your best guess on hardware, software, processing, printing and mailing of my ticket? Does someone less busy and smarter than me want to quantify the initial investment, operating costs and ticket processing? Since I can't do it without a generous research grant, I am going to use a small statistical sample provided by a report to the Texas Department of Transportation:
There are 45 red light cameras in Fort Worth, Texas. The most current set of statistics available to me is for the period of July 2008 through June 2009, when only 17 of those cameras were online.
17 cameras issued 83,160 citations in a one year period.
Those 83,160 citations generated an estimated $4,365,904 of revenue.
It would take, what, 51 cops covering 3 shifts per day at those 17 locations to provide a similar level of coverage? Their salaries, plus the cost of processing hand written tickets, vehicles, fuel, etc. I think you might break even, cost-wise. That is setting aside any safety gains that we really can't measure. What could be done with the labor and resources saved by employing a machine to enforce mundane traffic laws?
You can find a compilation of statistics for other Texas cities with red light cameras here.