A task force will study whether to lower the fines for D.C.’s traffic cameras. What is the right level of fine, and how can D.C. policymakers use science to determine the right level that maximizes safety?
D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), co-chair of the task force, has asked me to serve on the panel. Other members will come from the pedestrian and bicycle advisory councils, AARP, AAA and the Center for Court Excellence. The group will meet at least two times in late August and September. I’m told that the meetings will be open to the public and that there will be opportunities for public comment during the first meeting.
Any discussion of speed camera fines needs to flow from a simple principle: the purpose of the cameras is road safety, not revenue. Speeding, running red lights and blocking the box are dangerous. In many neighborhoods, traffic is the biggest public safety threat, and D.C. must take it seriously.
In recent years, D.C. has raised fines during its budget process, to plug gaps without raising any taxes, and expanded speed cameras in the same way. That might be the only time it’s politically palatable to some, but when fines are too high, it erodes public support for enforcement.
Therefore, we need to base any recommendation on scientific evidence about what level makes the streets safest. There is a tradeoff between the certainty of getting caught committing a crime, and the necessary level of punishment to deter lawbreaking. When a camera replaces occasional human enforcement by police, the certainty of getting caught goes up. Therefore, the fine can go down.
Moreover, research has shown that low severity, high certainty enforcement — exactly what traffic cameras achieve — is more effective. In other words, people are more likely to follow a law if they know they will get punished, even a small amount, most of the time they do.
[Continue reading David Alpert’s post at Greater Greater Washington.]
David Alpert is founder and editor of Greater Greater Washington. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.