Speeding into the Future: The Pitfalls of Automated Traffic Enforcement


18 states and 36 cities ban red light and speed cameras.

With speeding as the leading cause of fatal car crashes in the United States, speed cameras are used in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Along with encouraging safer driving practices, some see automated traffic enforcement (ATE) as a way to decrease interactions between police and the public, particularly for Black Americans who face racial bias on the road. However, despite studies showing positive traffic safety outcomes from automated enforcement, there has been an increasing backlash against ATE for being revenue-driven and imposing excessive fines. This article outlines concerns with the conceptualization and implementation of ATE, such as automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) used by speed cameras to ticket drivers, technological errors, perverse financial incentive structures, and the disparate impact on low-income and minority neighborhoods. 

You can read the full text here.

Key Findings:

  • Washington D.C. issued over 580,000 tickets using automated speed enforcement compared to the 80,000 tickets issued by police officers in 2013.
  • In 2020, California found that local law enforcement agencies did not have a usage or privacy policy regarding ALPR in compliance with the state’s legally mandated security requirements.
  • The Chicago Tribune identified thousands of incorrectly ticketed drivers over a period of seven years due to technological malfunctions in Chicago.
  • In 2015, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down the City of St. Louis’s red-light program because the camera did not record the driver of the vehicle, and owners who wanted to dispute the ticket were expected to shoulder the burden of proving whether they were driving at the time of the violation. 
  • A report by the D.C. Policy Center found that drivers in predominantly Black neighborhoods received 17 times the average number of tickets received by drivers in white-segregated neighborhoods.
  • The privatization of traffic enforcement incentivizes companies to prioritize profits; some vendors regulate yellow light durations, penalize cities for waiving too many citations, and take up to 50 percent of every ticket issued.
  • Fines that quickly balloon with administrative fees are unaffordable for low-income families, and their inability to pay can lead to license suspensions, predatory debt collections, arrest, and imprisonment.
Maya Fegan
Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law