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Speed is Killing People — Here’s What We Can Do About It

Red light Camera

Last week, Plan Philly reported on a community meeting about N. 5th Street regarding what options were available to slow down motor vehicle traffic and make the road safe for the residents who live on it and use it for walking and bicycling.

One of the meeting participants asked if speed cameras could be used to help slow motorists down and calm traffic.

Some residents suggested automatic camera enforcement should be used to catch speeders, since the Police Department doesn’t consider moving violations a high enforcement priority, but [Streets Deputy Commissioner Michael] Carroll explained that speed cameras are currently illegal in Pennsylvania.

It’s true. A technically available and reliable traffic calming option is not available to this community, or any other in Pennsylvania. This is a big problem. Achieving zero traffic deaths is not possible without managing speed. If Philadelphia wants to be serious about Vision Zero, it needs all tools possible to control speeding motor vehicles.

Speed Kills

Why? According to PennDOT, in 2014, 31 people died in crashes caused by speeding motor vehicles.  That means that speeding was the main factor that caused one third of the fatalities resulting from traffic crashes in 2014.

Of the 38 Philadelphia pedestrians killed by motor vehicles in 2014, 24 percent were killed by speeding motor vehicles.

State Law Falling Behind

It’s mind-boggling that it is against state law to use automated cameras to enforce the speed limit against violators. How can this be? Why does our state legislature not allow the use of available technology to enforce against those people who purposely drive over the speed limit and kill people?

Let’s imagine this: if one illegal causation of fire-related deaths was identified as being responsible for thirty percent of the people who die in fires, would there be a state law against controlling the illegal factor that causes those fires? Doubtful.

Or, think of it this way. If there was a disease killing thirty persons in Philadelphia every year, is it likely that the state legislature would be make it against the law to conquer that disease? Maybe in a bizarro universe.

Unfortunately, we live in that bizarro universe as it pertains to motor vehicles speeding.

Failed Attempts

In 2014, then-Senator Mike Stack introduced legislation to permit the use of automated speed cameras on Roosevelt Boulevard.  In 2015, Senator John Sabatina (D-5) re-introduced the same legislation. In 2015, Senators Argall (R-29) and Schwank (D-11) introduced legislation to put speed cameras in construction work zones. None of these bills moved out of committee.

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia believes that controlling illegally speeding vehicles is essential to Mayor Kenney’s expected-to-be-proposed-soon Vision Zero policy.

Thursday’s Forum

We are holding a breakfast Vision Zero forum on Thursday, March 24th to hear from House Representative John Taylor (R-177), Chair of the PA House Transportation Committee; Jonathan Rogers from DC DOT; Wen Hu from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety; Francis Healy from the Philadelphia Police Department, Gustave Scheerbaum, P.E. of the City of Philadelphia, and other speakers about how well red light cameras have worked and how speed cameras and legislation to permit them could help save lives in Philadelphia.

Register here to attend the Forum: $10 for Bicycle Coalition members; $45 for non-members.

We thank Urban Engineers, HNTB, the Scattergood Foundation, Parsons Brinckerhoff, McCormick Taylor, Langan Engineering, and AAA for sponsoring the March 24, 2016 Vision Zero Mini-Forum.

Topics: Action Center, Biking in Philly, Biking the Suburbs, Crash, Featured

5 comments on “Speed is Killing People — Here’s What We Can Do About It

  1. Sue

    Everything in this rant is propaganda. Higher speed limits promote safety, speed cameras make mistakes, and it is all a cash cow. You should evaluate the mistakes the cameras have made and how they may cause more crashes. Ticketing responsible drivers is surely NOT a way to harbor goodwill. The old Soviet Union would be proud of this piece for sure. How a group can put out stuff like this is beyond me. Fact checking?

  2. Sue

    Also, red-light cameras have NOT worked, so those stats are wrong. More crashes have occurred. Check out the Inquirer or the Rick Short Watchdog story.

  3. John Baxter

    I had hoped to attend this conference and, in the end, regrettably had to miss it. I find it hard to believe that the 24% statistic for cars speeding and causing pedestrian crashes is accurate, given FHWA’s national average of just under 10%. Were there extenuating circumstances in any of these crashes where the pedestrian was killed? In New York, where 21% of pedestrian crashes were caused by speeding (according to a report that makes NO mention of pedestrian errors), more crashes were caused by the confusion created when the light turns green and cars must cross the crosswalk and pedestrians and cars compete for time to go where they are going than by speed. Merely separating crosswalk time from the green light for cars would reduce crashes more than controlling speeding in that city. Why is not such a logical improvement part of Vision Zero? Further, what proponents don’t seem to understand is that these situations are exceptional, not typical. Most motorists don’t speed most of the time. Thus, whatever is done should not reduce the speed of most cars, but rather the speed of a relative minority. This kind of restraint and common sense respect for the responsible, average driver, is never mentioned. Why is Vision Zero always about a radical reduction in speed, rather than being about finding the least intrusive way to solve the problem?

  4. Stephen De Franco

    I have to agree with Sue and John Baxter. A lot of this commentary is just the old repeated rhetoric we’ve heard for years. Not based on fact just repeated untill everyone buys it. John proposes pratical solutions. The automated enforcement creates more accidents. As a bicycle user myself I think this group is trying force their ways at the inconvenience of everyone else instead of working with other road users.

  5. James C. Walker

    Speed cameras produce profits above their typical high costs of $3,000+ per month per camera ONLY when the posted limits are deliberately mis-set at least 10 mph lower than the safest 85th percentile speed points (the speed at or below which you find 85% of the cars when traffic is free flowing under good conditions). Speed cameras are literally government highway robbery programs. Speed cameras should be illegal to use in every state, as they are in many already.

    Legitimate researchers conclude that speed is the cause in no more than 6% or 7% of crashes and some studies show under 2%. “Speed related” figures are higher because so many posted limits are set way below the safest levels to create lucrative speed traps.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

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