Chicago speed camera proposal – safety measure, money grab, or does it matter?

Mayor Emanuel’s proposal to place speed cameras near schools and parks to catch speeding drivers passed out of committee today. Although he has tweaked some provisions, reducing the fine amount, for example, the basic proposal stands.

There has been a lot of discussion about the merits of speed cameras, with opponents mostly accusing the mayor of a money grab – ticketing unsuspecting motorists to plug holes in the budget. My alderman, with whom I generally agree, has said he will vote against the proposal unless the mayor’s office can demonstrate that a safety problem actually exists and that speed cameras are an effective solution.

I’ve been amused with reader comments and blog postings lamenting an unfair ploy to steal money from drivers. If only there were some way to avoid getting a ticket! Lost in the debate is an issue which I find quite interesting: I don’t think most people think of speeding as “breaking the law”. Sure, it’s technically an infraction; but I think as a society we’ve adopted a Prohibition approach to much of our traffic code: Everybody knows it’s against the law and everyone does it anyway because everybody else is breaking the law too.