Dan and Morgan,

I would like to look into this camera ticket issue a little bit further and offer some of my own thoughts.

I don’t believe that the issue is as clearly painted as you suggest Morgan- that “speeding is, on its face, a law-breaking act.” A speeding infraction should not be illustrated by use of a simple binary. Speed limits are not rule of law. Just as exceeding the speed-limit does not necessarily constitute a law-breaking act. There exists (and rightfully so) a margin of error for weather conditions, traffic conditions, driver conditions, and indeed anything else that can be proved to be a variable.

Speed limits are commonly set after consideration of any restrictive feature that may be present in the piece of roadway (such as a hill, dangerous curve, etc). It is only after consideration of these features that the stretch of road will be given a generalized speed limit that is found to be safe to operate vehicles (notice the lack of “Speed Limit 38.5mph” and the relative abundance of “Speed Limit 35mph”). A posted speed limit is a reflection of what has been deemed to be safe while traveling through a restrictive feature-not necessarily the entirety of the section of the roadway. It may be useful to think of a speed limit as serious recommendation rather than an absolute.

An Illustration:

Assume a roadway that is straight, flat, wide and clear of any obstacle that would impact the driver such as a tree or building or bump. Directly after this segment however lies a sharp curve. There is a posted speed of 25mph on both portions of the road. The speed limit was set by determining the maximum speed that a driver can safely navigate the curve, irrespective of the straight and flat segment. In actuality, it may be perfectly safe and legal (and absolutely provable in court) to operate a vehicle at a speed of say, 40mph during the straight and flat segment and still be able to navigate the curved section safely. This is where consideration of variables comes into play.

What are the weather conditions-Is it rainy or snowy, is it clear? Is it day or night? Is there traffic? What sort of vehicle is being used-does it have well-functioning parts that can ensure safe operation? Is it an 18-wheel truck that may take a hundred feet to stop, or is it a sporty two door that could stop on a dime? How are the tires? Are they designed for aggressive driving, responsive and capable of hairpin turns at speed, or are they old and bald? How is the driver-Is the person well-rested and alert or drowsy and not entirely focused? How old is the road? Was it paved recently or is it filled with pot-holes? All of these features and more are necessary to provide context to properly consider a case. There can be instances where it is wholeheartedly unsafe to operate a vehicle at the posted speed limit (such as during heavy snows with frozen roads). There are likewise instances where it can be absolutely safe to operate a vehicle well above the posted speed (on a clear, sunny day with a performance car and no traffic). Unfortunately none of this is captured by traffic cameras.

The presence of a camera that merely takes a picture and records a speed closes the case on necessary discussion. Traffic cameras represent a move away from particular cases in favor of a homogeneous application of abstracted principles-devoid of important factors that may contain the real truth. At least (in theory) it is possible to explain yourself and your particular situation to an officer of the law at the scene moments after the alleged infraction. It is an entirely different story appearing in front of a judge a month or so later with the sole piece of evidence being a piece of paper with your picture on it and next to it a recorded speed taking your situation out of reality and placing it in a one-dimensional universe.

Chauncey Keller