ABC Speeds through Traffic Camera Story

     The media are frequently cynical about the private sectors profit motive, but when it comes to government schemes to rake in more cash, the same skepticism often doesnt kick in. That was the case on the February 22 World News Tonight as reporter Miguel Marquez portrayed highway speed cameras in Scottsdale, Ariz., as a tool to promote highway safety while ignoring how the cameras are a coveted cash cow to local governments.

     People go too fast, like The Fast and the Furious all the young kids, motorist Harry Espey complained to Marquez at the top of his World News Tonight report.

     Marquez showed Scottsdale Mayor Mary Manross insisting her constituents have been clamoring for the last few years for a way to slow down traffic. Dismissing some tepid criticism from an Arizona state legislator who prefers traffic stops over cameras, the ABC reporter closed his piece fully convinced that only public safety, not easy money, was the politicians motivation. Scottsdale will decide by next fall whether to extend the program. If traffic accidents are down, it could be coming to a freeway near you, he concluded.

     But while Marquez portrayed the cameras as governments selfless response to safety needs, a reporter for an Arizona paper found that money, not increased safety, seemed to be driving Scottsdales push for speeding cameras.

     The Arizona Republics Lesley Wright reported in the February 23 paper that Scottsdale officials voted unanimously to oppose state legislation requiring fair warning to motorists to slow down around camera setups. All of these bills are meant to discourage photo-enforcement around the state, complained the mayor. Wright went on to add city lobbyist Bridget Schwartz-Manocks complaint that another state bill, which would phase out state-shared revenue to Arizonas largest cities, would lose those large cities, including Scottsdale, some $34 million in speeding ticket revenue.

     In a Mar. 23, 2005, Atlanta Journal Constitution op-ed, Cato policy analyst Radley Balko criticized speed cameras for violating constitutional rights by presuming a speeder guilty until proven innocent and for proving to be addictive to cash-hungry politicians, citing abuses in Sacramento, Calif., Washington, D.C., and Bethesda, Md.