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Should Michigan use speed cameras to monitor drivers?

April 6, 2015 by Steven M. Gursten

Traffic enforcement cameras will likely reduce the number of auto accidents, but many worry about “big brother” intrusions

speed camera

Should Michigan allow speed cameras and red light cameras?

These cameras, also known as automated traffic enforcement safety devices, or more aptly, speed cameras and red light cameras, are mounted by intersections. The aim in installing these safety cameras is to reduce speeding and drivers who run red lights. Proponents of these cameras say they will reduce the number of car accidents. The cameras have a two-fold purpose:

  1. To deter speeding and running red lights; and,
  2. To catch speeders and red-light-runners on film – either in still photographs, by photo radar, or on video that’s later reviewed.

As for the effectiveness and usefulness of the cameras, here’s what the Governors Highway Safety Association (GSHA) said in a 2010 letter to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee:

  • Effective at reducing car accidents, fatalities and injuries: “GHSA strongly supports automated enforcement and believes that it is an important tool in any state or local effort to reduce motor vehicle-related crashes, fatalities and injuries. We concur with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) that the preponderance of research shows that automated enforcement is effective.”
  • Useful at a time when police budgets are being stretched and/or cut: “Automated enforcement is intended to supplement … traditional enforcement of speeding and red light running laws. Law enforcement agencies are downsizing, enforcement personnel are retiring at rapid rates and many are being deployed for homeland security purposes. Automated enforcement helps fill the gaps by providing 24/7 coverage, often at high risk locations for traditional law enforcement.”

Notably, Michigan is one of only 19 remaining states that doesn’t have a red light camera law and one of 28 states without a speed camera law, according to the GHSA’s 2015 “Speed and Red Light Camera Laws” information sheet.

Significantly, although existing Michigan “has no state law” specifically allowing or prohibiting red-light and speed cameras, a 2007 opinion from Michigan’s Attorney General suggests both forms of “automated enforcement” would be “invalid.”

In recent years, efforts to change Michigan law have been introduced. But neither bill – Senate Bill 1063 (speed cameras)(2014) and House Bill 4763 (red light cameras)(2013) – was acted upon.

Michigan’s Attorney General on ‘automated enforcement’

In a 2007 opinion, Michigan’s Attorney General concluded that, based on his interpretation of the Motor Vehicle Code, the use of “red light” cameras (and presumably speed cameras) is not permitted:

Laws that “allow [a] city to issue citations for civil infractions for disobeying a traffic control signal (red light) based on the photograph or video produced by an unmanned traffic monitoring device” are “invalid.”

Related information:

What are the Michigan speed limit laws? 

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