A recent editorial-article in the Washington Post argues . They pretty much have to be. While opioids kill many more people than cars, marijuana is .
And so it is for speed enforcement, the cure is worse than the disease. A decade ago, a researcher collected some data to prove my point. He didn’t mean to. Simon Washington and colleagues were being paid to say that photo radar was good. They said it provided on Scottsdale freeways.
A closer look shows the program did more harm than good.
In this short analysis I’m not going to go over the statistical flaws which caused the benefits to be overstated. I’m going to look at the two big costs of the program that were ignored.
The basic argument was that crashes were lower than they would have been without speed cameras. Cameras supposedly saved the equivalent of nearly $11 million per year. Not $11 million cash. Turns out you can put a price on happiness.
Half of the claimed benefit is improved quality of life. Quality of life can’t be converted to cash, but it has a cash equivalent value. A year of healthy life is valued around $90,000 per year. Dying in a wreck is worth zero. Degrees of injury fall in between. This is a standard measure. A similar analysis indirectly determines whether your insurance company pays for an expensive drug.
Some of the benefit is reduced traffic jams. The value of time spent sitting in traffic is around $14 per hour, and an average accident wastes $800 worth of time. That’s in year 2000 dollars following a standard reference called The Economic Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes. The Scottsdale report used it and I did too.
And of course there is out of pocket expense — car repair and medical bills.
Now let’s look at two expenses that should have been counted but weren’t.
When speed cameras prevented an accident, they counted as a benefit that $800 reduction in traffic delay. Guess what they didn’t count? Delay caused by the speed cameras.
Cameras cut traffic speed from 75 mph to 65 mph. People took 6.1 minutes instead of 5.2 to travel through the 6.5 mile segment. If 80,000 drivers per day spend 0.9 minutes more in traffic, the value of their lost time is $17,000 per day. Or $6 million per year.
That’s the second biggest figure that should have been in the report and wasn’t.
The biggest is the tickets themselves. Tickets cost $162. Annualized gross revenue was about $11 million. Sound familiar? They say they made drivers pay $11 million to save themselves from $11 million in harm. The biggest share of accidents only involved one person, the driver. They fined the same people they were supposedly helping.
When you add the two ways photo enforcement hurt people, the net harm done by the program comes out to several million dollars per year.
Better to let those criminals — that is, ordinary people — get away scot free.
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