Traffic cameras become more popular when they cut down on interactions with police

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — No one likes getting a speeding ticket in the mail, but a new study finds people are more accepting of traffic cameras in their neighborhood if it means they don’t have to interact with the police. More importantly, researchers from Rutgers University say traffic safety cameras seem to be more acceptable when communities use them as a way to limit racially divisive confrontations with law enforcement.

Speed cameras typically receive a lot of opposition from the public. Meanwhile, advocates for traffic cameras argue that they improve safety by decreasing traffic-related fatalities. This approach, however, has not been effective. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 32 states have actually banned the use of speed cameras.

The current study is taking a different approach. Their hypothesis is that people would be more accepting of cameras on roads if they played a role in reducing alleged incidents of racial profiling and minimized police-driver interactions.

“Transportation planners and officials botched the initial rollout of cameras with fraud, bribery scandals, and kickbacks in cities like Anchorage and Chicago,” says Kelcie Ralph, an associate professor of urban planning and policy development at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, in a university release. “This research offers an opportunity to start over.”

1 in 12 approve of racial profiling

Traffic stops are the most common reason a police officer would pull over a driver. However, researchers say Black drivers are disproportionately more likely to be pulled over, and cities with large Black populations have higher rates of ticketing and revenue collection per capita than cities with smaller Black populations.

The study surveyed 1,468 adults living in the United States on their views on racial profiling, policing, and trust in law enforcement. People who agreed that racial profiling exists and who disapprove of the practice were more in support of cameras. Of the eight percent who rated that they “strongly approve” of racial profiling, only 61 percent approved of traffic cameras.

Another phase of the experiment involved having participants read two different descriptions of a camera program. One description claimed the program would help lower racial bias and minimize police interactions. The other contained a brief description of how the cameras would work after their installation.

Results show 71 percent of respondents were more likely to support cameras after reading the racial justice message, in comparison to 57 percent supporting cameras after reading the short description. The messaging also did not draw criticism or backlash from groups that are more likely to approve of racial profiling, according to the Rutgers team.

What changes can make speed cameras a popular option?

Ralph believes three key points help to successfully win and maintain support for cameras. The first is that camera locations are installed in places based on crash statistics, not just in low-income neighborhoods or communities of color. Next, the money made from camera tickets should go towards fixing roads and traffic safety projects rather than in police department funds. Finally, the researchers believe there also needs to be new legal frameworks to punish repeat offenders.

“Implementation details matter immensely,” Ralph says. “But by considering best practices, concerns can be overcome, support can be maintained and traffic safety can be improved.”

The study is published in the journal Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives.

About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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