the violation line according to the municipality's specifications."

To make inductive loop technology catch speeders too, the ASE system incorporates a time-distance equation to assess a car's speed relative to where it is on the road, so that if a vehicle is going too fast, the camera is triggered. The cameras will shoot pictures of the violating vehicle, including shots of the license plate. In California, the cameras will also take pictures of the driver's face.

The shots are pushed through an encrypted virtual private network to a Redflex processing center where company personnel verify the photo contents to ensure that an infraction has occurred according to the laws of the jurisdiction where the photos were taken. The information is then given to law enforcement.

"An officer of that municipality logs in from a police station into the software and can review that file, and that's where they actually reject or authorize that," Vaitheeswaran said. "So every single photo enforcement ticket is reviewed by the officer."

The process isn't as intrusive as many fear, she said. "The purpose of these cameras isn't to invade privacy. They detect vehicles or drivers that are violating the rules of the road. This method is not as intrusive as being pulled over by an officer who will stop you, check for your valid license, check your registration, insurance, your private record, run your plate, and obviously look inside your car."

Palmer added that speed cameras wouldn't be the first type of cameras to raise privacy concerns -- red-light cameras are already here. "If there is a concern about Big Brotherism, then that's a concern that would exist right now," he said. "Those cameras are already in place as a law enforcement tool."

Working Out the Details

In Arizona, home to Redflex's U.S. office, speed cameras have been met with minimal enthusiasm. In 2007, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano proposed the speed camera program, and according to a November 2007 study by the Arizona Department of Transportation, speed enforcement cameras in a trial demonstration reduced total crashes by 44 to 54 percent, and the number of injury crashes decreased by 28 to 48 percent. But in 2009, legislators proposed a ban on them, and in February 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported that Arizonans were blocking the cameras by putting Post-it notes or boxes over the lenses. One woman attacked a camera with an ax.

In California, Palmer said the General Assembly has until June 15 to approve or disapprove the state budget and the ASE proposal within it.

"Then the governor has until June 30 to either sign or veto the budget, so in between now and mid-June would be the time frame by which the Legislature will make a determination whether they want to go with this, reject it or come up with an alternative proposal," he said.

The LAO already has recommended some changes, including giving local governments a bigger share of the revenue generated by the cameras.

"We felt that [15 percent] probably wasn't giving local governments enough revenue to make the program self-supporting. The other important fact about the governor's proposal is that it wouldn't require local governments to install the systems, it would authorize them to do it, and so it was critical that locals have an incentive to implement these systems," said Drew Soderborg, LAO's fiscal and policy analyst.

Other recommendations include amending the fine amount to be consistent with current state fines for speeding violations. Under current enforcement, the penalty for exceeding a speed limit by up to 15 mph is $212, less than the $225 listed in the ASE proposal. However, the fine for exceeding by 16 to 25 mph is $332 in current enforcement conditions, more than the $325 in the ASE proposal.

"The governor had proposed a different fine level for people caught by automated speed enforcement systems than the fine that they would get if they were caught through traditional methods for speeding, and we felt that the fine should be the same because there's no reason to have basically the same behavior being treated differently," Soderborg said.

He couldn't predict if the proposal would wind up in the budget, but things don't look good if the state Senate budget meeting in February was any indication.

"I don't have a high opinion of bills that are put into budget that have tremendous policy implications," said Sen. Alan Lowenthal. "The governor put into the budget this proposal saying that it would enhance safety, but that's really up to the policy committee. If it does, we should have full hearings on it, not do it through a budget bill."


Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  | 

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.