Speed Camera Detectors: Legal or Cheating the System?

There are few images more accepted than a police officer, with a radar detector pointed out a patrol car window, aiming to slow speeders. The real image, though, is much less uniform: 80% of all speeding tickets now come from fixed camera locations. These locations are also fairly well known, because they tend to be deployed in so-called 'black spots.' When there are four or more fatalities at a given location annually, this 'black spot' location often acquires a reputation...and a camera. Another method of knowing the location of these cameras is through speed camera detectors. 

Only two places in the U.S. completely ban radar detectors (Virginia and Washington, D.C.). The Virginia ban, now 48 years old, is the only remaining speed camera dectector and general speed detection device ban left in any state. A recent effort to move it off the books failed to pass at any speed, so it's here to stay. But given the steady decline in national traffic fatality rates, it's unlikely other states will reintroduce detector bans. 

  • Caveat: Commercial vehicles have more restrictions on camera detectors, especially if used for interstate travel. Vehicles over 10,000 pounds are generally prohibited from using any speed detection devices.

The debate about speed camera detectors goes to whether or not detectors are part of encouraging safer driving or giving safe haven to the most dangerous habit of driving...excessive speed. On one side of the divide are local police departments that actually publish where the speed cameras are located...believing people respond best to more, rather than less, information about road conditions. On the other hand, many police are now using fully portable speed camera detectors, with the clear intent of catching speeding drivers unawares. The latter leads to complaints of using speed laws to raise money rather than lowering risks. 

Speed cameras, whether fixed or portable, typically capture more than just speed, however:

  • Date Stamp

  • Time Stamp

  • Camera location

  • Direction of travel

  • Vehicle Speed

  • Speed limit applicable at the time of the image capture

  • Vehicle lane

  • Other safety and road condition reports

Supporters of speed camera detector devices also point out that speed cameras and speed detection equipment may fail to work properly. Why, these advocates ask, should the government be allowed to operate with impunity (e.g., in banning camera detectors) before establishing any law has been violated? The inspection schedule for government-operated camera detectors is designed to be fairly rigorous (camera image updates every 30 days), but speed components are typically required to be checked only once every twelve months.

  • Caveat: Though only one state (and the District of Columbia) have outright bans, there may be other reasons to cite someone for having a camera detector...anything attached to a windshield, for example, may be grounds for a ticket in Wisconsin.

Conclusion 

Compared to radar detectors, many police are less bothered by the uses of speed camera detectors. The goal of decreasing speed, after all, is served by cameras: people will slow down if the camera is there. Radar detectors are meant to avoid slowing down, while a camera's aim is picture perfect...only by slowing down does speed camera detection technology show its worth.

Detection devices are now widely viewed as part of the milieu of reducing speeds. Studies by the National Motorists Association suggest detection devices contribute to better driving in general, rather than merely avoiding a ticket. What is left open to continuing debate, however, is how acceptable are two sides of the "legality" debate. I.e., while camera detectors are legal across most of the country, people are agitating against many uses of the speed camera detectors themselves: arguing the cameras, rather than the detectors, should be banned.