An incoming Virginia delegate wants to expand use of speed cameras

A sign signals the start of a school zone in Fairfax monitored by a speed camera (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

When they reconvene this month, Virginia lawmakers will consider a proposal to allow local governments to install speed cameras wherever they deem them necessary, with penalties of up to $100 for violations.

Bill patron Del.-elect Mike Jones, D-Richmond, said the legislation is intended to increase speed enforcement and reduce the number of traffic fatalities.

“It gives localities the decision of whether they want to do it or not,” said Jones. “So it’s not a ‘shall’ — every locality will have it — but for the ones that are concerned with this, it would help them out.”

State law currently allows local governments to install speed cameras in work and school zones as a way to drivers to go slower around children and construction workers. Jones’ bill would go further, allowing their placement in  “any location deemed necessary” by local governments.

However, the use of more cameras to enforce speed laws has previously sparked controversy over privacy and public perceptions that the technology is just another way for a locality to raise revenue.

In November, amid a Frederick County debate, outgoing Supervisor Shawn Graber told the Mercury that “there should never be a time when a locality tries to simply put something in effect to make money from someone else’s misdoing.”

Jones said he understands the concerns, but argued people are asking for safer streets and safer neighborhoods.

“There’s not enough police for them and/or they don’t respond to neighborhoods simply because of numbers,” said Jones. “I understand the concern for the overpolicing, I get that. I get that as an African American male, I get that as pastor of an African American church, a Black legislator that represented predominantly Black and brown people. I hear that, but the reality is this: People aren’t dying in a lot of these different neighborhoods; where they’re literally dying is in mine.”

Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles data found that last year, 20% of the 122,434 crashes in the state were speed related, a 1% increase over the previous year. Virginia Department of Transportation crash data also shows that between 2018 and 2022, the annual number of traffic fatalities increased from 819 to 1,005.

The DMV said that on average, 2.8 lives are lost and 163 people injured every day because of traffic crashes.

Rob Billington, a spokesman for the Virginia Municipal League, which represents city and town governments in the commonwealth, said the league supports letting local governments expand the use of speed cameras on all roads at all times. He said traditionally VML has supported local flexibility, and it sees Jones’ bill as providing that.

“VML has supported, and continues to support, expanding the availability of photo-camera traffic enforcement for all localities in the context of a defined transportation safety program that includes engineering, enforcement, education, and emergency response elements while respecting civil rights,” the group has said in a transportation policy statement.

The Virginia Association of Counties said it’s still reviewing the bill.

“We are aware of the bill and will closely monitor its progress during the General Assembly session,” said VACO Executive Director Dean Lynch in a statement. “We always welcome additional tools for local governments to better serve their communities and make them safer for other motorists, pedestrians, etc.”

Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, who will chair the Senate Transportation Committee next session, said lawmakers have considered similar legislation in the past and have raised concerns about the accuracy of the cameras.

“One thing that we don’t want to do is inadvertently penalize somebody for faulty equipment,” Boysko said. “So for me, and I think for many of my colleagues, we want to make certain that before we approve expanding such an item that we want to make sure that it is accurate.”

However, she added, “nobody can deny that the traffic exacerbation over the past couple of years has really caused some real problems with pedestrian injuries and death, and just overall the lack of concern for speed limits.”

This article was reported and written by the Virginia Mercury, and has been reprinted under a Creative Commons license.

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