NATIONAL MOTORISTS ASSOCIATION
A number of critics believe that the proliferation of traffic cameras is based more on a desire for revenue by local governments than for safety. Some others think that speed limits are often set artificially low. And many others want to keep their SUVs, even if limousine liberals have horrified reactions to them.
For these people, the National Motorists Association (NMA) offers advocacy. “To guarantee the retention of your individual rights when using public streets, roads, and highways. To support traffic laws based on sound engineering criteria and public consensus,” the NMA offers as its objectives. “To protect your right to own and use the kinds of vehicles you prefer. To support improved driver training and education. To oppose speed traps and other traffic enforcement measures carried out for revenue-generation purposes.”
Traffic tickets are an important source of revenue for local governments, said NMA President James Baxter. “The average burglar or murderer costs the system a lot of money,” he said. “But people who get tickets put money into the system. Ninety per cent of traffic tickets are paid without contest. . . . Generally, the judiciary does receive funding from the ticket, although Im sure all judges would say this has absolutely no bearing on their decisions in court.” But judges have a vested interest in maximizing ticket revenue, Baxter said. “They all recognize you cant undermine the system in a big way.”
Threatening to become an integral part of that system are traffic cameras. “The traffic-control devices are set up in a way to put motorists in violation,” said Baxter.
NMA has tried offering evidence to slow down the burgeoning red light camera movement in the Washington, D.C., area. “The National Motorists Association is wagering $10,000 to prove that our engineering approach can cut red light violations better than any ticket camera installation,” said NMA in issuing its offer. “We have spent more than a year exposing the unethical exploitation associated with the use of red light ticket cameras. . . . Proper signal timing, better signal design, and improved intersections are the real answers to the red-light-violation problem. The apparent increase in red light violations is largely the result of a 20-year pattern of deliberately changing the standards for the timing of yellow lights. This is an engineering problem, not an enforcement issue. There is ample and convincing evidence, right in northern Virginia, that increasing the yellow light duration dramatically and permanently reduces red light violations.”
Lawyers in the D.C. area have mounted a due process challenge to the use of traffic cameras. Such arguments would go a lot further if the situation were different, said Baxter. “I can guarantee you it would be entirely different if it were two different private parties contending with one another and the court had no vested interest,” he said.
In addition to restoring longer yellow light times, Baxter argued that raising speed limits to the 85th percentile-the maximum speed at which 85% of the population normally drives on any particular road-would reduce traffic accidents. “Sixty years of research shows that people drive at the speed that they judge to be safe, depending on conditions,” he said. “The people driving at the 85th percentile are least likely to get into an accident. The really slow traffic has five times more accidents than the 85th percentile has.” The reality: differences in speed, rather than absolute speed, create the bigger danger on the roads. Yet, said Baxter, states on average post speed limits at the 35th percentile. Though its true that the fewer accidents at the 85th percentile are more severe than the ones that take place at lower speeds, he said, “After 30 MPH, survivability is pretty poor anyway. The public is not going to accept a 30 MPH speed limit.”
NMA works on other issues as well. “We oppose the expansion of tolls to roads built and maintained with motorists taxes and the NMA supports the elimination of tolls when financing obligations have been satisfied,” it says. The group even gives tips on how to get an unfair traffic ticket dismissed.
SUVs seem to be an up-and-coming issue. “Within reason, people should be able to drive the kind of vehicles they want to,” said Baxter. He noted that government meddling through fuel economy standards, more liberal for trucks than for cars, helped to generate the explosion in SUV sales. “CAFE [corporate average fuel economy standards] initially killed a lot of the larger sedans and station wagons. So we transitioned to the truck culture.” Baxter said that he fears states will begin raising registration fees on SUVs in order to discourage their purchase.
NMA may be reached at 402 W. 2nd St., Waunakee, Wis. 53597 (608-849-6000; fax: 608-849-8697; e-mail: email@example.com; website: www.motorists.org).