Fox News: Michigan weighs work zones cameras to catch speeders, slow traffic

The next ticket you get in Michigan may come in the mail instead of at a traffic stop, according to a bill that would modify how speeding in work zones are policed.

You’d be flagged for speeding, the violation would have happened in a construction zone, and the offense would be caught on camera, under the pending legislation.

Introduced earlier this year, Rep. Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette) says the government is trying to both respond to a rising number of fatal crashes and get in front of a flurry of new infrastructure spending.

“It’s really just to change the behavior of drivers,” she said. “(We’re trying) to educate drivers, not punish them.”

HB 5750 would authorize an automated speed enforcement system in construction zones, replacing Michigan State Police troopers with cameras that could be mounted on unmarked vehicles parked in construction zones.

The cameras would photograph the license plates on vehicles speeding over the limit in those zones. The first violation would come with a written warning. Drivers that receive a second violation would be fined $150 and a third violation would be worth $300.

Cambensy worked with groups representing road engineers and construction crews when crafting the bill, aiming for a solution to dangerous driving that increased after the pandemic.

“Members of the traveling public make up 85% of all work-zone fatalities,” said Stephanie Boileau, the president of the Michigan chapter of the American Traffic Safety Services Association. “I call attention to that because people driving recklessly are more likely to kill themselves or another regular driving member than a worker.”

The most common crash in a construction zone happens when a driver rear-ends a stopped vehicle at the end of a queue of cars and trucks.

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Traffic crash data in Michigan shows that while the number of crashes since 2019 has fallen, the number of fatal crashes has risen. In 2019 there were 314,377 crashes, and 985 people died. In 2020, there were 245,432 crashes and 1,083 deaths. Both data points rose higher in 2021, with 282,640 crashes being reported and 1,131 deaths.

Boileau expects those figures to continue climbing in 2022.

The bill is a response to climbing rates of reckless driving as well as an expected surge in new road construction projects over the next few years. Billions of dollars in new road funding is good news for Michigan drivers, but upcoming projects like the installation of a new flex lane on I-96 will mean more road crews on highways.

Without proper enforcement, cases like the fatal hit-and-run of a 26-year-old in 2020 may continue, officials say.

“The trends are continuing,” said Lance Binoniemi, the policy director for the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association. “We are seeing faster speeds in work zones. We keep seeing evidence about someone going 85 or 110 mph in work zones.”

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MITA has voiced support for Cambensy’s bill after seeing an uptick in deaths among its road crews over the past few years. MDOT says it sees the merits of the proposed enforcement while the Michigan State Police haven’t officially established a position on the bill, only saying they “are continuing to work with stakeholders and bill sponsors to ensure thorough considerations are being made.”

The bill has cleared votes in both the Transportation and Judiciary committees this spring.

How automated enforcement would work

The only construction projects where automated enforcement would take effect are on M-routes, US routes, and interstates. No camera enforcement would be allowed in city or county road projects.

The enforcement would also be deployed in major road projects, like the current improvement work being done on I-75 and I-275.

The first thing drivers would see when entering a  zone that’s monitored by a camera is a sign that designates the area as under enforcement. Cameras would then be posted along the route using a speed-detection method called Lidar.

Any vehicle caught speeding 10 mph over the limit of the posted speed limit would have its license plate photographed and sent to state police. An officer or system operator would review the instance by inspecting the image.

If a violation is determined to have occurred, the notice would be sent to the vehicle’s owner.

If the vehicle owner was not driving at the time of the violation, they can argue the case by mailing an affidavit to the clerk or by testifying under oath that he or she wasn’t driving at the time.

The image of the license plate will then be destroyed within 90 days of the conclusion of the case.

Changing driver behavior

The sight of a police cruiser can be enough to soften speeds among drivers. Lawmakers and industry groups hope alerting drivers they are under camera surveillance will be enough to slow them down as well.

Thirteen other states have already enacted similar bills. In Maryland, data shows there was a 90% reduction in speeding in work zones with zero repeat offenders. Rep. Cambensy had a firsthand experience in one of the state’s automated enforcement zones.

“I was driving through Maryland where cars were zooming by me and then as we hit these zones, all of a sudden everyone was going much slower – barely 1-2 mph over the speed limit,” she said.

Illinois and Pennsylvania have enacted similar laws with Illinois being the first in the country. The chief of the Programs Safety Unit under the Bureau of Safety Programs and Engineering in Illinois touted the enforcement during a podcast episode with MDOT in August.

Privacy concerns and cash grabs

Rep. Cambensy admitted that anytime cameras are offered as a solution to public safety problems, “it will be controversial.” Concerns over personal data and privacy have often followed the introduction of legislation like what was announced in the Michigan House.

Maryland was sued over its enactment of the bill over privacy concerns. Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Wisconsin voted down similar versions over the same worry.

“I want to emphasize, this bill is narrowly written to just focus on work zones where weave the highest traffic volumes,” Cambensy said. “It goes only in areas where MDOT and state police find accidents and reports of worker safety problems.”

There were also fears of potential profiling of drivers if an automated camera network was used. But according to the legislation, the cameras would only photograph license plates – not the person driving the car.

Proponents of the bill have also pushed back against claims the bill is a cash grab meant to drive up revenues for the state. While there may be an initial uptick in tickets if the enforcement goes into effect, officials expect the number of violations to go down in the long-term once drivers catch on.

Any money obtained from the automated construction zone enforcement would be channeled into a road safety fund. There, the money could only be used for the purpose of improving worker safety, like the construction of barriers or increasing police presence.