Legislators last week struck down a glaring inefficiency in the law that governs fixed speed cameras, the pole-mounted photo radar devices designed to slow traffic.
House Bill 4105, sponsored by two local lawmakers, state Rep. Jeff Reardon (D-Portland) and state Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), ended the requirement that every ticket issued by a fixed speed camera be reviewed by a sworn police officer.
Studies in Portland and in other cities have found that putting cameras next to streets where motorists are prone to driving too fast changes behavior and reduces crashes. Although some critics say the cameras are Big Brother-style overreach and just another tool to generate revenue, the devices yield the desired result in the few places the Portland Bureau of Transportation has erected them.
Dana Dickman, safety section manager for PBOT, told lawmakers in testimony Feb. 21 that the city’s 18 speed cameras are making a difference.
“Speed safety cameras have reduced top-end speeding (more than 10 mph above the speed limit) by 94%,” Dickman said. “Furthermore, the cameras have reduced all speeding by 71% on those corridors. And, critically, red light-running cameras have nearly halved the number of serious traffic crashes at intersections where cameras are present.”
But as WW has reported, securing more cameras and handling the administration of tickets (which average $170 each) has been a slow process at a time when traffic deaths are soaring. (A study of three years’ worth of fatalities completed by the group Oregon Walks last year found that excessive speed is a common denominator for many of the deaths.)
PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, joined by her council colleagues, made changing the law to allow a trained civilian, rather than a police officer, to review speed camera tickets a priority in the short session that began in February and ended last week.
In 2020, the last year for which data is available, Portland’s fixed speed cameras issued 38,502 tickets. That’s 105 per day. At a time when the short-staffed Portland Police Bureau struggles to respond to routine calls and has disbanded its traffic unit, requiring a sworn officer to review each of those tickets is a time-consuming proposition.
And in her testimony on the bill, PBOT’s Dickman provided lawmakers with a stat that showed it’s also an expensive proposition.
“In Portland today, 100% of traffic safety camera violation review occurs on police overtime,” Dickman said. “Expanding the pool of qualified reviewers would lower the cost of this function.”
(Portland is currently advertising a starting salary for officers of $66,934. In a 2,000-hour year, that’s $33.47 an hour. At time-and-a-half, an officer would be paid $50 an hour to review photo radar tickets. That explains why the Portland police union opposed changing the law.)
The bill passed both chambers and now awaits Gov. Kate Brown’s signature.
After The Portland Mercury reported the bill’s passage, Hardesty cheered the win on Twitter.