Michigan wants to use cameras to ticket speeders in construction zones
- Michigan House panel approves bills to allow speeding ticket cameras in state road construction zones
- Violators would get a warning for first offense, then fines
- Implementing and maintaining system could cost $1 million
LANSING — Michigan motorists could face traffic fines of up to $300 if cameras catch them repeatedly speeding by more than 10 miles per hour in state road construction zones under legislation advancing in the Capitol.
The “automated speed enforcement system” would be a first for Michigan, which has generally prohibited the use of cameras to issue speeding tickets by requiring police to witness each offense.
The legislation would treat recordings from work zone cameras as evidence, pending a sworn statement from a system operator or police officer who reviewed the footage, which could also be inspected as part of any legal proceeding.
- Michigan Democrats in no rush to prioritize ‘fixing the damn roads’
- Trade group: Michigan’s lousy roads getting lousier, need $3.9B more per year
- Michigan’s local road conditions improved slightly, but projections still bleak
Speeding ticket cameras have proven controversial in other states, and similar bills stalled last year amid opposition from conservative groups like Rescue Michigan, which argued the “Robocop” system could violate privacy rights and “enrich out-of-state corporations.”
But the two-bill package is back on the move in Lansing after winning unanimous approval Tuesday in the House Reform Committee. It’s now headed to the full House for potential votes by summer.
Rep. Will Snyder, D-Muskegon, said the difference this year is the narrower focus on construction zones, state roads and deterrence. He noted the legislation proposes to give motorists a warning before they would face fines — but not any points on their driving record — for subsequent violations.
“This is simply about workers’ safety,” Sndyer, who is sponsoring the measure, told Bridge Michigan after the committee vote.
“I visited a highway construction site last year and cars are flying by at more than 70 mph. I think if more people experienced that they would understand what the intent is."
The package would authorize Michigan State Police and the Department of Transportation to install and use speeding cameras in work zones on highways or other streets under state jurisdiction, with fine revenue offsetting costs that could approach $1 million per year, according to a nonpartisan fiscal analysis.
Supporters say the legislation would help save lives in construction zones, where an average of 14 workers have died each year over the past decade, according to Snyder and fellow sponsoring Rep. Mike Mueller, R-Linden.
“It's not really a Big Brother thing; It's a safety thing.” Mueller said last month in an initial committee hearing on the legislation, addressing surveillance state criticisms that have emerged in other parts of the country with similar systems.
“I know some worry about this expanding to other areas of law enforcement… but that's not the case here,” added Mueller, who previously worked as a road patrol sheriff’s deputy in Livingston County.
“This is really just about giving our road workers and construction workers the ability to live and work in a safer environment.”
The lawmakers say their goal is not simply to raise revenue, noting that a first violation would result only in a written warning from state police. Motorists could be fined up to $150 for a second violation and $300 for any additional offenses.
Those sanctions would only kick in if a motorist is speeding by more than 10 mph on a state road construction zone where workers are present and not protected by a guardrail or other barrier. Under a Tuesday amendment, drivers would have to be warned of the camera system by signage placed 1 mile before the zone.
As of 2022, at least 10 states had authorized similar automated speeding camera systems in work zones, according to research from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Some states or local communities have gone further by using speeding cameras on other roadways, a practice that has proven controversial in some areas because of government revenues or lucrative contracts with private operators.
One Ohio town, for instance, was reportedly contractually obligated to use a private company's speed cameras for at least 100 hours each month and then split revenues with that firm. That company, Blue Line Solutions, has been lobbying for the Michigan legislation advanced Tuesday.
Automated ticket technology has faced pushback in Michigan too. The state Senate last year, operating under Republican control, passed legislation to ban local red light cameras. That bill, which stalled in the House, would have largely codified a 2007 attorney general's opinion requiring police to directly witness an infraction before issuing a fine.
Michigan supporters say they’ve studied best practices in other states to develop a workable system that will improve safety in construction zones, both for workers and police who would no longer need to be present as often.
They point to Maryland, where the state says the rate of motorists traveling more than 12 mph above the speed limit in work zones fell by 80 percent after implementation of an automated ticket system.
“You see almost virtually no repeat offenders,” Lance Binoniemi of the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, told lawmakers in an earlier committee hearing. “This actually works.”
The system has still generated plenty of cash for Maryland, however. Between 2013 and 2016 the state reportedly issued more than 1.3 million citations and earned nearly $54 million in revenue.
The Michigan legislation tasks state agencies with deciding who to buy a camera system from and developing “guidelines for how we move forward," Snyder said.
Under the legislation, any traffic fine revenue would first go to the Michigan Department of Transportation to cover the cost of installing and using the automated speed enforcement system.
Any excess revenue would be placed into a new "work zone safety fund" that the state could use to pay for other traffic control devices in work zones — like barriers — or to increase physical police presence.
State police estimate they'd have to spend about $985,000 for six full-time employees to review recordings and issue warnings or citations. Equipment could cost another $20,000 along with about $5,000 a year in ongoing maintenance costs.
The legislation would require state police to prepare a report five years after implementation detailing the number of citations issued by the camera enforcement system, revenues generated and the cost of installation and use.
"We'll take a look at it after a couple years and see how this has been implemented and what it has done," Snyder told Bridge. In Maryland, he added, "the dramatic reduction of incidents in work zones after implementing a bill like this is quite incredible."
See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:
- “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
- “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
- “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.
If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!