Opinion

Cameras force drivers to focus on driving | Andy Hobbs

If speed limits are meant to be broken, then Federal Way may have found a fix. New speed enforcement cameras began flashing away on 1st Avenue South near Panther Lake Elementary. The cameras will undergo a 30-day test period before issuing real photo tickets, by mail, starting Jan. 7.

Last week, I was initially caught off-guard by the markedly slower pace of traffic along that stretch of road, which is a pedestrian’s nightmare. Down the street, a lighted crosswalk signal in front of the Federal Way Regional Library usually fails to temper the runaway tendencies of drivers on 1st Avenue South. Motorcycle cops catch one speeder after another. A couple of years ago, I watched as city traffic engineers tested that crosswalk signal. They walked with caution in their neon vests, pausing halfway across the road to ensure the oncoming cars stopped. Many of the motorists came to a sudden halt, similar to how they might have slammed on the brakes had a ball rolled across the road.

The blizzard of flashes coming from these new cameras, just in the short time I was passing through, is proof that the road needs the cameras. Will they make money for the city? Yes. Will they increase safety in this school zone? Yes. Will they persuade drivers to take it easy on 1st Avenue South, regardless of whether school is in session? Most likely, yes.

Sometimes it takes a ticket, or a collision, to curb our deviant driving habits. Last summer, while waiting at the stoplight in front of Panther Lake Elementary, I was rear-ended by a driver who was likely distracted by her cell phone. Her excuse that “the brakes went out” seemed far-fetched. The impact knocked the wind out of me, and by the time I came to my senses, South King Fire and Rescue crews were on the scene. I drove away with a sore back and a pending insurance settlement. The other driver was OK as she climbed out of her crumpled sedan. The incident was similar to the first and only collision I had experienced. Almost 10 years before, while driving the main drag of a college campus, I was people-watching and fidgeting with the radio. I saw the green light up ahead, looked away for a second, then slammed into a stopped car. The impact knocked that car into the next car, and the force popped the watch off my wrist. I couldn’t have been driving faster than 20 mph, and my clunker was totaled.

The moral of this anecdote: It took a minor accident to inspire safer driving through that area. Would speed enforcement cameras have prevented last summer’s collision on 1st Avenue South? It’s hard to say, especially for drivers who don’t regularly travel that road. Despite the frustration that comes with a speeding ticket, these cameras force drivers to pay more attention to driving. That benefits everyone.

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