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Front Page » November 21, 2006 » Opinion » Electronic speed signs could backfire
Published 2,811 days ago

Electronic speed signs could backfire


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

A few months ago I was driving down 500 East and about 3900 South in Salt Lake and I noticed that they have installed permanent electronic speed measurement signs on that street.

These signs are similar to the speed sign trailers that various agencies in eastern Utah have except they are built right in below the pole where the speed limit signs are posted. The radar picks up each vehicle as it passes and then if that car is going over the speed limit by more that two miles per hour a lit up display below the speed limit sign flashes the offending numbers like crazy to get the drivers attention.

While I think this is a good way to remind people about speed limits without being draconian, like the speed photo cameras that take the vehicles picture and then generate a citation that is sent to the owner in the mail, these machines can still get really irritating.

Since then I have seen more of these kinds of signs going up. I am sure it changes the overall speed of vehicles on those streets, because it reminds us we are going too fast much more gently than red lights in our rear view mirror and a ticket in our hands that we have to send with money in the mail to a court.

But let's hope public safety officials don't get too carried away with this idea. I could see communities getting federal grants to install these devices all over their towns. I think they are good for problem areas, like the one UDOT has placed in the Red Narrows section of Spanish Fork Canyon and the one near the Tucker rest stop just before the climb up the grade to Soldiers Summit. But too many of them could be overkill and there could also be a backlash against them as well.

After all, there is some consternation in having a machine or electronic device tell you you are doing something wrong.

Sure, most of us are used to that. If you use a computer, that happens a lot. Sometimes we want to take the heaviest object in the immediate area and bash in the screen over some of the things computers tell us, but most of us restrain ourselves.

And what about those irritating seat-belt warnings. I recently bought my wife a new car that tells the vehicles occupants, with a very loud beeper and a flashing light, whether the people seated in the vehicle are buckled up or not. I guess that is less irritating than a car a friend of mine had that had a voice that told him he wasn't buckled in when he was driving though. After awhile that voice moved from being pleasant and seemed to get a sneer in it if you didn't put on your seat-belt. He told me once if he could find the person who recorded that for the car company he would be in prison for murder.

But getting back to the speed warning signs, I think they are a good idea in areas where people come off much higher speed streets and then have to drive in areas like residential neighborhoods. However, after driving up and down that street where I first saw them a few times, I began to test the limits of the sign. I began to wonder how fast I could go without it blinking at me. Then I wondered how many cars it could measure without getting mixed up about which was which. I found myself parked a few blocks away on the side of the road waiting for a gaggle of cars to come by and then I'd jump in right behind them, just to see if it could catch me.

I have also wondered if they measure excessive speed of a vehicle going backwards. No, I haven't tried that one yet.

I also, at times, would go about 25 mph as I approached the sign (it is a 30 mph zone) and then would jump on the accelerator and get it up to 35 just before the sign to see if it could catch me. Doing that was a lot like when I was a kid and the light switch was by my bed. I'd flip the switch off as I jumped into bed just to see if I landed before the light went off. The light in the room always won. I found out the flashing speed sign does too.

That's the problem with electronic devices that are there for ours and others safety. It's that we either develop a backlash against such mechanistic surveillance or our tendency to gamble takes over.

Either way, all I am asking that if our towns in our area decide to install these kinds of devices, please keep them at the minimum.

Otherwise idiots like me will just find them to be an amusing attraction rather than a warning device.


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