A sign warning drivers of a speed camera ahead
Simon McGill / Getty Images

Portland transportation officials are celebrating the passage of a bill that removes administrative barriers for processing speed camera photos. The bill will allow Portland leaders to increase automated speed limit enforcement in an effort to curb record high traffic deaths.

"We are grateful to the legislature for giving us more flexibility to expand our speed safety cameras program and save lives on Portland streets,” said Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who collaborated with legislators to craft the bill. “These cameras are an important tool for safety, and they are needed now more than ever.”

Traffic deaths in Portland have been steadily rising since 2010. In 2021, 63 Portlanders died in traffic crashes, the highest number of yearly traffic fatalities recorded in over 30 years. Transportation officials and street safety advocates attribute the increase in deaths to an interconnected array of issues, including street design, driver behavior, lack of traffic enforcement, and other social issues like Portland’s housing crisis.

Hardesty, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), has worked with PBOT to distribute traffic calming orange barrels, remove parking near intersections to increase pedestrian visibility, and invest in pedestrian safety infrastructure on deadly roads like 82nd Avenue. However, slowing speeding drivers continues to be a challenge in Portland. House Bill 4105 gives transportation officials another tool to crack down on speeding.

Oregon law requires sworn police officers to review photos from speed cameras—traffic cameras that automatically take a photo when a driver is exceeding the speed limit—before issuing citations. This requirement has prevented the city from adding more speed cameras, due to a lack of officers available to review the photos. House Bill 4105, which is currently awaiting Governor Kate Brown’s signature, changes the law to allow trained city employees to review camera photos and issue citations to drivers caught speeding, paving the way for the city to add more speed cameras.

“These well-trained officers are reviewing photos—they’re not on the streets, they’re simply sitting behind a computer and being paid overtime to just check for accuracy [of the photos],” said Representative Jeff Reardon, a co-sponsor of the bill, in a legislative hearing. “This is a cost effective program that saves lives. We should look to keep costs low, put our officers to work doing more good for the community, and let the city save on cost and training by having city staff carry out this work.”

Portland’s existing 18 red light and speed cameras have proven effective in reducing crashes and speeding in the surrounding areas. According to PBOT data, intersections with red light cameras saw a 50 percent decrease in vehicle crashes. Roads with speed cameras triggered a 71 percent decrease in speeding overall and a 94 percent decrease in drivers exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 miles per hour.

According to PBOT’s traffic safety manager Dana Dickman, the bill will allow the city to add an estimated 22 speed cameras on Portland’s most dangerous roads. The cameras will be placed throughout the city’s high-crash network—busy traffic corridors that make up about 8 percent of Portland’s roads but account for 57 percent of the city’s fatal crashes.

During legislative hearings on the bill, some representatives raised concerns about equity within speed camera enforcement. About half of Portland’s high-crash corridors are east of 82nd Avenue where a higher density of low income people and Portlanders of color live. While placing the cameras on those east Portland streets would target some of the city's most dangerous roads, it could also disproportionately punish Portlanders of color and low income people who have already been subject to gentrification and street infrastructure that enables speeding.

According to Dickman, the cameras will be placed throughout the city, not just on the high-crash corridors in east Portland.

“We are concerned with not overburdening any one neighborhood,” Dickman told legislators. Specific camera locations have not been announced.

Hardesty also assured lawmakers that the city does not see an increase in speed cameras as a way to raise more money for the city. The fees collected from the speeding citations will fund the speed camera program’s administration costs and any additional revenue is required to be invested in traffic safety projects.

"This action by the legislature is a big win for safety," said PBOT Director Chris Warner. "With this bill, the legislature allows us to operate our cameras program more efficiently. This will help us bring these safety improvements to more of the city's most dangerous streets."