“The policemen on duty ... have instantaneous Kodaks mounted on tripods, which show the position of any carriage at half- and quarter-second intervals, by which it is easy to ascertain the exact speed …” From “A Journey in Other Worlds,” by John Jacob Astor IV, published in 1894.

Science fiction has given rise to some ideas that are now reality — 3D printers and video calls come to mind. Much of it, however, has proven either too fanciful, expensive or just plain strange. Astor, writer of the 19th-century novel excerpted above, imagined life in 2000. Among many other things, he described a company with futuristic technology to adjust the Earth’s axial tilt, and a dam in the Arctic Ocean.

Those may be a bit beyond our capability, even today. But photocop, the “instantaneous Kodaks” he invented for his book … well … Utah ought to reconsider them as part of its future.

Only, this time, the discussion should have a sense of urgency to it.

Utah lawmakers emphatically rejected the idea many years ago, burying it under fears of violating the Constitution. Those went something like this: Cameras that record you speeding and send you a ticket in the mail would rob you of the chance to face your accuser. They may be inaccurate or fudged to enhance police revenues. If your spouse, not you, was driving when the photo was taken, you may be forced to testify against him or her.

As a result, Utah law now forbids them in all but school zones and on roads with a 30 mph or less speed limit. Oh, and a uniformed police officer must be present along with the camera — a requirement that has effectively kept the cameras off the streets.

But that law was written before drivers started tearing down the road like hordes of Flash Gordons, or like NASCAR drivers in search of a checkered flag.

We need that sense of urgency in rethinking this law.

This week, the Utah Highway Patrol released figures that show a disturbing increase in citations given for driving more than 100 mph, from 3,308 in 2018 to 4,697 in 2021. The number was a bit higher in 2020, during the roughest part of the pandemic, but UHP says this year, so far, the state is on track to exceed last year’s total.

From what I’ve seen on highways recently, I can attest that a lot more people are driving recklessly than are being caught.

In the most recent regular session of the Utah Legislature, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, sponsored a bill that would have expanded the allowable uses of photocop. A local highway authority’s governing body would have had the authority to allow it, so long as a sign was posted on the highway providing fair warning to motorists. An officer would not have had to be present, except in school zones. Photocop would also have been allowed for red light enforcement. Contracts, numbers of fines and other information connected to photocop would have been public information readily available for inspection.

As in many states that allow this technology, Stevenson’s bill would have specified that the citations photocop generated would not count against a person’s driving record.

The bill failed to gain traction, but Stevenson told me he’s likely to try again. I hope so.

Stevenson remembers many years ago, before lawmakers curtailed photocop, when he was mayor of Layton. His city used the cameras along Highway 89, and he said it reduced the number of speeders.  

Studies back this up. Citing a number of these, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said, “The best-controlled studies suggest injury crash reductions are likely to be in the range of 20% to 25% at conspicuous, fixed camera sites.”

Stevenson said the technology would work best if local governments have control. “Lines are drawn best if every community can draw them,” he said. He said the objections people raise seem to disappear when a loved one is hurt or killed by a speeding driver.

And that’s the point. The carnage needlessly imposed on Utahns, including by someone who allegedly killed two young boys this week in Eagle Mountain while going more than 100 mph, is outrageous. 

Modern technology may not be able to alter the earth’s axial tilt, but if “instantaneous Kodaks” — a 19th-century idea — can save lives in the 21st century, it’s time to use them.