By Jordana Timerman, October 28, 2013
Call it the case of the phantom speed signs: Angry citizens of Lima, Peru, have reported receiving speed-camera tickets with images showing their cars blasting past a posted speed limit sign, but upon revisiting the scene of the supposed crime, they find no such sign.
A photo of an actual street in Lima, Peru (left). On the right, a speed camera ticket photo that includes the "missing" street sign.
Drivers in the city are overwhelmingly outraged. One Facebook page on the subject has nearly 45,000 likes; investigative reporters are combing the streets for evidence of fraud. Even the government is stepping up — in early October, the National Ministry of the Interior suspended all photo tickets, and local authorities pledged to re-examine all 115,007 speed camera tickets issued this year.
In the latest response to the uproar, the Lima Tax Administration Service announced last week that it would revoke over 17,000 speeding tickets – 15 percent – because on at least 14 streets, the speed limits listed on signs are incorrect. But evidence and explanations for what's really happening are still hard to come by. In one example, a national newspaper reported that 4,463 tickets were issued this year on a street where a posted sign stated a speed limit of 35 km per hour. However, according to tax authorities, the limit on that street is 30 km per hour. On the day the article was published, the signs vanished from the street.
Officials maintain the government is not behind the "missing" signs, suggesting instead that vandals are responsible. As for the incorrect signs, some local officials are pointing fingers at a previous municipal administration (now accused of corruption).
The public, however, has largely blamed the current government, suggesting a ploy to fill official coffers. Just before last week's tax office ruling, a poll estimated just 25 percent of the city's residents believed speed cameras are put in place to prevent traffic accidents. Sixty-eight percent believe that they're meant to "raise money for the police and the municipalities [of greater Lima]." The national comptroller has jumped on the bandwagon, announcing an investigation into what the ticket money is used for.
All the bickering among authorities hasn't done much to soothe irate drivers. Some outraged citizens would like to see the tickets programmed with more leeway for small errors on the cameras' speed detection or on cars' speedometers.In a city with 51,000 traffic collisions per year, which lead to an average of over a thousand deaths and 8,000 serious injuries, controlling car speed seems a reasonable priority. But as officials wade their way out of a mess of canceled tickets, mislabeled speed limits and uncoordinated bureaucracy, one question remains: who is really to blame?