Almost everybody has at least a trace of superstition in them. I won’t hesitate to walk under a ladder, and I’m not going to change direction for a black cat, but some things do give me pause. I’ve been hesitating to say something important here because sometimes Karma is out to get us, waiting out there for the perfect chance to strike us down. It seems as if the majority of people who complain about the unfairness of red light and speed cameras come from the ranks of ticket victims. And somehow I know that the moment I come out in favor of cities retaining the right to use red light and speed cameras, I’ll learn how it feels to join the fraternity of the damned. On the other hand, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. So, face it. Red light and speed cameras are a useful safety tool, and all the excuses people use to argue against them are just that– excuses.
Excuse number one: “The real purpose of these cameras is to raise money.” Assume for a minute that those critics could be right. Possibly, some cities could be doing this with the primary purpose of raising money. Nobody can prove it one way or the other, and it makes a useful diversion when you’ve been caught speeding or running a red light. On the other hand, if the accusation were true, why is it a problem? Is that a bad thing? Cities need the money, and this is an efficient way to pay for the services we say we need and yet can’t afford. Of course the income will be useful when it comes time to pay for public services, and the fact that my property taxes might not go up doesn’t make me unhappy. It’s kind of like a user tax for driving like an idiot. Only people who flout the law need to be concerned. For most of us, it’s a form of tax relief.
And, before we move on from the topic of traffic control as a fund-raiser, let’s not forget that the same people who claim cities are using the cameras primarily for the money have the responsibility of supporting their assertion. Trying to put officials on the defensive, insisting that cities prove they really don’t care about paying for their own public services is disingenuous. You can’t prove a negative, and city officials needn’t feel obligated to convince the public that speed cameras aren’t intended to steal their cash. It’s impossible to prove that city officials care only about the money. And it’s just as impossible to prove that they don’t care about the money, so the only solution is to stop being so hung up on that issue, and discuss aspects that are supportable.
Excuse number two: “Red light cameras cause rear end collisions when drivers slam on the brakes to avoid a ticket.” I’ve seen studies supporting that accusation, and I’ve seen studies refuting the same accusation. It looks like a very good example of the fact that we don’t usually look at the facts and then arrive at a conclusion— what we more often do is decide what we feel is true, and then search for facts that might support us. In this case, red light camera detractors need to look further. My gut tells me that if you rear-end somebody who stops quickly for a yellow or red light, maybe you were following too closely. How often have you been distracted by some idiot tailgating you? The solution to tailgating is not to encourage drivers to go through yellow lights. That makes no sense. If you are concerned about the car in front of you stopping too quickly, back off.
The same people claim that speed cameras cause drivers to act unpredictably when they see “photo enforced” signs and enter speed zones. I’ll admit it’s entertaining to watch people slow from 15 mph over the limit to 2 mph under the limit, but that’s not unpredictable– only amusing. Particularly since most jurisdictions won’t issue a ticket until a speeder is going at least 11-15 mph over the limit. These are the same hypocrites who slam on the brakes when they see a highway patrol car, then speed up again a couple of miles later.
Excuse number three: “We are already losing too many of our freedoms, and they are turning this into a police state.” What freedom? The freedom to ignore the law? The freedom to do anything we want, no matter who might get hurt? It seems like a lot of the protesters are the same people who complain when they get stopped by a patrol officer, “Why aren’t you out catching real criminals?” Well, this technology makes it possible to use those same officers for other duties. And a side benefit might be to take the question of human error out of the equation. The last time I got a speeding ticket I was driving at a radar timed 45 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone. It was 12:30am on a city thoroughfare. I was on the way home from the hospital after working an evening shift, and one of the patients had coded that night. I was, without a doubt, a distracted driver and, in hindsight, needed the reminder that other people had a right to a safe roadway. At the time, I didn’t see it that way. It’s human nature to make excuses— What was that cop doing hiding on a dark side street; why wasn’t he out checking the bars? Wasn’t I only 10 mph over the limit? Couldn’t he have at least listened to my story? Maybe given me a tiny break? All understandable questions, but, in the end the only question that mattered was the young cop’s “Were you speeding?” And the answer was obvious. It applied to me, and it applies to those caught by traffic cameras. If you’re speeding, don’t cry about it when you get caught.
How do you feel about it? I feel strongly that the cameras are more than justified, but I’d really love to hear some well thought out, honest, intelligent counter-arguments. But please, no questions like “How much of a police state are we going to put up with?” That’s not intelligent, that’s not honest, and it’s certainly not well thought out.