Camera vs, Human enforcement

Today we have cameras and radar that can detect and identify cars speeding or running lights or maybe other traffic violations.

These electronic officers are not influenced by a pretty face, a fancy car or some sweet talk. They do the same thing a police officer does, but without bias.

So what is the problem. Is it really because those who object to the electronic officer feel law enforcement is a game and this is cheating, or are they concerned that they will be more likely to be caught speeding or running a red light?

If the speed limit is too low, or if running a red light is OK, then let’s get the law changed.

It sure sounds to me that those who object are only concerned that they may be required to obey the law.

I agree that there are times the law needs to be adjusted. I can remember when many small towns with a highway running through town keep taxes down by writing tickets to out-of-towners. I don’t see that happening often today.

Even though I have been nailed by speed cameras three times (from two to six years ago), I agree with Mr. Meehan. Shame on me for being so exhuberant/careless as to exceed the posted limit. Almost all the anti-camera Letters to the Editor around here have the sense of “they’re trying to take away my right to violate traffic laws.” Some argue that the automated devices are a ‘violation of privacy’ – but, then, are surveillance cameras around, say, banks and shopping areas also a ‘violation of privacy’? Some argue that the automated devices are invalid precisely because there is no human police officer involved – but, then, must recored data from surveilllance cameras also be invalid? And some Luddites argue that it is improper to use “technology” – I guess that means that the human police officers may not use radio communication. Or binoculars. Or any vision correction (LASIK, eyeglasses, …).

They stopped using all the cameras in Minneapolis that were used to capture violators of traffic laws. The arguement was, it wasn’t the driver being ticketed for the violation, it was the vehicle. The vehicle didn’t violate the traffic law, the driver did. So for example, if you borrowed your vehicle to someone and they were caught violating a traffic law with a camera, you got the ticket. Not the person driving the vehicle. So because the vehicle is registered to you it was your responsibilty to pay the fine. Not the actual driver of the vehicle.

A lot a tickets for moving violations that were caught on camera were thrown out of court because of this ruling.


For those who object to these cameras and who apparently would only accept the validity of a ticket given by an actual living, breathing police officer on the scene, here is an interesting point to ponder:

Do you think that there are ever cases of either negative bias or preferential treatment in connection with people receiving tickets or not receiving tickets?

Even if someone is naive enough to believe that police officers–just like other human beings–have no prejudices, or if someone is naive enough to believe that preferential treatment is never given to certain politicians or relatives of police officers, consider the reality that a piece of machinery that reacts to an actual event will not favor anyone or discriminate against anyone. All vehicles that go through a particular intersection on a red light will be ticketed. To me, this seems to be much fairer than relying on possibly flawed motivations for issuing or for not issuing a ticket.

When the goal is clearly demonstrated to be safety and not revenue generation I would consider the cameras. State of AZ dropped the cameras because it was made clear through the minutes of the meetings concerning the cameras that all that was talked about was how much money for the coffers (after paying the camera company) the State would make.

Joe, I agree with you. I am a little concerned when the motivation to use cameras is based on economics instead of public safety. I think that if the selection of intersections to get cameras, or sections of roads to get the speed control cameras is based on a history of accidents, then the cameras can be fully justified. Of the decision is based on economics only, the their used is questionable.

Small towns that get their income from tickets still exist. It was just a couple of years ago that the police chief and one of his two officers in Gallatin, TN were fired for answering a domestic violence call within the towns limits instead of staying on duty up on the highway and writing tickets.

Alex Haley’s hometown of Henning, TN just expanded their city limits to Highway 51, lowered the speed limit along that stretch and keep a couple of Henning cops posted on the highway, usually one is writing a ticket at any given time.

JEM, your thread would make sense in an ideal world. As it is, it is ignorant of the way the world actually works.

People speed. Granted, not all of them, but the majority. Municipalities already account for this fact when they set the Posted Speed Limit: if they want to keep all traffic < 35, they’ll set the PSL to 25. In much the same way it’d be a better world if the gratuity was actually included in the cost of the meal, it’d be a better world if the PSL could actually be the fastest safe speed. (Neither which, BTW, are liable to change anytime soon).

So, we had a system at equlibrium: people speed; speed limits take that behavior into account. The most flagrant speeders were ticketed, but manpower limitations prevented regularly going after all but the most egregious offenders.

Automated ticketing takes that equilibrium and throws it out of whack. The marginal cost of ticketing a motorist is now so low that a municiplity can go after ANY speeding car (which, we’ve demonstrated, is the majority of them).

So, what will the new equilibrium be? Will the majority of motorists stop speeding? If so, will the PSL actually be changed to reflect that fact? Dunno, but automated enforcement throws a working (if sub-optimal) system out of whack, and for that, I oppose it.

I don’t run red lights and I’m happy to see people who do receive tickets. However, it is a very very dangerous thing in a democracy, when a company sells an enforcement tool to the government and then shares in the fines. How is that different than if they supplied a squad car and rent-a-cop to hand out tickets and share in the fines?

Secondly, if you are having a lot of accidents at an intersection with a traffic light, maybe the timing or use of traffic lights should be re-evaluated. They aren’t referred to as “go lights” are they? I’ve heard reports from traffic engineers that installing lights actually increase accidents at bad intersections.

People are so quick to give away their freedoms for the interest of law enforcement until it is too late. Same thing for all the thousands of security cameras everywhere watching everything everybody does.


I would wholeheartedly agree with you if things were indeed just black and white.
However, as many things in life, they are not so simple.

Here in my city- a suburb of Dallas-Ft Worth, I drive through 3 intersections that have in the past year received red light cameras. I have been driving through these intersections AT LEAST twice daily-to and from work, for the past 17 years. I know these intersections and their timing quite well, I can say. Well, ever since the RLC have been installed, the timing of the yellow has been markedly reduced. So much so, that these days, one has to literally slam on the brakes, once yellow turns on, otherwise you’re going to catch the red light and the ticket. There have been 9 major rear-end crashes since the cameras were installed, and that is only of what I personally am aware of. I would prefer to have the latitude of deciding that IF I feel that I cannot stop safely at an intersection, I could speed through catching only the very beggining or red. This without any negative effects on my or others’ safety, and the alternative of being forced to slam on the brakes, risking being rear-ended, or ending up stoped in the middle of the intersection.

I would have absolutely no problem with RLCs, if they were implemented fairly. But when the deck is stacked against you, you will lose every time. If they trully wanted to reduce the accidents at those intersections, as many times this is cited as the main reason for installing them, they could have easilly increased the timing for the yellow by less than 1 second. That alone would result in a lot less red light runners, and a lot less accidents overall, than just installation of the RLC.

My point is that unfortunatelly, IMHO in the vast majority of cases, law enforcement is not the main reason for RLC. Raising revenue for the local municipality is.

Also, I need to mention that I am not a reckless driver- I’ve had my license for 26 years, and haven’t had an accident or ticket in the past 21.

I oppose the cameras simply because one of your rights in court is to be able to face and question your accusers. You can’t do that with a picture. I know some will say that they have a picture, you can’t deny you did it. But still if I have the right to question the accuser than there has to be an accuser. So that right would have to be changed. And there may have been mitigating circumstamces, ie just moving up to avoid being rear ended, emergency vehicle pulling up, or just plain did stop but didn’t stop soon enough. And thats just for the stop light cams. But list list could go on. Also the “who was really driving?” question. We have 3 cars and 5 drivers in my household.

The notion that law enforcement in general, from the beat cop all the way up to the DA, are some sort of impartial instrument that dispassionately enforces laws passed by the legislature is false. In practice, laws act like tools that law enforcement can use to maintain public order, and they routinely use their judgment to choose whether or not to enforce a particular law in general or in a particular situation. The libertarian ethos of “one’s rights extend as far as they impinge on another’s” has to a certain extent been internalized in this country and so in general, we expect laws only to be enforced if the subject of the laws are causing some harm or risk to someone else. Speed cameras, and speed enforcement based only on the consideration of the numerical rate of speed you’re traveling in general, is very much contrary to this tradition of law enforcement in the USA.

Furthermore, the argument that the only possible objection you could have to traffic cameras is that they prevent you from breaking traffic laws sounds dangerously close to the argument that we shouldn’t care about government surveillance unless you’ve got something to hide. We don’t always realize how much of our liberty really does come from a lack of a comprehensive police system. Just think of how many little laws you break every day and what your life would be like if there were equivalents to traffic cameras in place that would punish you for each and every infraction.

I’m not dead-set against traffic cameras in all cases (they’re unconstitutional in my state, so to me it’s a moot point), but I certainly understand the objections to them and I think that the authorities need to be a little sensitive about where they place them and how they use them so they don’t have the appearance of just being revenue-gathering ploys.

The arguement was, it wasn’t the driver being ticketed for the violation, it was the vehicle.

Good point.

I have often thought that anyone caught driving drunk, should forfeit the car.

It would sure reduce the number of drunk drivers. It might be a little harsh for a red light, but somehow, I feel that it might be good for the owner of the car to know how the person they loaned their car to has been driving it. Same for the drunk driver.

It may take some more thought but overall I believe it is a step in the right direction.

I sure would like to know how someone who borrowed my car had been driving it.

A speed camera in Florida once clocked a palm tree doing 90.

That alone is enough to call into question the accuracy of the devices.

Red light cameras are generally not deployed by governments. They are deployed by private, for-profit corporations who give a cut of their earnings to the city government. Law enforcement by a corporation that stands to profit off of claiming that people have broken the law is an inherent conflict of interest and should not be allowed.

There have already been numerous documented cases of red light cameras being deployed, while the timing of the yellow light at the install site is reduced in order to catch drivers who think they have sufficient time to get through the light before it turns red, and profit off of them.

Red light cameras are also known to tag people as running the red because they stopped slightly over the white line. No cop would ticket you for this, but you’ve encroached on the camera’s sensor, and so you get a ticket.

These cameras are not about law enforcement or safety. They are about profit for private industry.

Finally, we have the right in this country to face and question our accusers in court. I can’t ask a camera questions, and therefore that right is being denied to me when a red light or speed camera is used to ticket me.

JEM, your thread would make sense in an ideal world

You make some good sense. But let’s not through out the baby with the bath water.

I oppose the cameras simply because one of your rights in court is to be able to face and question your accusers.

I believe in this case you do have (or could have) that right. In this case you get to question the accuracy of the machine’s measurement and identification. The machine may error, but it will not try to cover up it’s error.

I agree with your comments on the sharing of fines and third party partners. They should be addressed.

reminds me of a video I seen awhile back on youtube. there was a farm tractor going down the road and a motorcycle comes zooming up behind it then goes around. There was a speed camera there and it clocked the farm tractor at like 300 kph.

Yes, the car (owner) gets the ticket, not the driver. BUT the owner of the car gets no “points” toward suspension/revocation of driver’s license, at least in my state. It’s sort of like being responsible for the damage when a borrower hits something with your car – the owner is liable, not the driver. Maybe the owner could make the driver legally responsible for the owner’s loss. In either case – property damage or camera violations – it encourages the owner to be careful about who uses the car.

(We have a busy neighborhood intersection near me, with lots of pedestrian traffic. All vehicle traffic is stopped for the “Walk” light; three ways have “no right turn on red”; and the fourth way has an electric “no right turn on red” when “walk” is on. All the red lights nad “no turns” are routinely violated, either deliberately or obliviously. I would LOVE to see some cameras there. I’m afraid it will take a major pedestrian accident. The community has already had one kid killed trying to cross up the block from the intersection.)

Car and Driver Magazine did an article a few years ago on Red Light Cameras and the companies that sell them and the conclusion was that the companies promise lucrative revenue streams for the municipalities and then when those revenues don’t materialize, tell the towns that they have to shorten the yellow lights, catching drivers unaware who were familiar with the previous timing and giving them tickets. Said drivers then seeing there next yellow light then slam on their brakes immediately then getting rear ended by someone.

“the timing of the yellow has been markedly reduced. So much so, that these days, one has to literally slam on the brakes”

I live in AZ and this is the same thing here. You’re decision changes to: should I go and be safe and risk a ticket, or slam on the breaks and risk an accident. I have less issues with the cameras on the highway; there is an 11mph leeway. However; it is inconvienent/dangerous when everyone is driving 70 (65 zone) and then they see a camera and slam on the breaks and slow down to like 55 just to “be safe.” I don’t know any figures but I am curious how many accidents the cameras have caused as opposed to how many they have prevented.