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6/21/2017 8:25:40 PM
Posted: 7/4/2001 3:38:14 AM EDT
The Wall Street Journal July 3, 2001 Big Brother's Camera Editorial Tomorrow, as millions of Americans drive to Fourth of July celebrations, many will encounter a worrisome new import from Europe: photo radar traps that automatically send traffic violators a ticket. While such devices could be a useful tool in discerning traffic patterns or dangerous intersections, right now they're little more than Orwellian cash cows. Camera technology has been used for years in countries like England and France to catch those who speed or run red lights. A machine-generated ticket arrives in the mail with a de facto presumption of guilt, and in almost all cases it costs more to go to court than pay the fine. Unlike normal tickets, no points are added to a driver's record. That fact helps give the government's game away: Many of the 50 U.S. cities with traffic cameras appear to be using them as a revenue-raising device with safety concerns taking a back seat. Last year, a notorious camera on Washington's Capitol Hill was shut down after police reluctantly agreed its huge ticket volume made it nothing more than a high-tech trap. San Diego's red-light cameras were shuttered last month after a lawsuit uncovered documents showing the private contractor based almost all its camera placements on the volume of traffic and the length of the yellow waiting time. One intersection was rejected with the notation: "Long yellow, volume not there." A 1998 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that some 80% of red-light violations occur in the first second of red. Safety engineers know how to deal with problem intersections by lengthening the yellow light. It's also possible that rather than fix traffic problems, cameras create a new one. Regular motorists on a road eventually learn where the cameras are, but newcomers don't know. This creates two different reactions to yellow lights or speed limits. Drivers slowing down suddenly can cause those behind them who are ignorant of the cameras to rear-end them. Nonetheless, government officials still insist the cameras are only there for safety reasons. "If Big Brother saves lives," says Florida's Palm Beach County Commissioner Burt Aaronson, "then I'm happy to be Big Brother." But Ontario, the largest Canadian province, scrapped radar speed-cameras in 1995 after Premier Mike Harris said: "We've concluded that photo-radar is a government cash grab." No kidding. Montgomery County, Maryland, has issued 54,000 camera citations since 1999 and county leaders now want to raise the fine for running a red light to $250 from $75. The federal government is also getting into the act. The National Park Service has posted two cameras along the George Washington Parkway in northern Virginia as a prelude to deploying them throughout its 5,000 miles of roads. House Majority Leader Dick Armey says the camera placement violates an executive order requiring a full review of any Park Service action that raises "novel legal or policy issues." Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore also opposes the cameras, and he and Mr. Armey hope to persuade Interior Secretary Gale Norton to drop the idea.
Link Posted: 7/4/2001 3:38:44 AM EDT
It is hard to reconcile traffic camera tickets with a free society. There is no due process and no right to confront your accuser. Imaginative police chiefs are already coming up with new uses for the technology. Tampa, Florida's Ybor entertainment district has 36 mounted cameras that can capture images of up to eight people at a time and compare them with a computer database filled with the facial features of people wanted on active warrants. What's next? Cameras to catch those smoking, using cell phones or not wearing seat belts? We're all for traffic enforcement, but there is a danger that this technology could ultimately be used to monitor the comings and goings of citizens. In addition to marking an appreciation of the freedoms we enjoy, the Fourth of July could also use a little reflection on how to make sure we don't lose any of them. URL for this Article: http://interactive.wsj.com/archive/retrieve.cgi?id=SB994117708160975198.djm
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