Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The real question on red light and speed cameras

It's no secret that I am opposed to red-light and speed cameras. Any time I write about it or talk about it on the radio, I am inundated with comments from people who argue the point that if you are not breaking the law, you have nothing to worry about when it comes to these instruments.

So I wanted to clarify - my issue with these cameras is NOT whether or not people who break the law (either speeding or running a red light) deserve to be caught and 'punished' for doing so.

My issue is the method by which we are enforcing our traffic laws.

We all agree that people should not speed and should not run red lights - and that they should operate their vehicles in such a manner to avoid being in violation of these and other traffic laws.

I do not believe these cameras were instituted for the 'safety' of the intersections, as claimed, especially with the city citing decreased revenues from camera violations as one of the reasons why we're facing a budget deficit in Toledo, as well as other methods that can increase safety without presenting such issues (like longer yellow lights and 'all red' times).

In the United States, you have a presumption of innocence. The prosecution in a case has to prove, in a open court to a jury (if you so choose), that you are guilty of the violation under which you have been accused. With the rules for Toledo's red light and speed cameras, the owner of the car is presumed guilty. Furthermore, your only defense to the accusation is to name someone else as the guilty party. Additionally, in Toledo, the hearings are not open to the public.

We should rightly question the objectivity of a hearing system whereby the recipient of the fines controls the hiring of the hearing officer, the contract for the instruments, the access to the evidence, and then refuses to allow the public to observe.

For those who see nothing wrong with such a set-up, I must ask: should the city be able to do the same with a photograph of a get-away car in a bank robbery? We all agree that the person shouldn't be robbing a bank or helping with robbing a bank. But would you support a system that presumes the guilt of the owner of a vehicle based upon such a photograph? Would you support a presumption of guilt for that person with the only defense being to name the driver if it wasn't the accused? Would you support imposing the penalty for such a crime without a court hearing that was open to the public?

This is the battle that is being waged over the traffic enforcement cameras - it's the process, not whether or not running a red light or speeding through an intersection is a bad thing.

The real question is this: should cities be able to avoid the due process rights of accused violators of a law just so they can increase the revenue to their coffers? And if you say 'yes' to this for traffic cameras, what's next?


Tim Higgins said...


There is an additional question here, and that has to do with the cameras themselves. Set up to monitor red light violations, they soon had speed violations added. What next?

Your point on the process is a strong one and well worth our attention and consideration. I ask additionally: What level of government monitoring, no matter how altruistic the motives given, are we willing to permit?

Roman said...

Red light cameras are not as much about enforcement as revenue enhancement. No points against anyone's license, just a fine. It is usually too much trouble to fight the ticket, so the path of least resistance is to pay it. It is easy to argue that the person should not be breaking the law, but again, the lack of due process, lack of ability to confront your accuser, etc is still there. I'm not a lawyer, but do watch some being played on TV, and have come up with what I consider to be enough problems with red light cameras to do away with them!

L.E. said...

Toledoans need to get with COAST and get an Anti-Camera Voter Referendum on the ballot. Steubenville did it and is 'camera-free' and Cincinnati recently passed their referendum and will soon be 'sans cameras'.

Chuck Greer said...

Maggie, your point about the bank robbery is great...who would feel safe knowing it could be anyone driving their (stolen) car in a get-a-way? I drive on the Trail and through other red light cameras often, and their impact on the traffic flow is not safe (I am a registered P.E. in Civil Engineering so I know a bit about traffic engineering). People slow down to make sure they are not speeding, and slam on the brakes the instant they see the yellow light. This folly is all about the dollars. I would vote for the first person who would pledge to take a cutting torch to these monsters.

dusty said...

I don't have a problem with the red light cameras. I can't help but laugh when I watch cars slow down before cameraed intersections only to speed back up once past the camera.

My problem is this: red light cameras may provide easy income to the city, however they do not have the same impact on traffic violaters that a ticket provided by a police officer would have. Dollars we are collecting from camera tickets are being spent to clean up accidents elsewhere.

Points against a drivers license can be very costly to traffic offenders because their insurance increases. I believe this would force many to obey traffic laws.

If the City of Toledo was serious about controling traffic it would appoint several officers to do nothing but pass out traffic tickets all day long. I can't help but believe such a program would pay for it's self. Not only in collecting funds, but reducing traffic accidents and injuries.

Peoople in Toledo drive like morons. Why? Because they Know traffic law are not enforced by our police department.

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