Technology can be a tool of freedom. Communication
advances like the
Internet, for instance, have broken down barriers and
message of democracy around the globe. Unfortunately,
sometimes serve the opposite effect. New technologies
undermine our freedoms and create problems far greater
than those they
are meant to solve.
For years the federal government has spent millions of
promoting photo enforcement systems and helping local
install them. It has also modified regulations and
to accommodate their use. It is astonishing to think
that this has gone
on in the absence of a national debate.
I would like to thank the Chairman for opening the first
on this important topic. I believe that when one
examines fully the
consequences of using red light cameras, it will become
clear that the
devices are more trouble than they are worth.
Cameras and the Constitution
Our judicial system rests on the principle that one is
to be presumed
innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The Bill
of Rights adds
the guarantee that one has the right to face one's
accuser in court as
well as the right to avoid self-incrimination.
Red light cameras violate these judicial principles.
Consider how some
jurisdictions treat camera violations. California
matches up photos
from DMV records to the photograph on the ticket. In
theory, if the
photos are similar, you're guilty. In practice, San
Diego's Court Clerk
testified that many drivers received tickets even though
weren't the one driving. The ticket recipient must
either admit guilt
or become an informant against whoever was driving the
Other jurisdictions don't even bother attempting to
identify the actual
driver. Instead, they automatically presume the owner of
the car is
guilty. Some jurisdictions even treat these tickets as
infractions" like parking tickets, further eliminating
of a fair judicial recourse when one is wrongly accused.
These problems can have serious consequences. In states
points to these traffic infractions, an individual can
lose his license
for offenses he never committed. In addition, cities
rely on the postal
service to serve notice to alleged violators. If their
to get lost in the mail, they could be found in contempt
of court for
ignoring a ticket they never received, and face an
arrest warrant as a
result. These difficulties only arise when the
cornerstones of our
judicial system are ignored.
Red light camera proponents will often respond by saying
that this is a
small price to pay. I disagree. I say that our
technology should adapt
to our Constitution and laws, not the other way around.
(Alaska, Nebraska, New Jersey, Utah, and Wisconsin) have
this dilemma and banned photo enforcement systems.
It's a hidden tax
Armey's axiom is that "The politics of greed always
comes wrapped in
the language of love." In this case, the government says
motive is safety.
In New York a few years ago, police set up what they
called a safety
awareness program outside the Bronx Zoo. The Daily News
described it as
follows: "Hidden behind bushes, the police would roll a
car over a
sensor on the ground, switching on a red light. If cars
drove past the
light, they'd be nailed with a $125 ticket" (NY Daily
9/21/97). With a straight face, the city defended this
program in the
name of safety.
Similarly, the District of Columbia set up a single red
light camera at
a location with a flashing yellow light that would
suddenly turn to
red. Over 20,000 motorists were caught last year at this
location and mailed photo citations. Although the city
the tickets were unfair, they offered no refunds to
those who had
already paid their fine.
That's because the true goal of the program is to bring
in big revenue,
and they have met this goal. The District estimates that
enforcement contract will bring it over $160 million. In
single San Diego intersection camera in was able to
bring in $18.5
million in fines in just 18 months.
These cameras have, in effect, become a hidden tax on
The substantial amount of money involved in red light
has created a conflict of interest that compromises
purpose is to ensure our safety.
Police officers belong on the streets and in the
community, not in
remote control booths. The community is best served when
pulls over a motorist at the scene of the crime.
is far more effective deterrent than a bill that appears
in the mail
weeks after an infraction.
We all lose when officers of the law are reduced to
rubber stamps for
the tickets handed to them by a private corporation. Our
justice is undermined when they are forced to testify in
acts they never witnessed and about machines they do not
Safety engineers are often caught by the same conflict,
and have become
profit engineers. They ignore proven engineering methods
intersection safety, and instead spend their time
identifying the most
lucrative camera locations. The Federal Highway
encourages this behavior by telling cities they should
tragedies at unsafe intersection by holding press
for even more red light cameras.
Cameras are ineffective
The desire to install red light cameras in this country
grow, despite mounting evidence that they are
ineffective. Canada has a
great deal of experience with photo enforcement systems.
ago, the Ontario Premier Mike Harris won his election by
eliminate photo radar. Just last month, British Columbia
Campbell put an end to the province's five-year photo
saying, "Speed cameras have no effect on road safety.
They are nothing
more than a cash cow." Despite numerous studies, the
Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) could not prove
photo-radar program had any direct effect on road
Similarly, there is no hard evidence to show that red
have been effective in this country. Cities often cite
violations" as proof that cameras are effective. But
source. Cities that profit from the devices will only
information that makes their program look good. It's
often written into
their contract that the data about the camera
contract itself—is "proprietary data" that cannot be
released to the
There is no public accountability when such provisions
are in force.
Only when 5,000 pages worth of data was released from a
courtroom did the full picture emerge. The records
released under court
order showed not only that sensors in the pavement were
unfairly entrap motorists but also that cameras have
in reducing accidents. Only about 12 percent of
yellow signal times remained constant showed a decrease
The rest either saw no improvement or an increase in
The data also showed that where the city increased
yellow times at a
few intersections, violations plummeted. Despite the
that this engineering measure increased safety in every
case it has
been tried, San Diego refused to implement this
measure at the rest of the city's intersections. Why
not, if the
concern is truly safety?
There is only one answer to the so-called red light
It's called sound engineering. It's called putting cops
on the beat, in
the midst of our community to do their job. When we turn
traditional duties of law enforcement to an unthinking
machine, we are
all diminished. It's time we re-evaluated the
government's role in
promoting law enforcement by machines that undermine our
system of laws.