Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Case Against Red Light Cameras

Municipalities all across the nation have installed traffic cameras that issue citations to folks who run red lights or, in some instances citations for excessive speed. Traffic citations are issued under the flawed logic that a police officer reviews each photograph which somehow satisfies the law’s demand for a competent witness.

I want you to think for a moment about how important witnesses are in the American justice system. If you went to court for a traffic ticket issued by a police officer the officer would have to satisfy the demands of a system which presumes innocence rather than guilt until such time as evidence gathered in the court room is presented and a verdict is reached either by a judge or jury.

Sometime during the trial there would be an opportunity to ask the officer questions which determine his/her vantage point. “Officer, at the time of the alleged incident, where were you positioned?” The answer to this question ascertains whether he/she was able to see the color of the light prior to any vehicle entering the intersection and sets the stage for validating the light system was operating properly, that no extenuating circumstances were in play at the time of the incident and also includes an opportunity to establish the officer’s experience regarding traffic violations.

In the case of traffic camera issued citations the officer’s answer would have to be, “I was across town sitting at a desk and never observed the alleged violation. I did; however, get to look at a snapshot taken the night before by a camera which I’m told is accurate and never makes mistakes. The photograph clearly showed a vehicle, its license plate issued to the defendant, entered the intersection after the light changed red.”

“Officer; can you tell me who was driving the vehicle, what traffic conditions were or anything the driver may have said immediately after the alleged violation?”

“As I stated a moment ago, I wasn’t actually present at the time of the alleged violation. The photograph only showed what kind of vehicle entered the intersection a moment after the light changed along with a clear image of that vehicle’s license plate. The camera system isn’t capable of recording the information you asked for.”

“Thank you for your honesty, Officer. No further questions.”

For lack of evidence the ticket would have to be dismissed because our system is based on the assumption that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. To prove anyone guilty there has to be a competent witness to offer testimony. Mechanical devices, regardless of how efficiently they operate are incapable of being witnesses and yet; and this is the heart of the case against the use of traffic camera citations, part of the so called validation for use of mechanical devices is that each and every photograph is reviewed by a certified police officer. Can you say “male bovine excrement”?

Next Tuesday folks in Houston are supposed to vote on Proposition 3, a chance to approve the use of Red Light Traffic Ticket Cameras which are already in use. I’ve heard radio spots paid for by a group in favor of this measure with support from doctors, police officers and firefighters all claiming that such enforcement techniques save lives.

I’m a retired Houston Police officer and consider folks who run red lights to be some of the most dangerous drivers on the road. Writing a traffic ticket for running a red light was very satisfying; however, I knew the case had to be adjudicated properly and my testimony would be required in court. I kept good notes and was able to answer all the questions raised above; justice was properly served by following accepted basic principles.

Here’s a more important consideration; under our constitutional form of government, can an individual’s right to a fair trial be voted away by popular vote? If you answer anything but an emphatic “NO!” then our country is in more trouble than you are aware. If we’d sell our souls for the price of a red light camera fine, what else would we toss in the toilet?

I rest my case.

Photograph is courtesy of The Texas Highwayman .

This article has been cross posted to The Moral Liberal , a publication whose banner reads, “Defending The Judeo-Christian Ethic, Limited Government, & The American Constitution”.


Jahn said...

Not just "NO", but "HELL, NO!".

It's all to easy to rig the traffic lights so that the yellow light doesn't last long enough for traffic to clear the intersection before the light goes red.


Antoine said...

Actually Jahn, this former police officer will be able to tell you that the length of the yellow light is set by the state of Texas. And this opinion is extremely flawed - I suppose we should throw out all surveillance tapes too because, you know, a police officer didn't witness it happening. Give me a break, there is a witness for every red light runner, we just don't hold them all up and waste their time.

You said so yourself, running red lights is terrible - people deserve much worse than a measly $75 fine and I vote FOR Prop 3.

T. F. Stern said...

Jahn, I read a study which showed that adding 1 second more of yellow to a traffic light system cut down red lights far more than red light cameras; but you won't hear that from the greedy folks looking to fill the treasury.

T. F. Stern said...

Antoine, "Give me a break, there is a witness for every red light runner, we just don't hold them all up and waste their time."

This is the attitude which will put America in the same boat with all the third world tyrants. Without a witness who can stand up, put his/her arm to the square and testify as to what he/she observed you have no witness and you have no case. If we sink back to a time when no witness is needed then civilization hasn't learned from the past.

An accused person has the right to cross examine witnesses. Surveillance tapes are fine as long as there is a human witness to what has transpired; that human can be a witness whereas the tapes alone cannot. If you can't see the difference I feel sorry for you.

Logan said...

I know from personal experience that in Houston the red light cameras do not simply take a picture. They are constantly recording video and when a red light runner triggers the light 10 seconds of video are logged with the incident. That is, five seconds before and five seconds after the light was ran.

I let a friend borrow my truck for hauling some stuff earlier this summer and was surprised with a ticket a couple of weeks later. Turns out he is a very dangerous driver and narrowly escaped smashing up my truck. I would have never known about the incident had I not received a letter with a website address to watch the video. You can clearly see the driver as well, so I really don't think people can use the argument that the driver's face is occluded.

I am so glad that this happened because I will never let my friend drive any of my vehicles to endanger the lives of other drivers using my vehicle. I fully support the red light camera program.

Jahn said...

Antoine, those lights are not set "by the state of Texas". They're set by HUMAN BEINGS -- people who are flawed and fallible. And more than a little subject to temptations, especially if it means money in someone's pocket.

I beat a ticket in Montgomery, AL by showing that the yellow light did not last long enough (I could have cleared the intersection in the time the light was short).

I don't trust most politicians or bureaucrats any farther than I could throw them. Putting a badge on someone doesn't magically transform anyone into a perfect being.

T. F. Stern said...

Logan, While I rejoice in your learning, via a traffic camera, that your friend was a dangerous driver; how does that pertain to the subject matter I brought up, the right to a fair trial where the accused is afforded the opportunity to cross examine a witness?

MK said...

You are right to oppose these wretched things TF.

Governments across the world are addicted to these things because they raise revenue like you wouldn't believe. This in turn gives them plenty of money to keep bribing electorates with various socialist programs. No one ever counts the long term cost of this on a society. This also gives them an incentive to take police off the roads as those are costly, which leaves you less safe from violent criminals.

The other thing that people never think about is the nannying, coddling effect these cameras have on the drivers. We in Australia have plenty of these cameras including speed cameras, the effect this has is to slow everyone down to below the speed limit, adding hours and hours to daily commutes over a year. And on top of it it gives them a false sense of security that if they don't get any fines and stay within the limit they are safe and good drivers. But for some really strange reason, the number of accidents and deaths on our roads has not fallen thanks to the magical speed cameras. Really strange that isn't it, with the cameras and great drivers, we're still crashing into each other and dying.

Recently in one of our other more fascist states, they discovered that their point-to-point cameras, which measure your average speed, have been screwing people over for years. The police commissioner had to eat humble pie for it and as for the people who got screwed over by the system over the years, well good luck trying to get your money and license back.

You know what's really radical, why don't you take off all rules for your intersections, they've trialled this in some places in Australia and around the world and contrary to hysterical braying about massive deaths and casualties, nothing has happened, the drivers have just learned to navigate their way through and get along. You see when you have rules, you transfer the responsibility of safety to a 3rd party [government] who can't and won't ensure it, take them away and people know it's on them, so they're actually safer that way. Shock-horror, people managing to survive without the government coddling them!

If you sincerely want to make your intersections and roads safer, call for more cops on the road and be prepared to pay for them. Cameras will only make you less safe, open you up to get screwed over with no recourse or real justice and take you further down the road to a nanny state society of bumbling sheep. Believe me, i live in one and under the close watch of the nanny.

Jahn said...

MK, you'd have a lot fewer problems down there if you'd stop driving on the wrong side of the road.

(Just kidding!)

Seriously, a guy I know here in Chattanooga said there's one stretch of road where every member of his family has gotten at least one ticket from one of those radar vans. The fact that they always aim the van at the traffic going DOWNhill might be a factor, ya think?

Rope. Tree. Politician. Some assembly required.

Starsplash said...

Yeah I am in agreement but too much being nice about how we say it.

The tendency to cheat is like some kind of euphoria for men. Mankind in general that is.

So no I do not support them. Never have and never will.

You know the reviewers could likely chuck about 90% of the red light violations collected by these onerous harbingers because they probably pull the same slow and go stunts.

MK said...

No worries Jahn. :)

And your friend is quite right, these pricks do that all the time, sit at the bottom of a hill and in one state here, if you are even 3km/h above the limit, that's like 1 mile or close, then they'll fine you.

Some real bastards it's created out here.

T. F. Stern said...

To all, The City of Houston voters sent a message at the polls, NO MORE RED LIGHT CAMERAS. So on Wed we are told there is a contract issue with the company and so red light cameras are still in operation.

When there is this much money involved you can bet the city won't try to wiggle out of the contract; instead they will use that contract to justify to the public the reason those red light cameras are still in operation. Interestingly, the first comments out of city hall had nothing to do with their concerns over the safety, loss of life and property; but how they would make up the loss of revenue.