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Red-light cameras raise revenue. And that's a bad thing, why?

Friday, May 14, 2010

The debate about video surveillance being used to identify and automate traffic crimes continues to be hot news in the mainstream media. This article in USA Today discusses how some states are dealing with this controversy.

First up is red-light cameras. These are mounted on traffic lights and identify and ticket vehicles that run red lights. Basically, the camera snaps a picture of the license plate and automatically mails the offender a ticket. To me, that's a great use of technology. It's the same as having a police officer patrolling every intersection, right? And they're becoming fairly common:

Red-light cameras are used in 441 communities in 25 states and the District of Columbia and speed cameras in at least 56 communities in 12 states and D.C., the Insurance Institute says.

And apparently they're effective:
A federal study found that red-light cameras cause a 25% decrease in broadside crashes and a 15% increase in less deadly rear-end crashes.

So that means less people are running red lights and smashing into oncoming cars, but more people are rear-ending each other, likely out of fear the cameras will catch them if they try to make it through the yellow light.

The public doesn't love red-light cameras, but really have it out for speed cameras apparently. In some places, these cameras are ticketing drivers going 10-15 miles an hour over the limit and people aren't happy about it. For example, in Ridgeland, S.C. where the state's first speed cameras will be installed this summer the average ticket will be $130 for 10-15 mph over the speed limit, according to the publication.

There are several other examples of states and cities using and/or banning such technology, but one of the primary issues the article focuses on is that these cameras are only being put in place to generate revenue:

"In principle, I think photo enforcement is valid if it's done right. You can't have a cop everywhere, and yet the law is supposed to be enforced everywhere," says Robert Poole, director of transportation policy at the non-profit, libertarian Reason Foundation, which researches public policy. "The problem is a lot of times, cities go into this looking mainly at revenue rather than safety."

So what if cities are making a little bit of money with these installations? Good, it's about time there's some real ROI for security applications and wow if they can actually make money from it. It's not like municipalities are exactly rolling in dough these days. If you, as a citizen, don't want to contribute to that fund, I suggest you not speed or run red lights and if you do, know you're taking a risk. People always knew they were taking a risk when doing such illegal activity and I think they're just upset because there's a better chance of getting caught.