Editor’s Note: A member in Kissimmee, Florida, recently sent this letter to a county official questioning the county’s motives for employing red-light cameras. Note how the writer makes it personal by telling his own story. It’s a great example that may help you as you reach out to your public officials about motorists’ issues that affect you.
Independent studies show that traffic accidents of all types, particularly rear-end collisions increase, often dramatically, when red-light cameras are installed at intersections. Injuries and deaths are included in this increase.
I have no way of knowing what your motivation was for placing the motorists of Osceola County at increased risk for property damage and bodily injury at the ten intersections where you have allowed privately owned, profit-motivated interests, namely American Transportation Solutions (ATS), to install these devices. I can think of only two. One is that due diligence was not done. Perhaps you relied on their salesman’s disingenuous, inappropriate and incorrect use of the term “safety.”
The other, of course, would reflect on you in an even more negative fashion. In either case, you have not done your job and thus are guilty of some form of negligence. To be sure, the bottom line has nothing to do with safety whatsoever as proven by the studies referred to above and in the small sample of enclosures.
Inasmuch as you now have concrete, reliable, unbiased evidence that these devices are a traffic hazard, I will not be convinced of any hint of altruism, misguided as it would be, until all proceeds are donated to charity. The clear implication would be that you are knowingly placing the populace at risk in the name of profit. I do not believe this is the case. However, this letter and its enclosures make you aware of that and thus negate any innocent “gullibility” on your part.
Among the many facts and studies that you would have had to consider, had you done good faith research, is that after trying what seemed like a good way to increase revenue, many communities have removed or deactivated these devices for the reasons noted above. Absent this knowledge, you entered your constituents into a contract that cannot be terminated. In the event that the cameras prove to be dangerous, (or not as productive as hoped for) you cannot walk away, but only shift the danger to other intersections until the contract runs its course, regardless of how many people may be injured or killed.
Yes, on the surface it appears to be a good idea. But the reality is counterintuitive. That is because, among other issues, the notification of a violation comes long after the incident, when a motorist has most likely forgotten (if he was even aware of it at all), thus any possibility of negative reinforcement is lost. And as any behavioral scientist will tell you, positive or negative reinforcement is most effective when it is immediate. Weeks later, it is perceived as persecution and any hoped for change in behavior is no longer possible. Then, if a motorist desired to defend himself, it would be difficult at best, given the lost opportunity to gather evidence in the immediate aftermath, as would be the case when a police officer made the stop in a timely manner. Perhaps that is by design.
Another issue that you have failed to consider is the 6th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right to confront an accuser. I fail to see how this is possible when the “accuser” is a machine that cannot be compelled to take the stand in a court of law and be cross-examined as can a complaining police office or any plaintiff. There are no witnesses.
Bear in mind that there are, on rare occasions, compelling reasons to enter an intersection on red. I have had do it twice to avoid serious accidents. On one occasion, I was stopped by a police officer, who having witnessed the circumstances involved, did not charge me with disregarding a traffic light. Had he cited me I would have had the opportunity to cross-examine him in court and the mitigating circumstances would have been clear to a judge.
In an earlier incident when I was 6 years old, my father, who was stopped for a light, suddenly accelerated into the intersection and made a hard right turn, (accompanied by my mother’s questioning screams). The reason? A large truck coming at us from behind barreled through the intersection at high speed. Had my father not “broken the law,” an entire family would have been wiped out of existence.
In another telling incident, I witnessed, and was spared involvement in, a three-car pileup at the intersection of Highway 193 and Celebration Ave. which occurred immediately following the installation of a red-light camera. Having had the visceral experience of coming so close I feel I need to make you understand how bad your decision to vote in favor of this dangerous matter was.
Inasmuch your action has placed my family and myself at risk again, I must, in the strongest possible terms, implore that you reconsider your vote, even at the expense of buying out of the contract with ATS.