NMA Email Newsletter: Issue #58

Ticket Cameras in USA Today

The USA Today contacted the NMA recently and asked for an opposing viewpoint to their editorial decision to support the use of red-light cameras.  Jim Baxter was asked to respond in no more than 350 words, so rather than cite statistics or specific examples, he got right to the heart of the matter:

Unholy Alliance
By James J. Baxter

In his State of the Union address, President Obama emphasized the loss of public trust in government. The loss of trust and growing cynicism extends beyond federal and state governments and descends right down to cities, villages and towns. Anyone looking for a good example of why this is happening need look no further than the public-private ticket-camera industry.

The use of ticket cameras to enforce traffic laws combines the profit motive of private enterprise and the power of government. This unholy alliance is perpetuating a hoax of monumental scale, and at great cost to the American public. It’s not just the cost of millions upon millions of dollars in automated traffic fines. The more serious costs are the increased number of crashes, injuries and deaths that results from ticket camera installations. And, also, the recognized loss of trust and respect for public institutions, institutions that are supposed to be looking out for our welfare, not entrapping and endangering us to make a profit.

Red-light camera installations have infected hundreds of communities in the U.S. Their use is rationalized as a safety measure — reducing red-light running. They do in fact reduce red-light running in situations where traffic lights are improperly installed, maintained and/or operated. However, in the process, they increase accidents, usually rear-end collisions. Some independent studies show they do not reduce more serious right-angle crashes. (You can see our data at //.)

If, and when, traffic light flaws are corrected, the violations all but disappear and accidents decline. However, too often, maintaining revenue flow trumps the fixing of engineering flaws or changing dangerous management practices.

Practices as simple as adding a second or two onto yellow light intervals can virtually eliminate red light violations, permanently, but such changes are vehemently opposed by the ticket-camera industry. Why? The money goes away.

Some have said: “Why not do both, fix the traffic lights and use cameras, too?” The obvious question is, “Why use ticket cameras if there aren’t any violations and the cameras just cause accidents?” Communities that have corrected their traffic light flaws have asked this last question and then removed the ticket cameras.

On a unrelated, but interesting note:
Check out the new design of our Speed Trap Exchange website which lists over 55,000 speed traps across the USA and Canada. Please help out the NMA and your fellow drivers by posting the speed traps in your area. Forward the site to your friends and get their input too! Your efforts so far have been very helpful. The site is rapidly gaining in popularity.


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