Mark It Zero

By John Carr, NMA Massachusetts Activist

Pretext: a false excuse offered to cover ones true motive

The most popular criticism of traffic regulation is that it is revenue-driven.  I think revenue is only one of many reasons, but I have no doubt it is often a motive.

Let’s do some experiments.  The revenue hypothesis says ticketing should be closely tied to municipal profit.

North Carolina

In North Carolina cities were ordered to give 90% of red-light camera fines to school districts.  Camera became money losers.  Most cities stopped ticketing.  One of the few that did not stop claimed it was exempt from the revenue sharing law.


The UK took speed camera revenue away from local governments.  Cameras looked dead as local authorities refused to spend their own money on enforcement.

They’re not quite dead yet.  Police copied an American revenue innovation: traffic school.  Now cameras are funded by payments to police departments to keep camera tickets off your record.  With enough low level speeding tickets cameras can be profitable again.


Since 1985 Connecticut law has allowed school bus drivers to ticket drivers by sending a written report to police.  Such a report backed by video evidence should yield an easy conviction.

Why haven’t we had school bus cameras since the 1980s?

For most of those decades towns only got $5 or $10 per traffic ticket. The last small town speed trap I saw was on a holiday weekend when the federal government pays local police to write speeding tickets.  Local enforcement is mostly the “squeaky wheel” variety.  (When residents complain, deploy an officer long enough to make them stop.)

The fine for passing a stopped school bus was raised recently to allow private companies to profit from camera tickets.  I’m not speculating about the reason.  It’s right there in the law.  Towns get a larger share of a larger fine specifically so they can pay private contractors.  Suddenly towns started caring about kids.  That’s revenue enforcement.

Aim Low

What happens when we reduce revenue to zero?

On some military bases there is no fine for breaking traffic rules. Tickets are like warnings with consequences.  If you talk on a cell phone on Westover Air Reserve Base, they tell you not to drive on base any more.  I’ve heard a similar story from a Navy base.

Military police still write tickets.  They aren’t in it for the money.

I don’t want generals in charge of our highways.  The military has an institutional bias towards overregulation.

Other than that, I like the military model.  Make rules you care about, enforce them, and leave money out of it.

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