On the Road to Ten: Canned Cameras: NMA E-Newsletter #495

As we continue the march toward the publication of the 520th consecutive weekly issue of the NMA e-newsletter later this year, we will on occasion highlight reader favorites over these past ten years. The first installment, NMA E-Newsletter #486, focused on discussions of speed limits. Here we take on the second-most covered newsletter topic through the years: photo enforcement.

The golden oldies are still with us: red-light and speed cameras. They continue to be supplemented by new applications as camera vendors try to push aside corruption convictions and incompetence (if not fraud) by inventing new ways to profit from bringing a privatized element into traffic enforcement. Automated license plate readers, school bus stop arm cameras, transit bus cameras targeting parking violations, even eye-in-the-sky drones. The possibilities of surveillance and ticketing by cameras are nearly endless, keeping the NMA alert for the inevitable abuses.

Here are some of the highlights of our e-newsletter coverage of automated traffic schemes:

Issue #30 – Redflex Red-faced about Automated Traffic Ticket Notices (August 4, 2009)
Phoenix traffic court was flooded by thousands of ticketed residents, all assigned the same appearance date and time by notices processed by Redflex. Delays were enormous, defendants were angry, and court personnel stressed. Signaling a defiant nature and a penchant for spin that we’ve seen time and time again from the camera companies, Redflex simply said the number of simultaneous appearances wasn’t unusual but it did illustrate a serious speeding problem in Phoenix.

Issue #61 – Here, There, Everywhere (March 9, 2010)
Since this newsletter was published, billions more license plates have been captured by automated license plate readers around the country. The information is not only compared against law enforcement databases, it is sold by private contractors to whichever entity is willing to pay the right price. Check out the embedded video to get a sense of how ALPRs indiscriminately scoop up license plate images as vehicles are passed on the road or in parking lots.

Issue #140 – Lock, Stock, and Barrel (September 13, 2011)
Unadulterated support for red-light cameras by the editorial board of a Florida newspaper. It gave us an opportunity to debunk common claims about the effectiveness of the cameras and to highlight some of the pushback against the editorial by readers in the online comments. Institutional thinking by the press and critical thinking by the public.

Issue #202 – We Need Federal Yellow-Light Timing Standards Now (November 25, 2012)
As the title suggests, the NMA took then-FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez to task for not putting proper controls in place for a key variable of intersection safety. Weak guidelines “. . . enable red-light camera operators to claim compliance with federal standards while still setting up dangerously short yellows — a practice that drives up violation rates and their ticket revenues.”

Issue #220 – An Insider Speaks Out About Red-Light Cameras (March 31, 2013)
Presented is an extraordinary letter from a county clerk in Florida circuit court condemning how the camera program operated and itemizing each of the due process abuses the system imposes on ticket camera defendants.

Issue #263 – School Bus Cameras ─ The Latest Safety Fraud (January 27, 2014)
The evidence presented here is still the basis for ongoing debates about the use of school bus stop-arm cameras. Proponents play the child safety card, and so do we. NHTSA data show that during a recent 10-year period, 123 school-age pedestrians died. Seventy-two percent were killed by the bus while the entire country saw an average of 3.5 deaths per year caused by passing vehicles during the period. The logical focus should be on better safety education for the school bus drivers and for the children during the loading/unloading phases, but ticket cameras continue to dominate the conversation. We have since added School Bus Stop-Arm Camera information on the Motorists.org site.

Issue #347 – IIHS Shills for Camera Industry (September 6, 2015)
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is creative in its projections. We’ll give them that. This newsletter was triggered by an IIHS report that makes the bold statement, “If all U.S. communities had speed-camera programs like the one IIHS studied in Maryland’s Montgomery County, more than 21,000 fatal or incapacitating injuries would have been prevented in 2013.” That is a staggering claim, one easily debunked as our allies at TheNewspaper.com and Maryland Drivers Alliance did in this case.

Issue #401 – J’accuse! The Future of Traffic Enforcement? (September 18, 2016)
Who needs expensive enforcement camera installations when everyone’s smartphone can be converted into a mobile snitch device? An app turns your phone into a dashcam that records what everyone is doing on the road around you and if any of those actions register as questionable, the offender’s license plate is captured, uploaded to a master database and broadcast to warn other drivers of this menace on the road. There is nothing to stop the app developer from turning a tidy profit by selling the alleged wrongdoer data to insurance companies. Canned cameras indeed.

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