The lens of Damocles

The Massachusetts Senate is close to approving a bill allowing widespread use of ticket cameras. There were some preliminary votes a couple weeks ago. A slim majority seemed to support it, but perhaps in response to public comments a final vote was put off. Politicians hate it when voters find out what they’re up to.

Like most ticket camera bills this one is purely for revenue. It is illegal to identify the driver. It is illegal to put points on licenses. All camera advocates care about is that the ticket is paid. If the owner has money the car can keep on running lights. Or stopping an inch over the line. Or making a right turn across a bus lane. Or driving 100 mph through a school zone. The bill authorizes speed cameras, red light cameras, bus lane cameras, and more.

Less ambitious ticket camera bills have been introduced for the past 20 years. Urban politicians love them. Voters don’t. Camera enforcement is one of a few subjects that generate angry phone calls. Fortunately cameras are not a purely partisan issue. In most districts the Democrat will win no matter what, but it doesn’t have the be the incumbent Democrat. Unpopular politicians can face primary challenges.

By a vote of 18-19 the Senate rejected an amendment by Senator Tarr that would have reduced the camera bill to a three year pilot program under the control of the state Department of Transportation. The amendment would have required a professional engineer to check that traffic signals are working and timed properly. We don’t do that in Massachusetts, so the amendment failed. In 2004 the Southeastern Massachusetts MPO wrote a report calling for red light cameras. Most of the problem intersections were revealed to have improperly timed or malfunctioning traffic signals. They wanted red light cameras anyway. Traffic safety is work, traffic tickets are fun.

The Senate did approve limiting cameras to 10 cities chosen by MassDOT. More can be added later. Senator Boncore added a ban on cameras in cities with less than 20,000 population to make sure the larger cities he represents would make the initial list.

And now the bill is on hold. The Senate will consider three more substantive amendments once it thinks voters have lost interest. One would terminate authorization for cameras at the end of 2027. Another would prohibit cameras on limited access highways.

The third doubtless follows payments by camera companies, though perhaps not as overtly corrupt as a wad of cash suffed into a bra. (That actually happened.) Senator Fattman wants to increase the fine for school bus cameras. Bus cameras are not profitable unless the fine is high. Connecticut also passed a law to make bus cameras profitable. We can be sure ticket camera companies have been spreading money in Massachusetts. A Redflex executive admitted to past bribery in Massachusetts. Force Multiplier (now called BusPatrol) bribed Dallas officials and bankrupted a school district in the process.

So be alert if you live or drive in Massachusetts. We got lucky because a reporter thought robocops were worth a story. But we still have the bill hanging over our heads as long as the legislature is in session.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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One Response to “The lens of Damocles”

  1. Mikhael El-Bayeh says:

    Tarr listing every state that has enacted bans and the resulting steam coming out of Brownsberger’s ears was the highlight of the session.