Red Light Cameras See Green

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Whether Big Brother is busy telling you what you may or may not eat, where (or whether) you are allowed to smoke, or whether you may continue driving your own car, it is mind boggling how much of our freedom is being taken away lately in the name of protecting us. Those of us who know better understand this to be an impossibility: To live lives proper to man, we must be free.

We also look upon the government officials who push such measures with the proper degree of suspicion. Being politicians, these are people who have power over others as a major, if not a primary motivation. Unfortunately, so many of our journalists are too lazy or complicit in such schemes and end up giving them something they do not deserve: the benefit of the doubt.

Even so, you can't fool all of the people all of the time, as Mark Twain once put it. Case in point: A couple of months ago, an official in Chicago belied the stated purpose of red light cameras when he proposed an ordinance to ban red light camera detectors in motor vehicles!

After getting wind that a Chicago company known for its radar detectors and GPS navigation systems was about to hit the market with a $449.95 red-light and speed camera detector, Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke vowed to remain one step ahead of the technology game.

He's drafting an ordinance for introduction at the July 19 City Council meeting that would ban camera detectors.

Ever since Chicago entered the Brave New World of traffic enforcement, City Hall has insisted that red-light cameras were about safety -- not money. That's even though red-light cameras now positioned at 39 accident-prone intersections generated 304,011 tickets and $17.9 million in 2006 alone.

On Thursday, Burke gave up the ghost. He acknowledged that red light cameras are, indeed, about raising money -- and that the proposed ban is about keeping the gravy train rolling.

"Of course it is. It's budgeted in our annual appropriation ordinance. That's why all of these cameras are being installed. You can't deny the reality. The reality is people blow through these intersections and they're going to be caught and they're going to be fined...It has become a big revenue source," Burke said.

"I don't think the goal is to allow the motorist to subvert the system we're spending so much money on....Why waste money on the cameras?" [bold added]
Leaving aside the question of whether such cameras should exist at all, Burke should have welcomed news of these potentially life-saving devices. Obviously, he did not.

As a government official, Edward Burke's proper role is to protect the individual rights and the lives of his constituents. Not to defend the government installing surveillance equipment in public places, but Burke's question, "Why waste money on the cameras?" sums up eloquently a disregard for both our rights and our lives that is all too common among politicians today -- and accepted without the least bit of indignation by most people.

And what about our journalists? This story is two months old and the only reason I know about it at all is because I happened to look at a blog I very rarely read hosted by an alternative paper. (And its focus was on the technology.) Oh yeah. When they're not busy cheerleading such "public welfare" measures, they're busy parroting such nonsense as, "This is not about revenue. This is about changing the behavior and public safety."

Well, if you count "getting the public used to being watched by the government" as "changing behavior", the above government official was honest one out of three times. Fine for a batting average in baseball, but not enough integrity for (proper) government work.

Burke's ordinance should have instantly made national news and the man should have been hounded out of office by now. Our culture is, alas, a far cry from the days when such mottoes as "Live free or die" were generally understood, and therefore regarded seriously.

-- CAV


Paul said...

Have you seen this story on non-objective enforcement the law using of red light cameras? The cited news story includes a nice video demonstration:

"Throw out the driver's handbook. There's a new rule in town. When it comes to red light cameras there's a special line that drivers can't cross. Where is it? Here's a hint: it's imaginary.

"Cameras in the City of Garland caught Noel Hillis running a red light. He went to an administrative hearing to fight the ticket and lost. The hearing officer, a former Garland police officer, found Hillis liable for running the red. Hillis paid a fine but insisted he was innocent.

“'My truck crossed the stop line when the light turned red. He (the hearing officer) told me that the stop line is a lateral line parallel to the curb, which is 10 feet farther out (than) where it actually starts,' Hillis says.

"For red light cameras, the violation line is an imaginary one – so imaginary that it's missing from the Texas driver's handbook. The book states that the stop line is before the crosswalk. Normally to avoid a ticket, if a driver has any part of the vehicle over the stop line before the light turns red – there's no violation."

Hillis says the city expanded the zone, requiring him to reach the imaginary line before the light turned red.

Gus Van Horn said...


Not yet, but I'd heard that Houston was somehow going to adjust the settings for its cameras to become more "strict", so I guess that's what this means.

Aside from the fact that the public is taking this lying down, what's galling about this is the ritualistic use of cameras to bless off this this non-objective practice as objective.

Yes, machines can lie.

These cameras almost succeed in making speeding tickets as municipal cash cows seem like a good thing.


Jim May said...


The public isn't "taking this lying down" from indifference. Rather, nobody wants to be painted as an advocate for red-light runners.

How do you think the speed limits got so impractically low in so many places?

The penultimate example was the thankfully erstwhile New Rome Ohio.... that one, at least, was bad enough to bring down some state action, but look at what it took.

Gus Van Horn said...

Wow! Talk about a government that is little better than a band of thieves!