Marketplace Scratch Pad

Lights, camera, tickets

Scott Jagow Feb 17, 2010

The use of cameras to catch speeders and red light runners is a sore subject in many communities. I don’t know if it’s the desperate economic times or what, but things seem to be getting even nastier.

Consider the situation in Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix). A private company has the photo enforcement contract in Arizona, and last year, Redflex mailed out 650,000 tickets at $181 a piece. It added up to $37 million for the state. Drivers are steaming. More from NPR:

Operators at Redflex stay busy dealing with disgruntled drivers. Workers at the company have been harassed so much, they don’t want their names used on the air.

Employee harassment is just part of the hostile response in Arizona over statewide photo enforcement. Since state law requires that citations be served in person, drivers routinely ignore tickets. Arizona also requires clear photos of license plates and faces — one Phoenix driver avoided paying 37 speeding tickets by wearing a monkey mask. It’s even gotten violent.

A 68-year-old man is set to stand trial for pulling up to a photo van and firing five shots into it. It resulted in the death of a worker operating the photo radar van.

Good grief. But that shooting aside, the cameras seem to have cut down on fatalities. There were 81 fewer highway deaths last year — a drop of 25%.

The sheriff in a neighboring county is unimpressed. As soon as Paul Babeu was elected, he got rid of the cameras first thing. This month, he joined protestors in Maricopa County in the fight against speed cameras. Babeu finds the mix of law enforcement and profit a bad combination:

“This is self-interest by a foreign company that is here that is basically adding another tax onto our citizens and it’s plain wrong,” he says.

“Law enforcement officers are doing their jobs,” Babeu said, adding that he found cameras useless because they didn’t have the ability to pull over drunk drivers, or stop reckless speeders.

By the way, government employees aren’t getting away with anything. The Arizona Republic reports that Maricopa County employees have been caught 1,500 times by photo enforcement cameras the past two years.

Elsewhere, red light cameras are stirring protest. This week, an Illinois state senator proposed banning photo enforcement, calling it a revenue generator that doesn’t increase safety. The group BanRedCams says, if anything, drivers dangerously slam on their brakes to avoid getting their picture taken.

On Valentine’s Day, The Liberty Restoration Project organized red light camera protests in several cities:

Why is there so much new anger about a technology that’s designed to help protect people from dangerous driving? This columnist seems to have it. The cameras rub already-sensitive taxpayers the wrong way:

(Cameras) don’t need vacations, require health insurance benefits or demand pension contributions. But the sense of justice, the perception that the average citizen will get a fair hearing, is being damaged.

I hope suburban mayors understand the potential harm.

Taxpayers support the government. The continual erosion of their confidence is like the pounding of waves against the shore.

What do you think of photo enforcement?

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