FROM THE EDITOR

Give cameras a green light

I say phooey to legislatures'such as Texas''that resist stoplight enforcement systems that use cameras and imaging applications.

The cameras don't violate anyone's privacy. A license plate number is already visible to anyone who cares to look.

Funny, the same legislators don't seem anxious to do away with the extraordinary snooping measures used by law enforcement to find, say, a small marijuana patch deep in the hinterlands.

One could argue that reckless driving poses more danger to society than marijuana. Asked to choose, the typical citizen in a metropolitan area is apt to be more concerned about the difficulties of driving from Point A to Point B than about pot.

In Maryland, the Legislature debated the use of the cameras a whole lot more than citizens did (see story, Page 28).

In Texas, lawmakers killed a stoplight camera project by burdening the project's approval bill with a pair of riders that led the sponsor to shelve the proposal. One rider sought to make the traffic fines so low that the project wouldn't pay for itself. Another would have required a sign on each camera stanchion that read, 'Big Brother is watching you.'

The sentiment behind these riders is inane. In current systems, the cameras aren't video cameras that continuously monitor an intersection. The systems use ordinary 35-mm, strobe-equipped units that are tripped automatically.

Police traffic cameras on helicopters and airplanes, radar guns in cruisers and cops on the beat are arguably more akin to Big Brother.

Enforcement statistics show that people caught running red lights by camera systems rarely balk. In Howard County, fewer than 1 percent of 22,000 people ticketed were found innocent in hearings. More than 90 percent paid their tickets without argument.

When discussing the use of information technology to better serve citizens, it's difficult to think of better applications than those for traffic enforcement or any traffic-related project. After all, roads are probably the most basic, universally used public items.

It wasn't all that long ago that cities and towns still had cops directing traffic as a matter of course. When my family moved to Needham, Mass., in 1965, the main intersection downtown had a platform for police to stand on and direct traffic. That was fine back then, but suburban sprawl has made the suburbs more like inner cities, especially when it comes to traffic.

Stoplight cameras are a good idea.


Thomas R. Temin

Editorial Director

Internet: editor@gcn.com

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