Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Traffic cameras cause safety, complain safety hazards

Note: This column appears in the 2/12 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 2/13 issue of the Peoria Times

I don’t consider myself as someone who has his finger on the pulse of local interest -- a somewhat alarming biographical tidbit for someone who writes a column for a local weekly newspaper -- but I have noticed that this area is abuzz with a supposed controversy revolving around the cameras used to catch dangerous drivers.

For those unaware, cameras have been placed at specific spots throughout the Valley, including Glendale and Peoria, for the sole purpose of catching speeding drivers as well as those who take a liberal stance on the meaning behind a red light. The way it works is, the camera snaps a picture of your license plate, and you are then mailed a traffic ticket, which, according to various email forwards and other unreliable data, you may or may not have to actually pay. (My humble guess? You should probably pay it.)

There is, somehow, controversy surrounding this process. The opposition, as far as I have deduced, rests their argument on the foundation of two factors: a) this is simply a means of government generating more revenue at our expense, and b) it is some sort of invasion of privacy, a Big Brother-type maneuver. To the former I say: so what? There are other forms of government revenue, such as higher taxes, that cannot be avoided by simply not driving like a lunatic. To the latter I say: there is no privacy on the road, and it would seem that having a ticket sent to your mailbox can actually prevent the public humiliation of getting pulled over in a high traffic area, where people like me pose an additional traffic hazard by slowing down to get a look at your face.

Also: the whereabouts of these cameras are, literally, mapped out. You can -- again, literally -- go online and locate the cameras, and adjust your driving habits accordingly. If you choose not to do this, you can also locate the warning signs that read, “Photo enforcement zone.” Or, on the other hand, you can choose to ignore these preventative means, gun it through a red light, get mailed a ticket, complain about the cameras, and ultimately choose not to pay the ticket because your Uncle Jim -- who also got mailed a citation for going 96 on the 101 -- says you don’t have to, and Uncle Jim should know, because his friend knows a guy who knows a cop.

This is not to say that there aren’t problems with the cameras. Namely, on separate occasions, due to the flash of said cameras, I have a) been temporarily blinded, and b) momentarily thought that the country was under attack. Maybe we can soften that flash a bit. Also, we need to find a way for the cameras to detect both tailgaters and those unwilling to put forth the absolute bare minimum of human effort by using a turn signal. Then I will be happy. Call me Big Brother.

One more thing. I am by no means a perfect driver. I make mistakes just like anybody else. Just last weekend I sped up at a yellow turn signal, and found myself in the middle of the intersection as it turned red. Luckily for me, I didn’t see a flash. But here’s the difference: Had there been a camera there, I would have been mad at myself. Not the camera.

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