NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

STATE SACRIFICES SAFETY FOR SWAG

March 9, 2005

Many local governments are installing red-light cameras in busy intersections. Proponents of these cameras argue that they make streets safer. However, according to the New Republic's Gregg Easterbrook, red-light cameras are being used primarily to generate revenue, even if they cause unsafe traffic conditions.

For example, in Montgomery Country, Maryland:

  • Local officials retimed the yellow light from four-seconds to two-seconds to get more drivers to run red lights.
  • This generated additional revenue, but made traffic less safe as more people accidentally ran red lights.

Similarly, in Washington, D.C.:

  • The company that operates the cameras in the District of Columbia gets a bonus when tickets exceed a quota.
  • If the real goal was to reduce red-light running, the District would be happy when the number of tickets declined, because that would mean fewer violations.
  • Instead the program is structured to increase the number of tickets issued, because the real goal is securing money.

Moreover, what are the legal implications of red-light cameras, asks Easterbrook? Under other laws, the state has to prove that a person committed a crime. However, with red-light cameras, the driver is presumed guilty. This establishes a dangerous precedent --whenever machines say you do something illegal, you are assumed to be guilty.

Source: Gregg Easterbrook, "Lights, Camera, Action," The New Republic Online, February 28, 2005.

 

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