A sign warns motorists on Interstate 95 in Ridgeland, S.C., about a speed camera system. (AP)
Last year Washington, DC’s speed cameras generated $95.6 million in revenue. That was double 2011’s receipts, so you can bet there was dancing in the hallways over an extra $50 million in the coffers. And what did this cost you? Only your basic rights.
Speed cameras are sold as a means of protection. Over and over you will hear politicians and the makers of these cash cows talk about safety. “Safety this. Safety that. Think of the children, and I’m offended you think they we are only doing this for the money.”
The truth: it is all about the money.
How do I know? First, look at where the cameras are located. Most are on major commuter routes, like DC 295 and US 395, and very few in school zones and residential areas. This tells me they are aimed at tourists and commuters more so than protecting school children.
I can also tell by the fact that these speed cameras do not cost you points on your license nor affect your insurance rates. Pay your fine and the city is happy.
Lastly, the speed limits change right before you pass a speed camera. Usually it is a sudden 10 mph drop. What was once legal is suddenly illegal; usually causing everyone to slam on the brakes once they realize the camera is there. So it’s a gotcha game as well as a hazard.
We all hate getting pulled over by cops but if someone is driving in a dangerous fashion, they can make that call and immediately do something to save lives. Speed camera tickets come in the mail 2 weeks later. If I were driving like a fool, these cameras are not going to pull me over and save a life.
Furthermore, officers can warn you. Many times you may not realize you broke the law. Say you forgot to turn on your lights, have a taillight out, or blew through a stop sign you didn’t see in an unfamiliar area; a human can stop you and instantly correct your behavior, determine you made an innocent mistake, and let you be on your way.
Even when the cop writes a ticket, you immediately know what you did wrong and can correct your actions.
And when you think the cop is wrong you can challenge him in a court of law. That is why we have due process and the right to face our accuser. Humans make mistakes and it is a fundamental Constitutional right to give our side of the story. A computer does not listen or consider circumstances, it simply executes a code.
Makers of speed camera equipment have even admitted problems — incorrect speed limits, programming errors that led to 1 out of 20 cars being automatically ticketed, etc.— yet it is difficult, if not impossible, to subpoena the records and challenge the ticket.
“Just pay it. Waiving your rights is no big deal. It’s not like it costs you your license,” say the politicians.
$100 is a big deal for a lot of working folks. Even if they get caught once, suddenly their monthly budget is blown. Of course they won't know for 2 weeks, so they will probably owe more than $100.
Furthermore, the revenue speed cameras generate goes first and foremost to the corporations selling and maintaining the cameras. They have a vested interest in getting you to break the law, receiving one dollar for every four you are fined.
Lastly, why would we, as a society, want a robot to indiscriminately determine our guilt or innocence? A machine can only do what it is programmed to do, nothing more. It cannot weigh evidence, heed arguments, nor contemplate testimony. If there is an error in programming or the machine breaks down, both of which happen regularly, you get a ticket. We have given these machines ultimate authority despite knowing their limitations.
Only real people can address a situation and determine the proper course of action when it comes to enforcing and interpreting the law.
A neighbor sees kids playing cops and robbers. A machine registers someone waving a gun around and reports a threat.
A policeman sees a woman driving to work, momentarily above the limit but slowing down into the flow of traffic. A machine logs a speeding ticket sends the ticket in the mail.
Speed cameras may have initially been enacted for public safety, but that idea has been washed away by torrents of cash. The #1 protector of the streets has been and always should be a human police officer- one that can assess the entire situation, act immediately, and be held accountable in a court of law. Allowing the proliferation of machines to doll out fines not only robs us of our rights, but a piece of our humanity as well.
Armstrong Williams is an African-American political commentator who writes a conservative newspaper column, hosts a nationally syndicated TV program called “The Right Side,” and hosts a daily radio show on Sirius/XM Power 128 (7-8 p.m. and 4-5 a.m.) Monday through Friday. Read more reports from Armstrong Williams — Click Here Now.
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