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Casey W. Raskob: Five solid reasons to ban traffic-enforcement cameras

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Cameras don't enforce the law; they just send a bill.

When a motorist violates a law and is stopped by a police officer, important things happen. The motorist is physically stopped. The officer inquires. The registration of the vehicle is checked, the driver's license run, and the proof of insurance produced.

The motorist is immediately confronted with his or her wrongdoing. If drunk, unlicensed, uninsured or otherwise unsafe, the motorist is immediately removed from the road, increasing the safety of other road users.

The camera will not arrest any of those behaviors. Replacing live police officers with a camera on a pole is not a substitution of the officer; it is an abandonment of law enforcement on any meaningful level.

Cameras demand bad traffic engineering practices.

Yellow light intervals used to be of interest only to traffic engineers. Once tiny, technical violations of red lights became a profit center, and yellow intervals as set could actually determine violator percentages, yellow intervals became a political issue.

Ideally, a yellow light should give a few seconds for a driver to clear an intersection at the speeds prevailing on the road. Often, the yellow intervals are set to the speed limit, not reflecting actual road speeds, and in many instances, yellow intervals are set shorter than that for a variety of reasons.

It has been shown that "red light running" can be drastically reduced with correct yellow light timing, to a point where the cameras become unprofitable. When this occurs, the next approach in "enforcement for profit" is to prosecute "right turns on red."

This happens when the driver does not come to a complete stop for a second or two before turning, which is another technical violation with no safety ramification, but one that can be photo-enforced for profit.

Underposted speed limits equal profits.

It is a well-settled principle of traffic safety engineering that speed limits should be set according to the 85th percentile of free flow traffic on most roads. Over time, as average speeds have increased on roads, limits have not been raised to reflect this, with the notable exception of interstate speed limits in western states.

Live police officers have discretion to pursue flagrant violators driving faster than the pace of the normal driver. Camera supporters totally ignore the fact that many speed limits are underposted, instead suggesting cameras are "more fair" as they don't have the discretion of the police officer.

But these same camera-enforcement advocates never suggest setting speed limits according to established highway engineering criteria. The numbers on the sign are not handed down from God, but camera proponents act as if they are.

Cameras don't stop dangerous drivers.

Drivers who tailgate, weave, drive too slowly or erratically, or have a good buzz going, have little to fear from a camera, especially if that camera replaces a live police officer.

Cameras corrupt the rule of law with money.

The great reality of politics is that you can't raise taxes but neither can you reduce services. Any elected official, like myself, who has to wrestle with a budget knows that it is very tough.

Camera tickets are free money for governments. They take money from "traffic violators" who are "bad people." Best of all, the camera bill arrives in the mail, to the registered owner of the vehicle like a parking ticket, weeks after the alleged violation.

Often, the camera merchants work hard to keep the photo tickets out of the "real" court systems to blunt any opposition. The camera income becomes a free-money line item in the budget, one that won't willingly be removed.

Casey W. Raskob, Esq., is an attorney with the National Motorists Association who has been working toward traffic safety engineering-based solutions to traffic management since lobbying for the repeal of the 55 mph National Maximum Speed Limit.

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