Dangerous Drivers Declare Themselves Above the Law

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports on the extraordinary lengths that a certain breed of driver will go to in order to avoid culpability for speeding and red-light running. With the use of automated enforcement cameras on the rise, some motorists are making it abundantly clear that they see themselves as above the law:

Drivers — many accusing law enforcement of using spy tactics to trap
unsuspecting citizens — are fighting back with everything from pick
axes to camera-blocking Santa Clauses. They’re moving beyond radar
detectors and CB radios to wage their own tech war against detection,
using sprays that promise to blur license numbers and Web sites that
plot the cameras’ locations and offer tips to beat them.

The scofflaws raise the usual objections, namely that enforcement cams are used to raise revenue. The Journal cites a recent study that appears to bolster that claim:

But a study in last month’s Journal of Law and Economics concluded
that, as many motorists have long suspected, "governments use traffic
tickets as a means of generating revenue." The authors, Thomas Garrett
of the St. Louis Fed and Gary Wagner of the University of Arkansas at
Little Rock, studied 14 years of traffic-ticket data from 96 counties
in North Carolina. They found that when local-government revenue
declines, police issue more tickets in the following year.

I won’t dispute the conclusions, but I think the whole premise is off-base. The way to judge the effectiveness of traffic enforcement is not to measure the relationship between tickets and government revenues. You have to measure whether it makes people safer.

New York City’s experience with automated enforcement may be limited, but the results of its red-light cam trial program speak for themselves. Even New York state’s most committed opponent of automated enforcement, Assembly Transportation Committee chair David Gantt, agreed on the usefulness of red light cams in a bill he introduced last year (his motives, it must be said, were questionable):

Red light camera systems are aimed at helping reduce a major safety problem at urban and rural intersections, a problem that is estimated to produce more than 100,000 crashes and approximately 1,000 deaths per year in the United States.

So, when do you suppose we’ll see the Journal headline "Traffic Cameras Save Lives"?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Fun exchange from earlier today on The Housing Bubble Blog, which has been a good place to follow the private sector side of our institutional collapse the last few years:

    Comment by LehighValleyGuy
    2009-03-27 03:52:26

    So last night on I-95 there was a guy with a bumper sticker that said “Corporations are people too!”

    He was driving very aggressively, cutting people off and tailgating.

    Comment by Bill in Los Angeles
    2009-03-27 04:35:04

    I saw the same when I was driving on I-95 last Fall. Only it was an Obama/Biden sticker. And another car followed suit. It was a McCain/Palin sticker.

    What else is new?

    You expect some angel with a “socialize America” sticker will be driving the speed limit and not tailgating?

    BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    Comment by milkcrate
    2009-03-27 09:01:04

    Less common today: Those annoying stickers proclaiming, “He Who Dies WIth The Most Toys Wins.”

  • I can not imagine police enforcement being happy about this. If I were a cop I would feel like my job has been taken over by a computer. Will this mean less jobs for law enforcement?

    At the same time these cameras can help with obviously many situations.

  • bb

    In Arizona the system which records only cars 10 mph past the speed limit is danger of being stripped by the Legislature and an up coming voter ballet.

    The argument for money is an easy one, in fact all the arguments they have don’t hold water.
    So if you don’t want to raise revenue like cigarettes, then you only need to change the fine to community service.

    That should wipe out that argument NEXT!

    They trample on your freedoms.
    They are spying on you like the web cams already in place to watch the freeway, or the fact you have limited constitutional right to use a weapon. And finally the group doesn’t promote cycling or walking at all. Which would restore all the rights you currently don’t have.

    NEXT.
    I want an officer to stop me.

    Yet I will not provide any way to fund more officers which would be needed to replace the cameras, who allow the DPS to focus on other crimes like DWI.

    NEXT

    If this is stripped, it will be done so with out addressing or rebutting any of my arguments.

  • “The scofflaws raise the usual objections, namely that enforcement cams are used to raise revenue.”

    … So what? Given a choice between raising revenue by raising taxes on everyone, or raising revenue by collecting fines against people who break the law, I’ll choose the latter.

  • NYC Transportation, arent the cops better suited to fight crime and not spend their day stopping people running the light?

  • > using sprays that promise to blur license numbers

    Scam. None of the sprays, films, and other junk they try to sell you in order to help you remain a menace on the streets actually works. I saw it on MythBusters.

  • Government leaders will never please those like the good folks at the WSJ who don’t think government has the right to exist, let alone take in revenue (the nerve!). Want to realize the benefits of automatic enforcement without raising this red herring? Hold a civic bonfire every night and destroy the money you bring in. You’ll be under fire from the exact same people who’ll now say that you’re wasting money, or inefficiently using a potential revenue stream. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, so stop worrying about what these people have to say.

    @NYC Transportation

    I suspect the average man on the street would be more inclined to go for your “red light cameras take food off cops’ tables” argument if there was evidence that any law enforcement professional in the history of the US actually, you know, enforced a traffic law as anything other than an excuse to stop someone for something else. Or that a single cop was losing his job because a camera was going to do it.

    @Rhywun

    6 months after the mythbusters episode (my neighbors!) someone came out with a spray that really does work. Either way though I think it’s a marginal problem. The bigger deal is media outlets that feel like glorifying that behavior, IMHO

  • AC

    You guys remind me of the union busters at my job, how are traffic lights helping the average citizen, by taxing us to death, monitoring our lives and causing people to slam their brakes at traffic cam lights?

    the facts are:

    The Truth Is:

    1. Cameras Cause an Increase in Accidents Where They Are Installed
    2. Cameras Are About Revenue Only
    3. Cameras Malfunction Constantly and Do Not Modify Driver Behavior
    4. Camera Programs Are Illegal and Unconstitutional

    Go to http://photoradarscam.com/ and fight back against another invasion of our privacy, as if the patriot act wasn’t enough…

  • mike

    AC – I’m not a fan of the surveillance society, but you are totally wrong about speed/redlight cameras. They work, are not illegal and do save lives. Please do some research.

  • 1. Cameras Cause an Increase in Accidents Where They Are Installed

    The reverse, running lights, does not?

    Your argument says that that if the driver follows the law, he gets rear ended. Luckily for the driver, the blame is 100% at the person behind him, who was breaking the law by tailgating.

    2. Cameras Are About Revenue Only

    No. But lets assume they are…. so what? WHy tax everyone when we can get the lawbreakers to pay more?

    3. Cameras Malfunction Constantly and Do Not Modify Driver Behavior
    If the cameras malfunction….so what? The company running it will have to pay higher repair fees. How do they not modify driver behavior? Will the same person get ticketed every day?

    4. Camera Programs Are Illegal and Unconstitutional
    Clearly theyre not. Also, our roads are covered in cameras which dont do much. Im glad these are brining back money.

  • NYC Transportation,

    Cops hate writing tickets. I’m sure it’s the part of the job they like least. Just ask one.

  • John

    I always thought cops should not just enforce speeding and such. If the traffic cameras could do it with accuracy , that’s fine. Then the cops can do other things. Like actually walking around and making sure other crimes are not happening. Eg. drugs, kidnapping, gangs, guns, violence, etc.. There is no shortage of crimes in this country.

  • Ashcan Sam

    Violating laws while driving is a crime.

    Running red lights is (often) violence.

    Why is that so hard to grasp?

  • Not an argument against red-light cameras per se, but scams where red-light cameras were installed and yellow lights were timed intentionally too short in order to increase revenue have actually happened.

    http://www.motorists.org/blog/6-cities-that-were-caught-shortening-yellow-light-times-for-profit/

    http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/02/italian-red-light-cameras-rigged-with-shorter-yellow-lights.ars

    If there’s a problem intersection, this calls for an actual police car in plain sight with an actual policeman inside it ready to pull over offending motorists.

    @AC the whole “invasion of privacy” argument is bollocks. You have no expectation of privacy on a public street.

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