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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 trapunsuspecting citizens -- are fighting back with everything from pickaxes to camera-blocking Santa Clauses. They're moving beyond radardetectors and CB radios to wage their own tech war against detection,using sprays that promise to blur license numbers and Web sites thatplot 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 concludedthat, as many motorists have long suspected, "governments use traffictickets as a means of generating revenue." The authors, Thomas Garrettof the St. Louis Fed and Gary Wagner of the University of Arkansas atLittle Rock, studied 14 years of traffic-ticket data from 96 countiesin North Carolina. They found that when local-government revenuedeclines, 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"?

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