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Drivers, Pols Just Fine With Traffic Cams That Don’t Enforce the Law

Judging from the amount of press it's getting, hysteria over traffic enforcement cameras is reaching a fever pitch. According to USA Today, at least seven states have banned automated enforcement, with other states and municipalities considering restrictions of their own.

On the other hand, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that drivers in Tennessee -- where state lawmakers are mulling a crackdown over the objections of city officials who say cameras have reduced crashes -- are all about cams of a different sort.

tdotcameras_t305.jpgDrivers don't always object to being watched. Photo of "SmartWay" control in Chattanooga: Times Free Press

SmartWay cameras are designed to scan busy roads across Tennessee and deliver real-time images to computer screens and mobile devices so motorists know when to detour.

Lately, 11 of the 60 cameras in the Chattanooga area have been on the blink - either inoperable or showing frozen displays of traffic.

The outages are an inconvenience for motorists.

"If I get held up in traffic south of Tennessee, like in Dalton, I can pull up the traffic cameras on my iPhone," said Antonio Salter, of Antioch, Tenn., who commutes through Chattanooga at least twice a week.

"If there was trouble, I could find out exactly where it is, see the damage and decide if I needed to divert," he said.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety studies in Virginia and California found that camera enforcement reduced red-light violations by about 40 percent. So: State-funded cameras that encourage drivers to monitor their iPhones while on the road are a-okay, but those used to discourage dangerous or illegal behavior represent an outrageous intrusion of governmental authority. Got it.

The often-cited "Big Brother" canard took another hit in Collier County, Florida when objections arose to signs intended to keep drivers from running reds by warning of non-existent camera enforcement. Said one miffed motorist: "That's a lie. We're being deceived. That's not right." No word on whether Florida is planning a ban on traffic signs meant to trick drivers into obeying the law.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that distracted driving is known to be a widespread cause of injury and death, state departments of transportation continue to post real-time traffic info designed for mobile devices, while car manufacturers aggressively market new vehicles in which driving is relegated to an incidental activity.

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