A bill before the legislature this spring, introduced by Algiers State Representative Jeff Arnold, would outlaw the use of traffic enforcement cameras in Louisiana. We strongly support the bill and urge its passage.
Defenders of the traffic cameras usually argue that they enhance public safety. Drivers, knowing they cameras are there, will slow down rather than trying to run red lights. That is a bogus argument. The real reasons the cameras exist are as moneymakers. Public officials have frequently turned to automobiles as a way of raising funds for usually depleted government treasuries. We have seen that recently in New Orleans with the efforts to extend parking meter times to include Saturdays as well as to increase the metered hours and to raise parking fees. We saw it last November when the city’s Parking Bureau shamelessly ambushed runners in a charitable road race for the Spina Bifida Foundation by ticketing vehicles parked on a neutral grounds. None of the above actions had anything to do with public safety, but rather with raising revenue.
There are several reasons why the traffic cameras should be outlawed; most prominent is that they’re unjust. There is no accuser, no witness, no one to judge a case on its merits, no one to verify if the person driving the vehicle is the one whose name is linked to the license plate.
Many tickets are given for what the camera system determines to be a right turn at a red light without a proper stop, though what defines a proper step depends on how the timer is set before snapping a picture. There is no notice of how long the stop needs to be.
Another problem is cost. Tickets are generally assessed at around $145. With government coffers to be filled and with the need of the private company that operates the system to make a profit, the cost needs to be high. Pity the person struggling through the tough economy whose burdens now includes having to pay a fine that’s excessive.
And then there’s the sham appeals system, some of it involving going through a voicemail maze. The system has the hard evidence – your vehicle’s photo (with license plate) set in the context of a time frame. But there’s no way to test if the time frame is accurate or to deal with mitigating circumstances; i.e. a driver being forced to make a quick right turn because of an oncoming vehicle that isn’t slowing down. It is possible for an appeal to work its way to traffic court but only at a level of law best handled by an attorney. The ticket company knows that most people will give in and write a check before committing hours to waiting in court.
As for the safety issues, there are ways that technology can be used to make intersections safer without fleecing the public. There can be warning signs and count- down clocks showing how long before a light changes. If the emphasis was truly on public safety, answers could be found.
Instead, the focus is on raising revenue in a way that’s less threatening to vote- seekers than having to raise taxes. But it’s not fair. When the public steals from government it’s known as a felony. When government steals from the public it’s frequently known as a traffic law.