Inside the Capitol

Saturday, June 25, 2011

7-1 What's wrong with traffic cameras?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Why do people get so riled up about traffic cameras? From listening to talk radio as much as I can endure, I would guess it is because they are a communistic, invasion of privacy, Big Brother, dangerous money-grabbers.
The Albuquerque City Council has heard so much debate on both sides of the question that it may decide any day now to give up its duty as a representative of the people and just have them decide.
Such a referendum is not provided in law so the vote would be merely advisory, meaning the council is subject to hearing further arguments from both sides once the public vote is taken. So this won't be the end.
Most polls indicate around 75 percent of respondents support traffic cameras. But it is the other 25 percent that make all the noise. And they will be the ones, in a low turnout election, who will carry the vote.
I don't like getting traffic tickets any more than the camera protesters. I'll admit I deserved getting the few I ever have received. But it doesn't make me want to stop traffic enforcement.
I have a fear that a great many people would vote against any type of traffic enforcement. Let's get rid of those sneaky cops who hide behind billboards, they would say.
Traffic cameras seem so reasonable to me. I'm busted without the embarrassment of sitting beside the road with people driving by checking out who got caught. And the cop didn't have to endanger anyone as he wound through traffic to cut me out.
I've seen figures that only about 10 percent of all people who have had their pictures taken get a ticket in the mail. The reviewers have to be sure they have a good picture of the driver and the license plate and good evidence that the person was running a red light or going too many miles per hour over the speed limit.
With city budgets being stretched thin, cameras are much less expensive than paying police to monitor traffic and write tickets. Every handwritten ticket takes 15-18 minutes of an officer's time. Every accident takes 45 minutes to an hour or more.
And cameras do lower accident rates. Opponents of traffic cameras love to cite statistics that red light cameras cause more rear end collisions from tailgaters.
Such statistics do exist but not for all intersections. And even when there are more rear end collisions at an intersection, there are many fewer of the much more serious perpendicular, T-bone crashes in the intersection.
When former Gov. Bill Richardson and his state Transportation Board ridiculously ordered traffic cameras off state-supported thoroughfares through cities a few years ago, Albuquerque kept motion sensors in the pavement activated. It was found that lawbreaking increased 584 percent without the cameras.
Richardson was death on traffic cameras. The main reason seemed to be that he didn't get along with then-Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, who supported traffic cameras.
A few years before Richardson and his henchmen outlawed cameras on state roads, he convinced the Legislature to grab a share of the local money from camera fines.
Traffic cameras should pay for themselves but they aren't meant as a revenue raiser. They are meant to deter traffic violations.
A major setback to the program occurred the first year of Arizona's state budget difficulties when then-Gov. Janet Napolitano proposed as a help in budget-balancing the purchase of a large number of speed vans, which were placed all over the state, catching motorists and levying huge fines.
The favorite phrase back then was "If you can afford it, go ahead and speed. You'll be helping balance Arizona's budget."
Traffic cameras just aren't something to get that upset about. We are subject to surveillance just about any time we leave our houses. And we think nothing about it.
It's just another high-tech advance.
FRI, 7-1-11

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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