Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Glorious Acts of Our Legislature, II

If you are a legislator, why deal with the budget and other things that really matter when you can seem suitably busy writing laws that appear to make our streets safer?

First it was House Bill 1508, that would ban the use of cell phones. Now, it's Senate Bill 570, that would install the eye in the sky cameras designed to catch those who run a red light.

Once again, on the surface, this seems laudable enough. Nab those who blow through red lights automatically. The camera captures the image of the offender, the license plate number is observed, and the offender gets the fine in the mail.

Think a little deeper, though. If I have a legitimate emergency with my son, and I'm not willing to wait for the ambulance, I'll blow through every red light in town to get to the hospital, and I'm going to have a thousand dollars in fines to deal with. I'll do this every time in order to get my son the treatement he needs in an emergency situation.

When in a rough part of town at 2am at a deserted intersection, and there are menacing young men approach the vehicle waiting at the red light, it's not uncommon to see drivers blow through the red light without endangering anyone, and in fact, taking themselves out of danger.

Then, of course, there are the considerations of the costs of the cameras, and of Big Brother. Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson has chimed in, so that we'll all understand. From the Star:
"What's the difference between having a police officer sit there at an
intersection versus having a camera do it?" Peterson asked. "Red-light cameras
will significantly reduce the number of people running red lights."

The difference is discretion. A human being on patrol upon seeing an infraction can quickly deduce the danger created by running a red light. The officer pulls over the driver and learns whether the driver is drunk, impatient, or has a legitimate emergency. The camera takes none of this into account. It doesn't care whether running the light created any danger or not. Pass too late, pay a price.

This proposal is just as unnecessary as the proposed cell phone law. If you get in a wreck because you used a cell phone or ran a red light, you are at fault, and you get the citation. If you do either and nobody is harmed, should you be penalized for the harm that wasn't caused?

There are studies out there on this topic. The wind-up is that longer yellow lights help give drivers more time to make the stop before red.

There is poetic justice out there, too. In several locations, the owners of vehicles were getting scads of violation notices with fines for running red lights. These owners were the cities that installed the cameras. After all, nobody runs red lights more than police, fire, and other municipal emergency vehicles.

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