Cowardly new world

More red light camera news (involving prohibitorily expensive but "mistaken" filing fees to contest the tickets) via a link from Glenn Reynolds, who provided plenty of evidence last year as to why these things do not work.

The red light cameras, while they have increased revenue, have not stopped carnage in Philadelphia. (Probably because people drive like hell to avoid the yellow lights, then slam to a stop if they turn.) Nevertheless, the Philadelphia Inquirer supports extending them, and in a recent editorial, is now calling for the much more intrusive speed cameras:

The red-light cameras, though, have not stopped the carnage along the 12-lane highway through Northeast Philadelphia. In the last year or so, a dozen pedestrians have been killed along the road. So it makes sense for city officials to look at further measures to make the Boulevard safer, as well as other traffic trouble spots.

Earlier this year, Council entertained a range of costly safety strategies - from adding more pedestrian bridges, to closing traffic lanes, to boosting patrols and safety programs.

All good ideas, but the first one to be tried could provide another "cameo" for reckless drivers: State Rep. George T. Kenney Jr. (R., Phila.) proposes legalizing speed-detection cameras.

As with red-light cameras, the speed cameras would snap vehicle tag numbers of speeders, with appropriately hefty fines to follow.

Great. And the guy sponsoring it is a Republican, no less. The party of small government?

People need to stand up to this tyranny, and exercise their constitutional right to see and confront their so-called "accusers" in court.

I'm sick of living in a world in which legal trouble can be generated by robots.

UPDATE: In case anyone was wondering where the red light camera revenue money goes, today's Inquirer has a front page story titled "'Running amok' at the PPA" (Philadelphia Parking AUthority, which runs the cameras). The PPA uses the money to fuel a gigantic political "patronage machine, pinching drivers for $192 million a year while giving only a pittance to the city's general fund":

All told, the authority now squeezes $192 million a year out of Philadelphia drivers.

That's tough enough for many to take, even assuming that the cash is being used for a clear public good: hiring teachers, say, or paving city streets.

But as an Inquirer analysis shows, the Parking Authority has become a self-replicating patronage machine that has used its new revenue principally to double the size of its staff and to inflate the salaries of its myriad managers.

Despite revenue growth of 54.5 percent since fiscal 2001, the authority has delivered only a pittance of extra help for the city's general fund: an average of $740,000 a year, or 4 percent, when adjusted for inflation.

"The city is sucking air in a lot of areas, and we look and see a Parking Authority that's twice as big, that's seen a wild running-up in staffing numbers," said Joyce Wilkerson, Mayor Street's chief of staff. "I'm not sure the Parking Authority should have first dibs on that revenue when we have trouble keeping libraries open."

Others share that view. Parent organizations are calling on the agency to write a $20 million check to the public schools. City Controller Alan Butkovitz is poring over the organization's books. Gov. Rendell plans to grill the authority's board of directors, and lawmakers in Harrisburg may call for hearings.

"It appears that it's running amok," said State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), who has been a longtime supporter of the authority.

But it takes a lot of money to run amok!

(No wonder they're clamoring for speed cameras...)

UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking and for quoting this post! A warm welcome to all.

I'm especially honored to be linked in the same post that links an important article by Glenn ("Stop, in the Name of 'Bots") which discusses the use of robots in a much more sinister context.

Don't miss it.

I especially liked the conclusion:

When the power to enforce the law is delegated to software employed by people who don't -- or can't be bothered to -- understand it, no one is safe. When you hear that people are using machines to enforce the law, remember the old computer-geek saying: "Garbage In, Garbage Out."

posted by Eric on 10.28.07 at 12:33 AM


If we didn't allow lawyers to make the law, perhaps the law would favor citizens instead of lawyers, and then the law could - you know - actually make some sense.

Hucbald   ·  October 28, 2007 11:27 PM

It's been pretty clear that the Philadelphia Inquirer is merely the mouthpiece for the political establishment in Philadelphia. Those people should be ashamed to call themselves journalists anymore.

Sebastian   ·  October 29, 2007 12:38 AM

I'm it the specifics of implementation that you can't abide, or the very existence of red-light cameras?

DensityDuck   ·  October 29, 2007 1:06 AM

Just a reminder, Philadelphia is locked up by the Democrats, and even Republicans in Philly are more the trying-to-get-in rather than reform types.

Jeremy   ·  October 29, 2007 1:11 AM

When they installed red-light cameras in DC, they generated a fair amount of revenue. So -- surprise! -- the government SHORTENED THE YELLOW LIGHT TIME to bring in more revenue. Predictably, fatalities rose the following year. So instead of greater public safety at a lower cost, what DC actually got was more death and more taxes.

Jeff Bonwick   ·  October 29, 2007 5:09 AM

Stories that claim they "shortened the yellow light time" after red light enforcement cameras were installed are as common today as tales of the now-legendary 200 MPG carburetor once were. So, Jeff Bonwick, where's the URL to a reputable report of such a thing happening in Washington, D.C.?

We have red light cameras in California (C.V.C. 21455.5 and .6) AND we have legislated a state-set minimum time for the yellow signal (C.V.C. 21455.7) AND laws mandating that much of the money collected in fines goes to the state general fund instead of to the local jurisdiction's or police agency's budget. This latter rule eliminates most of the perverse incentives caused by the pay-for-ticket-writing-performance schemes (intended or not) found in so many other states.

Now, c'mon folks, your legislature is at least as public-minded as California's -- isn't it?

michael i   ·  October 29, 2007 8:02 AM

@ michael i: No, No it is not.

Eric Blair   ·  October 29, 2007 8:15 AM

Wow Michal i,
and Why did Cali HAVE to
mandate yellow light times and accounting?
If you build it, they will come.....

CaptDMO   ·  October 29, 2007 9:34 AM
The red-light cameras, though, have not stopped the carnage along the 12-lane highway through Northeast Philadelphia.

Hmmm, a new technology/policy is implemented to improve traffic safety and it does nothing to stop accidents but it does increase revenue to municipalities and states. Reasonable people, not power hungry public servants who suck off the public teat, would reason that the new technology/policy doesn't work as hoped and should be discontinued. But instead of admitting error, they want more of the same. It's about revenue.

Very little "traffic enforcement" beyond the arrest of drunk or truly reckless drivers is about traffic safety. It's about revenue.

My son, nephew and I drove to NYC and back from Detroit over a long weekend, for another nephew's bar mitzvah. Is there any reason, other than filling state coffers, that Pennsylvania has a 65 mph speed limit on Interstates when so many states have a 70 mph limit? It's about revenue.

In New Jersey, on I-80, while my son was driving, he was doing less than 5 over when I noticed a NJHP cruiser nosing up right into my son's blind spot on the right. I told him about it and that the guy was pacing us so he backed off gently. The cop continued to pace us for about a mile at posted speed. I suppose the state thinks that's an efficient use of his time and contributes to traffic safety. He must have gotten bored, then took off at about 10 mph over the posted limit, caught up to the next gaggle of taillights, and then exited the Interstate. Now I'm sure cop apologists will say that we don't know if he had to make a radio run, but he certainly never turned on his lights or siren. He wasn't going particularly fast, maybe 75 or so, so he wasn't in that much of a hurry. Just speeding, doing so for no emergency reason, and he'd ticket you or me for doing the same.

About an hour ago, I was at a four way stop on a residential blvd and I noticed on the side street that a local cop was parked, waiting to nail people for running or rolling the stop signs. The question is what makes a safer intersection, fewer drivers not stopping, or ticketing those who do? Which will achieve this more readily, having the patrol car parked on a side street playing gotcha, or parking the patrol car right on the blvd, where people will see it and be cautious? But it's not about safety, it's about revenue.

Not far from my home in an adjacent suburb is a small campus with an elementary and middle school. There's a three way stop near the edge of the campus where a side street intersects with the street on which the schools sit. I've seen a cop playing gotcha on the side street with a driver who rolled the stop sign. It wasn't dangerous, there weren't any kids around and another car had just proceeded thru the intersection, so there was no real danger, but sure enough the cop turned off the side street and pulled over the driver. I'm sure the cop gave them a lecture about running a stop sign near a school, but if the cops and city were really concerned about safety, that patrol car would have been parked where people could see it.

Remember, it's about revenue.

And now the states are tacking on "driver responsibility fees" that are often many multiples of any traffic fines incurred in the same infraction. By calling them fees, they do an end around double jeopardy. The judge may only nail you for $150, but the state will pull your driver's license if you don't pony up $500 a year for two years.

Remember, it's not about traffic safety. It's about revenue.

Bozoer Rebbe   ·  October 29, 2007 11:35 AM

CA enacted the light timing minimums because the camera system supplier massaged the system. This supplier received a percentage of the "take" and unilaterally changed the control software to increase their return.

big g   ·  October 29, 2007 12:34 PM

Yellow light times are already dangerously short in the USA. I have been to several other countries the past couple of years and noticed that every one of them gives drivers more warning that the signal is about to change. For example, in Mexico the green light will begin to blink green for several seconds before turning yellow. That is such a helpful and simple thing to do I can only wonder why we don't do the same thing here. The only answer I can think of is that fewer people would run the lights resulting in fewer tickets and less revenue. For money they risk our lives. Every traffic bureaucrat in this country should be dragged from their office and publicly flogged.

Diego   ·  October 30, 2007 12:46 AM

I used to live in Tulsa, OK. The traffic light sequencing in Tulsa is designed to maximize the number of red lights (and this is a city that calls frequent "Ozone Alerts" during the summer). Like most cities, Tulsa's government has an insatiable appetite for money.

A few years ago, they toyed with the idea of red light cameras (I don't think the legislature ever passed enabling legislation).

I couldn't help but think that the city would see the cameras as a revenue source and the logical next step would be to make the lights even more frustrating: increasing frustrations yields increased revenue.

I don't think any automated enforcement system should be installed until an independent engineering study determines that the site is up to optimal standards.

There's a light near my office that is green for eight seconds regardless of the number of cars waiting. And at 5PM, 3-5 cars run each red light. Several calls to the city have yielded zilch. The police frequent the area.

If the government were truly interesting in safety, police would ticket people for dangerous driving. Poking in the left lane while yammering on a cell phone in rush hour traffic is a far bigger hazard than crusing at 75 on a rural interstate in nice weather.

Robert   ·  November 3, 2007 12:29 AM

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