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Red Light Violators May Face The Music
David 'Kip' Koontz

March 1, 2002

Go! Caution. Stop! Three little words representing three little concepts that you would think we would be able to grasp and follow.

Obviously not.

The issue of placing traffic cameras at intersections to catch drivers who run red lights has recently popped up in Frederick City and at the state level.

In Frederick, Mayor Jennifer Dougherty is considering a proposal to rotate cameras through 15 dangerous intersections throughout the City. Meanwhile, State Senator Alex Mooney has introduced legislation in Annapolis to ban the use of these cameras statewide, as he claims they violate individual liberty.

Geez. One might ask if Senator Mooney spoke to the police officials in the jurisdiction he represents to determine their positions on this issue? Since their positions are diametrically opposed to each other does Mr. Mooney represent anyone's views but his own?

It is obvious that many drivers believe that the yellow portion of the traffic light means GO AS FAST AS POSSIBLE THROUGH THE INTERSECTION BECAUSE THOSE COUPLE OF MINUTES I HAVE TO SIT AT THE LIGHT MAY MEAN MY LIFE IS RUINED!

At the same time, many drivers believe that red only means STOP for others.

It is a curious fact that Frederick police say the most ignored red light in the city is the one at the intersection of West Patrick and Court Streets. Coincidentally, that is the intersection where the Courthouse and headquarters of the Police Department sit.

Supporters of the cameras claim that the cameras are a 'no fuss no muss' way to catch these violators without having to expend people power to do so. Further, supporters claim that the cameras result in safer roads as violations drop as drivers stop running lights to avoid tickets.

The exciting added bonus in Frederick would be that the cameras would rotate around the city. This would supposedly force us to drive better everywhere because we wouldn't know where the cameras were hanging at any given time.

Opponents claim the cameras eliminate the human element and thus allow fines to be levied regardless of circumstances. Opponents say that there may be legitimate reasons for scooting through a "pink" light and a camera won't give you the benefit of a doubt as a person might.

Further, opponents claim the cameras could malfunction or could be placed at an odd angle that could unfairly portray one as a violator, when a violation didn't occur.

The District of Columbia has been riddled with this problem as judge after judge has thrown out fines and actually demanded certain cameras be removed because they were deemed as unconstitutional, or misplaced, or faulty.

Most often judges in D.C. have said that the way the camera was situated in an intersection prevented it from seeing the entire intersection, thus making a driver appear to be running a light, when indeed he/she really wasn 't.

One thing all agree on is that the cameras more than pay for themselves (they are $15,000 each) in a very short period of time because most jurisdictions with the cameras charge $75.00 a pop per fine. In Frederick, Captain Harold Domer has requested five cameras. So that means that with only 1,000 fines, they are paid for.

After that, PROFIT! Last year, drivers caught by traffic cameras paid more than $7 million in fines. Would that be the case if the cameras were truly successful at stopping drivers from violating the law?

That is supposed to be what the cameras are all about.

The manufacturer's representative, William Keller, found the need to defend the use of the cameras at Wednesday's meeting saying, "It's not about revenue, it's not about public money, it's about saving lives."

Supporters say that police (in some jurisdictions) review each picture before fines are sent out. They also advise that you can challenge a citation in court.

Neighboring Howard County has more of these traffic cameras than anywhere in the United States. Officials there are said to be delighted about the success rate of the cameras. They believe the streets are safer.

In Howard County, one can be leisurely driving along on a delightful Sunday afternoon. One can be following a late model Buick as one starts through an intersection.

One can sit behind the late model Buick as the driver decides to stop after she gets through the intersection (maybe there was a squirrel). In turn, one cannot get through the intersection until after the light turns red and the late model Buick gets out of one's way.

One can then find in one's mailbox a few days later, a letter, fine and picture of one's alleged violation at said intersection that delightful Sunday afternoon. One cannot see the late model Buick or squirrel anywhere in that picture.

One can in turn accept the invitation to challenge the citation. One can take one's time to appear before a judge and tell them about the late model Buick and the fact that one possibly helped save a squirrel from certain death.

One can listen to the judge tell you that there is no proof of the late model Buick or the squirrel.

One can in turn get out one's checkbook and pay the fine.

Senator Mooney became conveniently Cuban in his opposition to the cameras as he cites his mother's experience living under the tyranny of Communism (Herr Mooney doesn't like Communism. Is it that he just prefers more honest types of dictatorships - like fascism?).

Mr. Mooney is quoted as saying, "My mom did come from a country where communists control every aspect of your life. We don't want cameras watching people." He continued, "Let's stop the erosion of rights in this country."

How is it that Mr. Mooney can so conveniently turn on and off an understanding of what he calls "rights" and apply it to only those circumstances he finds appropriate?

Would Mr. Mooney be happier if those same cameras were taken out of intersections and placed in the bedrooms of Maryland's female population so he can violate their reproductive rights?

How about we just plop them in the bedrooms of all those militant Gays and Lesbians whose rights Senator Mooney so enjoys violating?

Yeh, those would probably be better uses for those cameras, as Mr. Mooney doesn't classify "those people" as having rights to begin with.

Across the pond, in Merrie Olde England, traffic cameras have been around so long the locals say they are considered a fact of life. They not only have cameras at intersections in order to catch red light violators, they have cameras all over the country on roadways where drivers like to speed.

While Senator Mooney might argue that we left England to rid ourselves of the tyranny of the crown, no one seems to be complaining about the cameras violating constitutional rights there. Maybe that's only because it is a country of people who drive on the wrong side of the road.


 

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