I regularly receive calls from people who want to fight their photo radar tickets. They are generally furious about the situation, calling the cameras “the devil’s work,” “big brother watching us,” and other far more colorful things I won’t mention here. Although people caught by the cameras hate them, I’ve found that most people I meet think the cameras are great. If you’ve read this blog much, I’m sure you can guess what I think.
A lot of people justify photo radar because they think it will prevent speeding and free up law enforcement personnel to deal with more serious offenses. In general, I doubt photo radar will really do what its proponents claim, but I’d rather save that argument for a later post. Honestly, I don’t care effective photo radar is.
I’ve heard British people proudly proclaim that there are more CCTV cameras in London than in all of the USA, and that they do an amazing job of preventing crime and permitting effective use of law enforcement resources. I suspect (and hope) that most US citizens who are fine with photo radar would oppose one CCTV camera for every fourteen people in the USA. Why the difference?
If it’s because photo radar supposedly only captures people who break the law, then why not have the CCTV cameras on but only let the police view the recordings after a crime’s been reported in the area. I hope most US citizens wouldn’t stand for that either. I’d like to think that opposition stems from a healthy distrust of those to whom we give power, something that distinguishes our country from a lot of other places.
Another group of people try to justify photo radar by describing all of the ways the government has promised to limit its use. They say there will be no license points or school to attend for a violation, or that the government will only ticket the actual driver, whom they must positively identify. They claim cameras will only be put up on state highways, which apparently means freeways and interstates, not rural roads. There will supposedly be warning signs posted as well.
Do you really think the state will forever spare violators traffic school or points and abstain from forcing the car’s owner to reveal the driver’s identity? Should the rural/urban distinction really make a difference? Couldn’t CCTV too be justified if we just put it in big cities, not suburbs or rural areas? If signs make photo radar okay, couldn’t they also legitimize CCTV all over the state?
Why are we so willing to trust the government to continue to limit itself in using technology against us? When was the last time the government, on any level, limited the scope of a cash cow program? If our rights and some unwritten promises stand in the way of effectively and profitably enforcing traffic laws with these machines, do you really think the government’s going to keep it’s word?
History has shown that the government doesn’t keep its promises. Wasn’t the income tax supposed to be a temporary measure, a “war tax?” We can’t even make the government do the things it’s promised to do explicitly and in writing. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the US Constitution’s sixth amendment right to a jury trial in all criminal prosecutions. If we can’t make the government respect the promises set forth in the Constitution, why do we think the government will honor unwritten promises?
I also recently received an email defending the use of photo radar by claiming that what the government makes from the cameras is not actually “revenue.” Apparently, if you don’t use the cash to balance the budget, but instead use it to deal with public safety issues or increase border security, it isn’t revenue. I understand the definition of revenue technically changes when the government is involved, but I really don’t like the government’s hypocrisy when it comes to this kind of stuff. Do you think the government would be persuaded that I don’t owe any taxes because I had no “revenue” due to the fact I spent all the money I earned on things I thought were important or felt I had to do?
The same email also argued that if we don’t do something as a state, the federal government will begin imposing far worse measures. Using that logic, a state or locality could enact all but the absolute most appalling laws by arguing the federal government will do worse if they do not act.
I haven’t heard a single argument in favor of photo radar that made me even slightly warm up to idea. Quite frankly, it disgusts me that people are so enamored with the promise of safety that they’re willing to let the state profit from them using unmanned machines supplied by the lowest corporate bidder. I challenge anyone to read the Declaration of Independence and with a straight face tell me that the idea of government cameras spying on citizens isn’t plainly and wholly incompatible with the radical ideas of freedom and justice on which this country was founded.