State Senator Jason Crowell wants to ban red-light cameras in Missouri, now that cities like Arnold, Florrisant, and St. Louis have begun (or are soon to begin) using them. I disagree, because I’ve seen them cut down on the number of drivers running the red at an intersection near where we lived years ago in Virginia — the combination of the cameras and the signs were are effective deterrent.
Still, Crowell made some good points in a letter to the editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today, in which he explained his reasoning, saying in part:
Used properly, camera-based traffic monitoring may be a good safety tool, but certain concerns need to be addressed to ensure uniformity statewide. First, contingency agreements, in which companies manufacturing and maintaining cameras get a set percentage of fees collected, should be banned. Second, private companies employing civilians should not be able to control traffic lights and certainly should not issue or profit from citations.
He’s right that the cameras should not be installed or operated by a private vendor which receives a kickback based on the revenue generated. That can only lead to abuse, such as shortened yellow lights that catch more drivers running the red, which has happened in other municipalities. Any city that wants the cameras should pay for and install them up front. Public safety should never be privatized in whole or in part.
The other problem, which Crowell didn’t cite, is that while the photos provide evidence of the vehicle and its license plate, they don’t give enough valid evidence to indict the driver. Therefore, the car owner gets the ticket in the mail and is responsible for it. Critics claim this is unfair to the owner, who may not have been driving the car at the time.
The solution is to treat this crime not as a moving violation, but as a citation in the same manner as a parking ticket. If your car sits at a meter too long, or is parked in a no parking zone, you’re responsible for that ticket regardless of who was behind the wheel.
Also, this notion of having someone else driving your car strikes me as much less of a problem than the critics make it seem. What was the last time you lent your car to someone who was not in your immediate family? I can’t remember doing it for a very, very long time. If you do, and that person runs the red and causes you to get a ticket, well, you’ve learned a valuable lesson about who you should lend your car to, haven’t you?