I got a news release from the CRPD the other day saying that they’re at long last getting ready to install the red light and speed cameras around the city. I’m excited! I’m similarly excited about the chance to acquire the H1N1 flu, paying my taxes, and the blizzard that’s expected this week.
This is obviously an issue that nags at me, since it’s the third time I’ve written about it. You can read the other two here, and here.
It seems especially odd to install these things in the winter. We’ve had just a touch of snow thus far this year, but if there is anything that’s clear, it’s that cars tend to behave quite outside normal parameters in winter driving conditions.
I can without difficulty imagine a car approaching an intersection on a snowy day, the light going yellow, the driver hitting the brakes, and the car stopping as required for the now red light. I can also imagine this car sliding just beyond the invisible-because-it’s-snow-covered white line and a picture being taken showing the car encroaching upon the intersection. No sane police officer would ticket that, but as I’ve said in prior writings, the camera makes no allowances for other factors involved in why one might end up in the intersection.
While I believe in law and order, safe driving, and all that, I don’t believe that this is being done in the name of safety, at least not entirely. I’m quite certain that slamming on your brakes to make a quick stop at a newly yellow light on snowy and icy roads is a recipe for locking your brakes and losing control of your car, which helps safety how? I’m convinced that sometimes in the snow it is far safer to continue through a changing light (where cross traffic is already stopped) with a little toot of the horn than to slam on your brakes, lose control, and slide into the poor sap waiting in the left turn lane or wherever.
Some of these cameras will also or alternatively monitor speeding violations. Do some people whizz along the downtown I-380 s-curve at an unsafe speed? No question. There are certainly times, though, when it is far safer to speed than to go the speed limit. Anyone who has ever driven on the interstate highways around Chicago will attest to that. The speed limit on the expressways anywhere near the city and suburbs is 55. Try going that slow; it would be a spectacular way to die. Everyone is going at least 65, most approaching and some exceeding 70. Sometimes you have to go with the flow, as they say.
It’s tricky to argue this side of the issue, as the people who set the terms of the debate have chosen “safety” as their basis. Who could be against safety? I’m certainly not, but I’m against red light and speed cameras. I guess I will declare my side of the issue to be “freedom from governmental oppression.” I think speeders and red light runners (even me, should I get caught) should pay their debt to society. I just think a human being should actually have to catch them doing their wrong, not take a guess from a photo.
I don’t want to come off as paranoid (a statement that surely means that I’m about to), but this does have Orwellian undertones to it. Right now it’s cameras, and if you know their locations you can, at least in theory, avoid them. But what’s next? I have a great device called an I-Pass, which is issued by the Illinois Tollway folks, which has some sort of chip in it that allows me to pay my tolls without stopping when I go to visit Mom. I bet it wouldn’t be hard to set up a grid of sensors around town and monitor drivers’ speeds by how quickly they get from here to there. Make it from Collins Road to Wilson Avenue too fast on 380? Speeding ticket. If you don’t think it can happen, just you wait. Accepting passive monitoring under the guise of safety using red light and speed cameras just opens the door to more insidious monitoring. I’m proud to be on record as being opposed.