The decision to install red light cameras at ten intersections in Cedar Rapids has been made. Proponents will tell you that this is being done for safety reasons. Proponents are, while possibly to some degree right about that and certainly well-intentioned, just plain wrong nonetheless.
Want proof? Look at the city budget that is in the process of being approved right now. Included as a revenue source is $750,000 from, guess where? Red light cameras. And since the city will be sharing revenue from supposed red light violations with whatever company they contract with, there'd better be a lot more in fines than that. Ask yourself this: If this were revenue-neutral, would the city bother? I really, really doubt it.
Why do I say supposed red light violations? Because the camera is a machine, not a human being. It is incapable of reason, incapable of making any allowance for any situation in which running a red light may actually be reasonable.
I know the basics, but not all the details, of how these cameras work. Here's a scenario: If one enters an intersection in the left turn lane, and then is forced to wait out an entire green light cycle before completing a left turn after the light turns red due to constant oncoming traffic, will a citation be issued? This is a situation that arises often, and it is how I was taught to drive. Pull out, wait for traffic to yield, make your turn. This is frequently impossible to do safely without remaining in the intersection until the light has gone red.
That's a simple and common situation. Surely there are other occurrences that will arise that a human being would think it was reasonable to be in an intersection after a red light. I won't launch a laundry list here. How can the camera make the determination as to your reason for being in the intersection after the light has gone red?
It can't. And whoever reviews the photos will have no easier time determining the cause of a car being in an intersection, assuming they even care, which I question. These are indeed violations of the letter of the law. But have we surrendered common sense and liberty in the name of safety and security?
Here is the kicker: How can you, once ticketed, protest? You can't. The camera can offer no proof even that you, as the vehicle owner, were driving. And by the time the shot is taken, collected by the company managing these things, submitted to the police for review (heck of a lot easier to do this than to be on the streets actually eyeballing violators, apparently) and mailed to you, how could you possibly defend yourself against the charge? I don't remember everywhere I drove four days ago (which I would think would be the absolute minimum turnaround time), nor the circumstances of every traffic control device I passed. Neither do you.
The answer to, “How can you protest?” is, you can't. And that's the point, I suppose. Daddy needs $750,000. And in all likelihood, in five years they'll need a million. The city will be dependent on people breaking the law to support their budgetary desires. Heaven forbid people actually obey the law, or we'll have a budget shortfall. If the money generated was being saved as a “rainy day fund” by the city, I might be able to resist complaining. But the city will need ever-increasing revenues, and I suspect that the standards for fine-issuance will become more and more relaxed.
Don't get me wrong, I am a big supporter of the police, believe in obeying the law, and have no problem whatsoever with the enforcement of traffic laws in general. I realize the police have much to do. What I have a problem with is the loss of the right to face your accuser when you are charged. You are simply charged and fined without any opportunity to explain the situation or defend your actions, in the name of 'safety.' Yes, I realize that these will be civil fines, not criminal charges, but that's not going to make an expensive ticket to which you cannot object easier to swallow.
There may be some safety benefit. I don't entirely dismiss that fact. No one knows for sure how this will all play out in terms of accident reduction in our fair city right now. There would also be a safety benefit to making all speed limits in Cedar Rapids 20 miles per hour. I can tell you this: I'll be erring on the side of hitting my brakes in my sporty car at these intersections at the first hint of yellow. I only hope the guy tailgating me in the SUV with the longer stopping distance will not rear-end me into the intersection while the light is red.