Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Onetwothree RED LIGHT!

Traffic Light - The Ting Tings (mp3)
Green Light - Bullet + SnowFox (mp3)

Does your town have Gotcha Cameras? You know, vans set up on the side of the road without human occupants, snapping shots of all cars traveling faster than the speed limit? Machines attached to red light intersections, snapping shots of every single time the lights turn red, fines attributed to any and all cars guilty of not quite getting all the way through in time? Johnny Law as Skynet.

Interesting article in the local paper a week or so ago about this. Apparently Tennessee is looking to follow Georgia and rein in these machines. They're a little bit too heartless for my tastes. I'm reminded of the funny scenes from Sandra Bullock's big film debut, Demolition Man, when this machine on the wall would fine someone for violating "verbal morality laws."

Did you know those traffic systems cost a boatload of money? Did you know they justify their cost by paying for themselves? That is, their entire existence is not based on safety, but on the economic notion that the system will not only cover the expense of owning/installing it, but also provide the police department in question with an additional stream of revenue.

A few lawmakers in Georgia -- probably after getting fined by one of these machines -- got together and required that all traffic lights equipped with cameras add one extra second to all yellow lights. And guess what? You give people a little more cautionary time and VOILA! the number of violators goes way down! Amazing. Having seen this law's impact, Tennessee is apparently considering the same law... and those who see this as a nice source of income are adamantly opposed.

Now, I don't personally know Chattanooga city traffic engineer John VanWinkle, nor can I be certain of his interests or motives, but I can say this. The following quotes are a bunch of horse shit:

Mandating an extra second of yellow time would create a lot more seemingly endless caution times for motorists, said Mr. Van Winkle, who is expected to testify at this week’s hearing.

Drivers “would think ... ‘This stays yellow a long time. I know I can beat it.’ So they’re more inclined to speed up to try to beat the signal,” he said.

While some cities in Georgia have reported dramatic declines in red-light citations since the new law took effect, Mr. Van Winkle said the real issue is what is happening with serious collisions.

Now I don't know about you, but if I had to take my pick of which option angers the ever-lovin' hell out of me, and which option just annoys me... I think I'd go with the annoying extra second of yellow lights rather than the pull-my-hair-out $60 fine mailed to my *@%$ house with a picture of my bumper barely nudged into the intersection.

VanWinkle might be sincere, or he might be protecting a very cushy source of income. Either way, his above explanation is full of crap. [NOTE: Mr. VanWinkle, if you're reading this, I drive a black 2004 Hummer, and my scooter is a green Vespa!]

No one should question the power of a "radar van" or "gotcha traffic cam" to alter human behavior. I've set foot in Red Bank (a local suburb) maybe three times since they installed these traffic cams, and then only due to absolute necessity. Ain't no way I'm sending my car (or scooter) under these cameras unless I have no choice. I have not yet received a speeding violation or a red light violation due to these devices, but businesses in Red Bank have definitely lost my business. Has my behavior been altered? Hell yeah. Mission accomplished, I guess, but careful what you wish for.

Same is true of restaurants in downtown areas where they increased the costs at meters and mechanized them to make it easier for meter readers to check them. Believe it or not, there are other Starbucks and other restaurants where I can park for free! No meters or anything! What a deal!

But back to my point.

The act of recording what happens at traffic intersections isn't unequivocally evil. Rather, it's the money. It's what the money does to people and institutions. In theory, even Communism was supposed to be egalitarian, but apparently the smell of money is too irresistible, too corruptible. So while I'm more trusting and supportive of police than many liberals, I know that even police officers and police departments can't ignore greenbacks forever.

Those cameras are more about generating revenue than protecting civilians. Period. I think the PD justifies it by thinking of all the ways they could better protect their citizens with a bigger budget. Unfortunately -- and you'd think cops would know this -- the ends are rarely allowed to justify the means in our system of justice.

Both bands above sound remarkably similar. One has been quite successful; the other sent us three songs for free for us to review, and we're happily posting one here. You be the judge!


Bob said...

I am completely opposed to traffic cameras, just as I am opposed to the cameras that are all over this campus that are used to reinforce proper behavior or to catch improper behavior. But, I realize they're everywhere these days.

Daisy said...

I too think these camera are ridiculous, but the concept of setting a trap as a source of revenue is hardly new. I think I single handly balanced the budget of Barrow County Ga While I was in college due to cleverly positioned speeding traps. Officer Bumpus (no lie, that was his name)used to sit a the same stop sign in St. Elmo on the 4th Friday of every month trying to meet his quota.

There are hidden cameras on campus? Wow.

Daisy said...

Minutes after posting my previous comment my husband e-mailed to tell me he got a speeding ticket at 5:30am on the way to the airport. His main concern was that taking the time to deal with the cop was making him late. If you are going to get a ticket anyway at least the stealth camera's more efficient.

Anonymous said...

I do know John Van Winkle and I respect him as a professional. I am also related to a teacher at McCallie.

While I would agree with you that yellow lights could usually be lengthened by a second or two without any adverse consequences, I also believe that red light running has led to at least one fatality at a location in Chattanooga where a red light camera has subsequently been installed. If the people behind the cameras were just going for the money, that would be wrong. But what's wrong with trying to reduce fatalities?

Billy said...

Bob (+ Daisy) -- My understanding of on-campus cameras are that they are used 95% of the time in after-the-fact instances (e.g., who stole something). I don't really object to this. If they were using it primarily as a spying tool, it might bother me more.

Anonymous -- If you believe yellow lights could be lengthened sans "annoyance," then you are clearly in disagreement with Mr. Van Winkle, because he objects to this. Does this make him an evil person? Of course not. But his motives deserve to be questioned, especially when you see how much these machines cost and how much the city/PD makes from them.

Meanwhile, I can't count the number of traffic lights in town that I've entered at the speed limit but found myself forced to either screech the brakes (which is highly dangerous) or risk being "guilty" of running a light (which is in many cases the less dangerous alternative).

When yellow lights can be rigged to screw/assist the drivers, traffic cameras become highly suspect and the sources of profit.

Billy Bob said...

All of the off-campus cameras are also being used in an "after the fact" capacity. It's spying either way.

Billy said...

But a school's cameras are (in part) about minimizing litigious risk and in no part about profiteering. And my biggest problem with the city's cameras is their serving the purpose of a bake sale or a carwash -- budgetary padding -- under the dubious disguise of looking out for our safety.

Further, with the speed vans, at least they give you a reasonable margin of error. The traffic cameras, on the other hand, can control the yellow light's duration AND offer no margin of error. Oh yeah, and they make the city lots of extra money. Did I mention that yet?

Daisy said...

You do realize that if the city needs money they are gonna get one way or another right? So, pick your poison spycams or higher taxes.

I really have no objection to camera's on campus. I spy on my own kids all the time. It was just surprising.

Anonymous said...

I have a camera in Billy's office. I'm watching him right now.

formerly anonymous said...

The best solution to red light running isn't cameras and it's not a lengthening of the yellow phase. The best solution is to shorten the cycle length. Then if you miss a green light, you won't have to wait longer than a minute for the light to turn green again.

Tockstar said...

Geez, that formerly anonymous guy knows way too much about traffic lights. Can't we just complain without someone clarifying the "facts" for us? This is Uh-mer-ka!