Red L⁠i⁠gh⁠t⁠, Green L⁠i⁠gh⁠t⁠

By: The James Madison Institute / April 28, 2010

The James Madison Institute


April 28, 2010

By Robert F. Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
Rep. Robert Schenck said it: “I believe this is nothing more than a revenue grab. The government has an insatiable appetite for our people’s hard-earned money.”He was referring to the so-called red-light camera bill (HB 325), which passed the Legislature and is en route to the Governor. The bill provides a $158 fine for the owners of vehicles caught on camera while running a red-light. The booty will be split between the state and local governments.Granted, running a red-light is dangerous as well as illegal, so violators deserve a ticket – but only when a law-enforcement officer is present to evaluate the situation. That’s because a traffic cop can do something that a camera cannot do: Ticket the errant driver.Moreover, a cop may also notice extenuating circumstances. For instance, Driver A may fail to stop on a rainy day because Driver B is tailgating so closely that stopping abruptly would risk a rear-end collision. Indeed, credible studies indicate that red-light cameras may cause more crashes than they avert.As for due process, forget it. While a driver who gets a ticket from a cop has the choice of paying a fine or going to court, there’s no realistic chance to appeal an automated ticket because of the belief that “the camera does not lie” – although California has discovered that the camera does occasionally misread a license plate and cite a vehicle that’s hundreds of miles away.Worst of all, however, the camera blames the vehicle’s registered owner, no matter who’s driving and regardless of the circumstances. The offending driver could be the vehicle owner’s teen-age son or a mechanic test-driving the family car after repairing it, but the owner is still liable for the fine.Moreover, it matters not to the camera whether the vehicle is recklessly whizzing through a dangerous intersection or cautiously rolling around a corner while making a legal right-turn-on-red – albeit without coming to a complete stop. In Lakeland, for instance, hundreds of tickets went to vehicles safely turning right on red without pausing long enough.If lawmakers were really concerned about traffic safety, they might have cracked down on texting while driving or refrained from raiding the transportation trust fund that pays for safer roads.Or, as safety experts urge, they could have mandated that traffic signals provide an additional second or two for the yellow caution light and for the “red-in-all-directions” portion of the cycle.Yet Representative Schenk is right. This isn’t really about safety. It’s about government’s “insatiable appetite for our people’s hard-earned money.”