Big Brother is Watching

We have a pretty big problem here in St. Louis with people running red lights. I’ve always hoped we could do something about it and when I saw that the city was installing camera systems in order to nail red light runners I thought it would be a positive thing.

Now, however, I’m not so sure. I guess I always had a “Big Brother” fear about this type of “police enforcement” but I pushed it down hoping this was a step in the right direction and for the common good. I mistakenly thought that the city would only be concerned about people running red lights. I consider that to be extremely dangerous. Turns out they’re also interested in another type of “infraction”; turning right on red without coming to a complete stop first.

First off, I’m not saying I didn’t do it. I did. I often yield at a red light instead of completely stopping. Although it’s illegal, I don’t believe it’s necessarily dangerous; not any more dangerous than anything else associated with driving. I’ve also asked many other people if they do the same thing and they say they do. Still not justification, but it does shed a little light on the frequency. Basically this is the vehicular equivalent of jaywalking.

The city also made a video available for me to watch. I watched myself slow, turn on my signal, look for oncoming traffic, identify that a two-ton city lighting truck was blocking any oncoming traffic, and then make the right. You’ll notice in the image below my car in the right hand lane and the gigantic orange truck blocking the way. You’ll also notice my turn signal flashing.

Frame 1

In the image below you’ll see the lane is empty because I’ve already made my right turn. You’ll also notice that the city truck is still blocking the lane, preventing any oncoming traffic from proceeding through the intersection:

Frame 2

Now, can I contest this? Of course not; I didn’t come to a complete stop and that’s what the law states. I might have done something that technically is illegal, but I contend that-under the circumstances-it wasn’t dangerous. That’ll never hold up in a court of law but I still believe it to be true.

Here’s the notice they sent me. I’ve blanked out sensitive information:

Notice

Notice a few things about this. First of all, they charge me for “Photo Violation No Right on Red”.

No Right on Red

That-in and of itself-is not true, since there is no sign stating that there is no right on red anywhere at that intersection. However, on the back they clarify:

Right turn on red details

So they got me. Now here’s the real kicker: they’re hitting me with a $100 fine.

Fine

I think this is a little excessive for this type of infraction. As further proof that this really isn’t a big deal, at least not enough to warrant a $100 fine, they assess no points on my license and it’s considered a non-moving violation.

Violation

So, in essence, this is the same as a broken tailight, a non-functional horn, or a parking ticket. Apparently not a big deal in their eyes and-in my eyes-does not justify a $100 fine.

I really believe that the primary reason for this is money. $100 per infraction is pretty steep, especially considering that they’re busting minor infractions like mine. Turns out a guy I work with got the same notice for doing the exact same thing and the exact same intersection, heading the exact same direction as me. The only difference with him was that he was still within the warning period and didn’t receive the $100 fine.

The city has an expensive traffic camera system to pay for, there’s little doubt about that. However, once that debt is paid think of the revenue this will generate. It’s nothing for me to see that camera flash four time during one iteration of lights at that one intersection. Since the system takes two photos of each car that’s $200 in revenue. The system runs 24/7, 365 days a year, generating thousands of dollars per day for each intersection they’re monitoring. It wouldn’t surprise me if this system, city-wide, rakes in millions of dollars per year for the city. I’d expect to see my taxes decrease as a result but I’m not holding my breath for that. But if you call the city to come an trim some of their trees, trees they own and are responsible for, they don’t even show up.

I hope it deters red light runners. I hope it causes my taxes to go down. Unfortunately I worry that minor infractions will continue to be used to issue disproportionate fines and I’ll never see any city improvements from the money. Unless, of course, more red light cameras are considered improvement. And then only time and traffic accident statistics will tell.

Update

I did a little research on these cameras; turns out in other areas there’s debate over whether or not they’re preventing accidents or just generating revenue. Here’s are a few excerpts:

Red light cameras are already being used in New York City, where last year the Big Apple doubled the number of monitored intersections to 100, boosting money collected to $33.8 million. In 2005, with 50 cameras, the city sent out $15.3 million worth of tickets. However, according to printed reports, once system costs are factored in, New York City only clears about $3.5 million a year.

Mayor Brown insists the driving force behind the cameras is safety, though he admits money is part of the equation. He said the cameras could bring in between $3 million and $13 million dollars in the first year.

A study published by the Federal Highway Administration (pdf) in 2005 found that there were fewer T-bone accidents, in which one car collides head on with the side of another, but more rear-end collisions at intersections with red-light cameras.

“We hope to reduce both, but if we have to have less of one and more of the other then we certainly would much rather have less T-bone type accidents and more rear-end accidents,” Boehm said.

Stop Sign for Red Light Cameras by Robyn Young – WGRZ Buffalo

http://www.wgrz.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=48495

And from a Kansas City, MO newspaper:

Donald L. Crow, defense attorney and Grandview municipal judge, said he didn’t have any concerns. The cameras take pictures of only the license tag and not the driver, so without evidence of “seeing that it’s you in the car, you can contest it.”

Crow views the cameras as a “revenue-generating device.”

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4181/is_20070330/ai_n18785947

Interesting. Maybe I should claim it wasn’t me.

Update

I received an interesting piece of mail last week; apparently the city believed that I hadn’t responded “in a timely manner”. My original citation was issued on May 24, 2007 and I probably received it shortly after that. I’ll add, by the way, that they sent this to the wrong address. The due date was June 25, 2007:

Due Date

I received a “friendly” reminder from the city on June 18, 2007 informing me that I’d “failed to respond in a timely manner”. Here’s said reminder:

Late notice

Notice the “FINAL NOTICE” bit in red. Keep in mind that this wasn’t actually due until June 25, 2007.

Failure to respond

I thought that a timely manner would be no later than June 25th. Here’s the post mark from the envelope with said “late notice” (received 7 days before the bill would have actually been late):

Post mark

The kicker is that I sent my payment to them, via certified mail, on June 15th! That should have taken one day to get to them; they’re right here in the city. So the payment was sitting either in the mail or on someone’s desk two days before they sent me a late notice! Here’s my certified mail receipt:

Certified mail

So my “violation of public safety” by yielding while turning right on red (the vehicular equivalent of jaywalking) has not only cost me $100 (plus postage) it’s also just plain pissed me off. Not only did they nail me for $100 for a bullshit charge they threatened me with legal action for failure to pay a fine that I’d already paid! Some system.

As a side note, while I was at the post office paying for my postage, the lady working there and the guy beside me in line had both received tickets from this same system. Just goes to show how much revenue the city is going to generate from these systems. If the city and police really cared about this from a safety perspective then today on my way home from work I would have seen the cop beside me ticket the lady who was stopped in the middle of the intersection on red instead of just zipping out around her as if she wasn’t there. The almighty dollar wins again.

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