December 23, 2004
Bill to kill traffic cameras filed

State Rep. Gary Elkins (R, Houston) has filed a bill to outlaw the use of traffic cameras by municipalities for the purpose of assessing civil fines to red-light runners. As Grits notes, the bill that outlawed assessing criminal penalties via such cameras passed with 103 votes, so there's a pretty good chance this one will pass as well.

To answer some of the comments in this post, I do think these cameras will work more or less as advertised, and I do think they will have a positive effect on red light violations. My concerns are as follows:

1. Using cameras in this manner is another invasion of privacy. The opportunities to misuse them will be there and will be taken, and the temptation to use them for things they weren't originally intended for will be great. All of that makes me wary.

2. Once these cameras become a proven revenue generator, the temptation to tweak their timing so as to increase the number of violators the snare will be powerful, and will affect both the city and the private company the city has outsourced this work to.

I'm not convinced that the positives outweigh the negatives, and in the absence of written guidelines up front which detail everything about where and for how long camera data is stored and who has access to it, I can't approve of this.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 23, 2004 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack


Charles, saying that this technology will work as advertised is a bit like people back in the 1950s and 1960s saying computers never make mistakes. I know; you were a kid then, but trust me, they did say that, with the same naive confidence.

But as with most overambitious technological solutions, there are human issues that cannot be solved by these cameras. When I skate a yellow light, it is inevitably because I've glanced in the rearview mirror and seen someone approaching at 50 mph and not slowing down at all. Who gets the ticket? right. Dumb "smart" technology cannot enforce the law, unless we foolishly define the law by the technology. I will continue to skate the light under those circumstances, because even the ticket for a moving violation (which, btw, I have not had in over 25 years) is preferable to the personal risk of a rear-end collision. As to the (expletive deleted) who would cause that collision... nothing will slow him down, most certainly not the law or the camera.

I noticed in rereading the earlier post that several people made claims that these devices had worked to reduce collisions in other cities. Nobody offered a link, or cited an authority. It seems possible to me that the research, like the devices themselves, profits somebody's brother-in-law. It works? Prove it. Show me a real study, not sponsored by the makers or government champions of the product, a study with appropriate compensation for all the other factors that could reduce collisions... including, for example, better timing of the traffic lights themselves.


Posted by: Steve Bates on December 28, 2004 12:22 AM


Check out this post regarding your last point. While red light cameras don't necessarily reduce collisions, they do apparently reduce fatalities and major injuries.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on December 28, 2004 10:11 AM