Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Photo Enforced Intersections: An Editorial

The Man watching you at Sheridan and Flamingo, but only Northbound
OK. Yes, I know. Everything here is an editorial, and yeah, I am the writer and editor. But I try to spray a few facts here and there with my opinions. What do you think? Have I succeeded?

In this probably-too-long post, I'm going to try to make a case against the cameras that have been set up to enforce traffic signals all across South Florida and probably many other suburban and metropolitan areas in the US. If you disagree, please let me know why. If you agree, also make your opinion known as I'd love to be sure the City of Miramar knows what its residents think.

Now, since I do quite a bit of driving and shopping and dining and a lot of other things, and since I have written a weekly check to our neighbor to the north for three years of childcare, the City of Pembroke Pines, I will use it as Exhibit A as a city that uses Photo Enforcement, but I am against it in all cities. I do not intend to make this political or even try to understand the financial impact that this system has on the city. I only want to make it known that I DO NOT WANT TO SEE PHOTO ENFORCED INTERSECTIONS IN MIRAMAR! PERIOD!

I do not have any tickets from these photo monsters, so that is not my motivation here. I have heard stories from some communities that the tickets are outrageously expensive, but I'm not here to fight against that either. Did Pembroke Pines decide to outsource some of its law enforcement to computers? Perhaps, but I don't think so. Maybe they saw it as an easy way to make some money in an economy that is struggling while pinning the rationale on safer roads. I don't know, but again, I'm all ears (and beer belly).

Obviously I don't care about the why or who or any of that. I just don't want Miramar to make the same mistakes as Pembroke Pines. I personally plan to try to avoid Pembroke Pines and its businesses as much as possible starting in three weeks, as soon a my child finishes at a city-run school/summer camp that I absolutely love. He will begin real school at that point in Miramar. I hope businesses in Pembroke Pines will hear from me and you and tell their city to take down the cameras.

Why do I hate these cameras so much? I think they are completely unfair and are a severe violation of my privacy. There I said it. Yes, I know that driving is a privilege and not a right, and I respect the fact that Pembroke Pines has the authority to put up these instruments. Let me sum it up for you in one sentence: I hate driving where I think I might get in trouble when I didn't really do anything wrong.

First, the unfairness. OK, a sign is posted, sometimes a football field before and across 4 lanes of traffic, telling you the intersection is photo-enforced. Big deal! But even within certain intersections, the rules are not applied evenly. Southbound vehicles have no Eye-in-the-Sky watching them while North and East bound drivers do? Yep! The turning lanes seem to be off-limits though I'm not sure of that. But here's the real rub. Before these cameras were installed, only police officers had the ability to make sound judgements on whether a person deserved a ticket for running the red light, based on all facts and circumstances.

I don't run red lights and I don't get mad when I see the South Florida jerks that do run them get tickets and big fines. However, there is a ton of gray area, and that gray really is gray, not black and white like the photos used to send you a ticket and fine.

Most of the lights that are photo-enforced are busy intersections. These intersections also mostly have sensors that change lights/timing depending on how much traffic is going through them. For example, if no more cars are turning, a yellow then red light comes sooner and the other direction gets the right of way. It seems to me that time of day, traffic, hospital traffic, ambulances, congestion, the grandpa that still has a license, and out-of-staters in front of you all have an effect on your driving. Rightfully so! You need to be safe and make split-second judgements based on millions of things going on around you. That's where human enforcement succeeds.

I've also noticed that many lights have shorter yellows during off hours. While speed limits remain the same, it doesn't really matter how many cars are around you. That's basic mathematics, and I'd be willing to give a lesson. I'd also welcome data to prove me wrong on how many violations occur based on time of day and volume of traffic, and that is what I will ask for if I ever get a ticket like this. 

Next, as far as privacy goes, I don't need the City of Pembroke Pines taking pictures of my car as I drive through its city limits.  I really don't appreciate being followed by The Giant Pembroke Pines in the Sky or that they know every time I'm in town. When we start dating, maybe, but not until then.

Look. I got a ticket for speeding a few years back. 60 in a 45. But I got to make my case to the ticketing officer and a judge and there was no unfair out-of-context photo that put a scarlet letter on my chest. Guilty or not, I had a fair hearing.

I believe the best people to enforce traffic laws are law enforcement. I even think the City of Pembroke Pines police cars say "Professional Law Enforcement" on them. I hope this is at best a bad attempt to have safer roads, but even if it's a disguised city money maker, I think the practice needs to stop.

And MIRAMAR, DON'T EVEN GO THERE. Raise everyone's taxes $50 per year first and use that for some real traffic safety, if you must.

Of course I have been known to be wrong, opinions and facts, so feel free to weigh in.

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