Sunday, February 20, 2005

What the Experts' Report Didn't Say

Red-light cameras in Northern Virginia will have to come down July 1, following a House committee's decision yesterday to reject legislation extending the program
reports Christina Bellantoni in the Washington Times.
The pilot program " in six Northern Virginia localities and Virginia Beach " gave police departments an affordable way of catching red-light runners. Supporters say the cameras make roads safer.

However, critics say the cameras are really money-making devices that invade a resident's privacy and cause rear-end collisions.

Delegate Clifford L. Athey, Warren County Republican, said he knows that jammed-packed Northern Virginia roads are drawing comparisons to the Wild West and Dodge City.

But "the citizens who live there have some constitutional rights," he said.

Mr. Athey said ticketing with cameras denies a motorist the rights "to confront one's accuser" and "to be left alone." …

Officials from several jurisdictions dispute the argument that the cameras are for making money, not safety. …

[A] study, by the Virginia Transportation Research Council, also recommends the state continue the program. Red-light violations declined by more than 20 percent in four of the seven jurisdictions, according to the study. However, the study also showed that the number of rear-end crashes has increased at some intersections. …

I post this simply because in Europe, the norm for the politicians, the media, and the citizenry — once they have been presented with an "authoritative" report by officials and experts, national as well as local — is to agree and say, "Oh yes, this is something good for our nation that needs to be implemented", or, at best (i.e., at their most revolutionary), complain privately (râler) while doing nothing…

To remain in the area of rules of the road along with greater law enforcement, Nicolas Sarkozy recently implemented tougher action by the police, among others with regards to speeding vehicles being snapped by automatic cameras, whose fines allegedly arrive within a day or two and are taken as gospel. French TV showed a man calling the police authorities to ask for lenience, since — as the fine he had received clearly indicated — he had only exceeded the speed limitby one half kilometer (0.5 km or 0.3 miles); he was met by refusal, for, as the policeman manning the phone explained lamely, the new rules was based on a policy of zero tolerance.

Forget the "constitutional rights" bit: Since the stiffer rules and sanctions were implemented, I have never felt as unsafe on the périphérique, the autoroute-like roundway circling Paris. It feels as if everybody, myself included, has lost their adrenalin and is falling asleep at the wheel because there is the sensation that nobody is moving. An elderly Frenchman wrote as much in Le Midi Libre: people driving at such a ridiculously slow speed are even less alert than before, since they start looking at the scenery in order to tone down their impatience.

I realize not everybody will agree with me on this — especially people with harrowing tales of loss of loved ones — but suffice it to say that, with a far larger population, Germany, whose autobahn has no speed limit, has (unless I am mistaken) a smaller death and accident rate than France.

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