A couple of years ago I was driving to work, when I slowed for a red light. I put on my signal and turned right. Two weeks later I got a ticket in the mail.
I balled up my fist and shook it, spitting out, “Redflex!” Seinfeld fans will get that, trust me.
The infraction was for my apparent failure to stop before turning on the red, a point I had no intention of arguing for two simple reasons. First, the police agency at the top of the ticket was my employer; second, I had watched traffic cops review Redflex footage before and knew the process was fair.
I muttered a quiet, $#@&! and paid the ticket.
I was reminded of that incident while reading a Trib article (4/26) regarding Puyallup’s recent council vote in favor of Redflex cameras. The arguments, both pro and con, were a civil mix. Public safety, not revenue, is the purpose of the system, said the proponents. Intrusive government is using punitive taxation, said the critics. The general consensus of most people was evident in the comment section, which could best be summed up as “$@&%! the cameras.
The camera system prevailed in Puyallup for the same reason it continues to exist in many local municipalities. It makes the streets safer. As a driver, I gnash my teeth while coming to a complete stop before turning right at the handful of Redflex intersections in town. I also can’t deny that the controversial cameras have reduced the likelihood that I will be having an intimate moment with my airbag.
I admit it has been difficult to acclimate to traffic tickets as a take-out option, courtesy of Redflex. Getting used to any new technology can be a complex issue. It took us a nanosecond to embrace the iPhone, but it will probably take us a few more decades to get used to the red light cameras.
One of the reasons these cameras are so unpopular is the perception that they are used indiscriminately. The number of intersections populated by Redflex has grown substantially in the last few years, and the public has begun to ask their city government to justify the placement of what is often considered a socially invasive tool. In the dystopian world of Orwell’s “1984” that question would have been a bad idea. In our free society, it is a fair one.
Consider the following scenario: A city council meeting filled with a heated group of motorists ready to vent about the installation of a new red light camera. But these council members are inspired individuals who value open communication and transparent government. In advance of the camera’s installation, they published a press release citing the number of collisions, injuries and fatalities at at the controversial intersection.
After listening to the complaints, councilmembers haul out the collision statistics measured after the camera was installed. If the stats clearly demonstrate the camera’s presence saved lives, then the complaints are noted and the camera stays. However, if there is no discernible improvement in safety, the camera goes. Which only goes to show that people like transparency and open communication (and that my fiction writing needs work).
Another negative perception is that receiving a Redflex ticket is a cold and impersonal experience. While I don’t know of anyone who relishes the idea of a cop leaning in their car window, at least there is the sense that a human may (or may not) consider the specific circumstances involved.
If we continue using red light cameras, we will simply have to adjust to this issue. We should expect, however, that officers reviewing Redflex video for traffic violations are writing tickets in a manner consistent with a traffic stop conducted on the street.
Moving forward, we need to fix the problems and adjust to busy intersections with red light cameras. No matter what your views,nothing alters our individual responsibility to driver safely. While we are fuming about the Redflex revenues filling the coffers of city hall, more than 30,000 people die in traffic collisions every year.
That is the only statistic we should be cursing.