Red Light Cameras: Fair or Unfair
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Picture this: You are driving down Manchester during the middle of the day. There are no other cars on the road, so being extremely cautious is not necessary. You see a traffic light turn yellow and speed up to make it through. Just before you make it to the intersection, the light turns red, but you pass through anyway without disturbing any other drivers. No policemen are in the area, so you figure that it’s no big deal. A week later, a letter from the police department comes in your mail with a picture of the back of your car crossing an intersection, demanding that a ticket be paid for running a red light.
Similar versions of this story are becoming common in West County as more and more intersections are incorporating the use of red light cameras. Red light cameras are set up to take a picture before the car enters the intersection, as well as when the car is in the intersection.
Officials then decide whether a violation occurred or not. They are then able to get a clear enough picture to identify the driver through the license plate. The ideology behind this is that it will reduce the accident rate as well as providing a cheaper, easier way to enforce safety and traffic laws.
According to the New Jersey Department of Transportation, the amount of citations given out on two different intersections with red light cameras decreased dramatically in the first two years they were in use. There was also a 50% decrease in right angle crashes (t-bone crashes) and a 29% decrease in same direction crashes (rear-end crashes).
Not only are these cameras improving the overall safety of traffic, they are saving local governments form spending thousands of dollars on cleaning up car accidents. The overall cost of crashes at both intersections was decreased by $119,900 in the second year the cameras were installed.
These statistics are not exactly applicable to the good people of St. Louis County, but they give a factual representation of the effect of the cameras.
For a better perspective, a study done by the Missouri Department of Transportation showed a 44.7% decrease in severe right angle crashes after red light cameras were installed. A severe right angle crash is defined as a crash that results in a fatality or serious injury.
While the tickets given out for these violations may not always be fair or accurate, the numbers don’t lie. The integration of red light cameras make the roads a safer place while also being economically efficient.
The system that is used to process these tickets could definitely use some work, seeing as how in Missouri tickets can be issued to people with only evidence of car identification, not driver identification. In other words, when these tickets are issued, you are guilty until proven innocent without substantial evidence, which is not due process of law and unconstitutional by definition.
Although it may not be the popular choice, I am all for the use of red light cameras. With a few minor tweaks to its system, it could be a fair way to regularly monitor the safety of intersections while being cost-effective.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Parkway School District.