Simply Extortion

In more than 500 cities and towns in 25 states, silent sentries keep watch over intersections, snapping photos and shooting video of drivers who run red lights. The cameras are on the job in metropolises like Houston and Chicago and in small towns all over the U.S. I recently received a citation for a red light ticket on Beltline and North Central Expressway in Richardson in the mail. I didn’t remember passing a red light and wanted to know more about them. According to the Texas Department  of Transportation, red light cameras detect motor vehicles that pass sensors after a traffic signal has turned red. The sensors are connected to computers in high-speed cameras that take photographs of the violation. Depending on the particular technology in use at the intersection, a series of photographs and/or video images show the red light violator before entering the intersection on a red signal, as well as the vehicle’s progression through the intersection. Cameras record information such as date, time, and time elapsed since the beginning of the red signal. Trained law enforcement officials review the photographs, and a violation notice is mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle. Opponents of the cameras often argue that they are really just revenue engines for struggling cities and towns, silently prosecuting motorists for mostly minor infractions. And camera-generated citations serve to derive a lot of money in many cities. For example the nearly 400 cameras in Chicago generated more than $64 million in 2009, the last year for which complete figures were available. I see this as a law enforcement trick used to extort money out of my pockets. I have yet to see a police officer stop anyone from going through a yellow light that often turned red too fast. These days local police use these red light cameras as a means to collect fines from drivers on a daily basis. I am forced to wonder whether these traffic light cameras are simply a means of extortion or whether there are any real safety concerns addressed by installing these cameras.


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