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|WHY ROBOT TRAFFIC OFFICERS MIGHT BE A BAD IDEA
Chad Dornsife, Silver State spokesman for the National Motorists Association (http://www.motorists.org), called me a few weeks back about Senate Bill 473, which would allow Nevada speeding tickets to be issued by robot cameras -- you could get one in the mail without ever knowing you’d been “nabbed.”
I checked back with him for a progress report last week.
“It’s over to the Assembly Judiciary Committee,” Chad explained, “and what I’m afraid of is that they’ll hold it till the rules are suspended” (near the end of the session) “to vote on it, so that way they don’t have to have any public hearings or take any public comment.
“That’s how they got speed limits in Nevada,” after the nationwide 55-mph law was repealed, Dornsife recalls. “After they knew there’d be no more public comment they put it through -- in 1995 they did that. We’d sent through ‘no speed limits,’ and the bottom line is it was a back-room deal. It never went to a hearing and we got our speed limits back; it’s totally illegal. There’s statutory requirements for setting speed limits, and they never met those. ...”
But back on the topic of the new proposal for robot ticketing cameras?
“Even (Republican state Sen. Bob) Beers said ‘I was originally against it, but it’s only gonna be a two-year trial’; he voted for it,” Dornsife continues. “So let me get this straight: It’s OK to steal from people for two years, if it’s not about safety, if it’s all about revenue, and it turns loose a scourge on society.”
But -- much as we all hate getting a ticket -- can’t laws against speeding and red-light-running actually improve safety, I asked?
“There’s four studies now that show not only do the cameras not reduce accident rates, they actually increase accident rates, because people start slamming on their brakes and overreacting when they see that there’s a camera,” Dornsife replies. “There are four studies now. The original one was done by Andreassen in Australia” (http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/00/6.asp) “and now there have been studies in North Carolina, at the University of Virginia, and at the University of Texas.”
Dornsife refers me to http://www.thenewspaper.com, an interesting site on the topic where these studies are posted, currently leading off with a story datelined May 18, 2005 and reporting:
“Ohio House Votes to Ban Red Light Cameras.
“The Ohio House of Representatives voted 72-23 to approve a bill by state Representative Jim Raussen, R-Springdale, today that would effectively prohibit the use of red light cameras and speed cameras in the state. ... The House also voted 92-4 to add a provision standardizing yellow signal timing to the ITE (Institute of Transportation Engineers) recommendations.
“The amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Shawn Webster, cited the Texas Transportation Institute study showing longer yellow times decreased accidents. Raussen argued that the photo enforcement represented ‘a program that at best has questionable results.’ He cited ... studies which show red light camera use actually increased the number of accidents where they were used. ...”
Back on the phone, Chad Dornsife continued: “What’s happened is, the federal government has produced two new studies that say the cameras improve safety, but they excluded all the negative findings. The father of cameras in this country is the Insurance Agency for Highway Safety and their man, (Senior Transportation Engineer) Richard Retting. It’s like a scientist working for the tobacco industry telling us why tobacco is safe.
“The numbers are coming in from Great Britain,” Dornsife went on. “In a country of 33 million people, these excess citations for revenue are generating increased insurance premiums of $2 billion per year, because you’re able to add surcharges to your insurance premiums, and the IAHS that promotes these cameras is financed by the insurance companies that are the primary beneficiary of these insurance surcharges.
“And the other group, the National Stop Red Light Running Program, is financed by the camera manufacturers. But the cameras need a sustained, a consistent high level of violations to make them financially viable. All you have to do is adjust the yellow light, lengthen it by a second” -- which also reduces accidents -- “and it makes them not financially viable,” Dornsife contends.
Dornsife’s group, the National Motorists Association, “has a $10,000 reward to any city that will fix the signal timing, lengthen the yellow lights to reduce accidents and red-light running, and no city will take us up on it because that’s chump change compared to the money they’re going to get” from the robot cameras, which churn out and mail presumed-guilty tickets to car owners without a police officer even having to witness the offense.
“This law will also allow speed cameras in cars,” Dornsife adds. “Washington, D.C., with six patrol vehicles equipped with these automatic cameras, wrote 80,000 tickets in one month. They can write in excess of 200 ticket an hour; they just sit on some street that’s under-posted, they just mail the tickets. The owner of the car gets a ticket, and you’re guilty till proven innocent. If you’re small business owner with 10 vehicles, regardless of who was driving, you’ve got to pay it.”Since 1999, according to the anti-robot Web site, robot cameras in Washington, D.C. have issued more than 1.7 million tickets, leeching an additional $105 million from local drivers’ pockets.
Chad Dornsife can be reached at P.O. Box 141, Zephyr Cove, NV