They’re watching — and making money for cities

Kurt Strazdins;Kurt Strazdins


An issue that unites both rabid Democrats and rabid Republicans: those demon traffic cameras.

Not too long ago in the otherwise very nice state of Ohio, on a quiet Sunday morning with no other cars in sight, I made a right-turn-on-red maneuver after slowing to 2 miles per hour. A traffic camera caught me. A few weeks later I got a ticket in the mail for $130 for failing to come to a full stop.

After a lot of fulminating on the questionable constitutionality of this injustice I paid the fine, but it rankles.

My 93-year-old neighbor, who has never been in an accident in her life, seems to get a speeding ticket from a secretly situated, frequently moved camera every time she returns from the supermarket.

Another friend automatically allots a certain percentage of income each month for the $30 speeding tickets she gets whenever she cruises down a long hill bound for volunteer duty at the hospital.

Chicago collects almost $70 million a year from speeding and red-light or stop-sign violations tracked by cameras installed at 400 intersections.

In the Dallas and Fort Worth area, one single camera has resulted in collected fines of almost $2.5 million. The total of all the cameras soars into the millions.

The District of Columbia collected $85 million in 2012 and hopes to get much more this year.

Safety advocates insist traffic cameras, installed and maintained by private companies that get a huge amount of money from the gross take, save lives and spur safer driving. Critics scorn the cameras as revenue enhancers for local governments and warn they are often abused. There is a lot of conflicting research backing both sides.

Traffic cameras are just the latest technological development in the long war between drivers and over-zealous authorities who see legitimate speed limits as a way to profit.

So we read with relish The New York Times story of Hampton, Fla., (pop. 477) which has issued so many speeding tickets to strangers driving through its 1,260-foot stretch on Highway 301 that the state investigated.

The Florida Legislature may wipe the tiny speck of Hampton off the map.

Hampton’s former police chief, city clerk and maintenance operator are under criminal investigation for alleged financial irregularities stemming from fining all those motorists who suddenly found themselves dropping from a 65 mph zone to a 55 mph zone with barely enough time to slow down.

In 2011, Hampton collected $268,000 despite being on AAA’s list of speed traps. Tickets were issued by volunteers, some driving uninsured vehicles.

In an age of rampant skepticism about government overreach, bureaucracy and ineffectiveness, Hampton, does not inspire confidence.

Drivers are not taking such abuses sitting down.

A common-pleas judge just ruled the southwest Ohio village of New Miami must stop using traffic cameras used to collect $1 million from 10,000 drivers. The judge said the camera violates the right of due process, and that the village has a vested interest in fining motorists.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Supreme Court is considering a challenge against cameras used in Toledo.

The Florida Supreme Court is also considering the legality of traffic cameras. At least eight states have put restrictions on traffic cameras, and some won’t permit them in cities of less than 1 million people.

We would like the Supreme Court of the United States to take up this issue, but in 2009 the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the presumption of liability of drivers issued citations does not violate due-process rights.

At least by the end of 2014, all states have to adopt standards that decree that yellow lights should have a minimum duration of 3 seconds and a maximum duration of 6 seconds to make it easier to stop before the light changes. If a vehicle has entered the intersection before the light turns red, it should not be ticketed.

Drive carefully, my friends. We are being watched.

Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune.

© 2014, McClatchy-Tribune

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

Tony Lesesne


    Tony Lesesne: Overkill, and an apology

    Yes, it happens in South Florida, too — and it shouldn’t. Black men pulled over, needlessly hassled by police officers who give the rest of their colleagues a bad name, who make no distinction when a suspect has no other description than ‘black male,’ who harass residents because they can. A North Miami Beach officer pulls over a black man in a suit and tie — and behind the wheel of an Audi that simply had to be stolen, right? In another Miami-Dade city, an officer demands that an African-American man installing a vegetable garden justify why he has a shovel and seedlings. Detained for possession of cilantro? Here are five South Floridians who tell of their experiences in this community and beyond, years ago, and all too recently.

Delrish Moss


    Delrish Moss: Out after dark

    “I was walking up Seventh Avenue, just shy of 14th street. I was about 17 and going home from my job. I worked at Biscayne Federal Bank after school. The bank had a kitchen, and I washed the dishes. A police officer gets out of his car. He didn’t say anything. He came up and pushed me against a wall, frisked me, then asked what I was doing walking over here after dark. Then he got into his car and left. I never got a chance to respond. I remember standing there feeling like my dignity had been taken with no explanation. I would have felt better about that incident had I gotten some sort of dialogue. I had not had any encounters with police.


    Bill Diggs: Hurt officer’s feelings

    “I’m the first generation in my family to go to college, and if I wanted to do nothing else, I wanted to make my mom happy. I was living for my parents, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to go to work and not have to put on steel-toe boots. And here I am in Atlanta, I have finally grown to a particular level of affluence. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was a college kid, wearing a suit, driving a nice BMW going to work everyday. Can’t beat that. I would leave my house, drive up Highway 78, the Stone Mountain area, grab some coffee, go to work. So on this particular morning, there’s a cop who’s rustling up this homeless guy outside the gas station where I was filling up. I’m shaking my head, the cop looks at me. This homeless guy is there every morning. I get in my car and on to the expressway. The police officer comes shooting up behind me. I doing 65, 70. He gets up behind me, I notice he’s following me. I get in one lane, he gets in the lane, I get in another lane, he gets in that lane. He finally flips his lights on, he comes up to the car. I’ve been pulled over for speeding before, I know the drill. Got my hands up here, don’t want to get shot, and I think he’s going to say what I’ve heard before: ‘License and registration, please.’ He says ‘Get out of the car!’ and he reaches in and grabs me by my shirt. He says, ‘So you’re a smart ass, huh?’ Finally he says, ‘License and registration.’ I tell him it’s in the car. He says, ‘Get it for me!’ He goes back to his car, comes back and asks, ‘So where did you get the car from?’ I say ‘It’s a friend of mine’s.” He says, ‘Is it stolen? What are you doing driving your friend’s car?’ I finally asked, ‘Is there a reason you stopped me? You followed me, what’s up, man?’ He says, ‘I’m going to let you go with a warning, but if you see me doing what I’ve got to do for my job, don’t you ever f---ing worry about it.”

Miami Herald

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