Why I just joined the grow­ing Red Light Cam­era Con­tempt Club

Star-Telegram (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY MICHAEL RYAN michael­[email protected]­gram.com ap­peals Michael Ryan: 817-390-7830

Modern tech­nol­ogy has brought us so many won­der­ful, use­ful de­vices to make our lives bet­ter and eas­ier. Smart­phones. GPS. Com­put­ers. An in­ter­net to watch cat videos.

Red-light cam­eras just aren’t among them.

I’d heard about the de­vices de­signed to catch red-light vi­o­la­tions, read about them, never much thought about them un­til I ar­rived in Fort Worth and got flagged by one. Now I pretty much de­spise them. Not be­cause it cost me

$ 75. That’s a lot of money to me, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, and I have no prob­lem pay­ing my debt to so­ci­ety.

No, my beef is more about prin­ci­ple than prin­ci­pal. I think these con­trap­tions are com­pletely un­fair and prob­a­bly un­con­sti­tu­tional.

All of a sud­den, with no inkling that it’s hap­pen­ing, you open your mail one day and the city claims that on a cer­tain date at a cer­tain time and a cer­tain place, maybe a month ago, you en­tered an in­ter­sec­tion too late for the cam­era’s taste. Here’s a photo. Send us money. Where do I be­gin? First off, how can you pos­si­bly mount a de­fense to some­thing you didn’t know about and which a ma­chine says al­legedly hap­pened weeks ago? You weren’t aware of any­thing at all un­usual be­cause noth­ing trau­matic or in­ter­est­ing hap­pened to you to store it in your mem­ory banks.

Then there’s the lit­tle mat­ter of a com­plete lack of con­text. Had you en­tered the in­ter­sec­tion law­fully, but were slowed by some­thing ahead that the cam­era didn’t see and doesn’t know about? Was there some­one on your tail you thought might rearend you if you stopped sud­denly, and who then stopped him­self and made you look bad?

More­over, with a ma­chine, there’s no nuance or dis­cre­tion. A po­lice of­fi­cer could at least em­ploy com­mon sense or even em­pa­thy to mete out jus­tice on the spot. Ask your­self: Why don’t they also have ma­chines that han­dle of red­light-cam­era tick­ets? An­swer: Be­cause the hu­man el­e­ment would be lack­ing there, too. And jus­tice re­quires judg­ment.

A Star-Tele­gram story last July claimed that, “Cam­eras are set so ve­hi­cles en­ter­ing in­ter­sec­tions af­ter the light has turned red … are pho­tographed.” Well, I know ma­chines are per­fect and don’t make mis­takes — con­trary to ev­ery sci­ence fic­tion movie ever made, I might add — but I sim­ply don’t be­lieve I en­tered that in­ter­sec­tion af­ter the light turned red. It would be com­pletely out of char­ac­ter.

But then, how’s a ma­chine go­ing to know or assess that?

Prob­a­bly the big­gest ef­fect of these Big Brother ac­ces­sories is psy­cho­log­i­cal. Af­ter get­ting one of these tick­ets, and maybe be­fore­hand, para­noia creeps in. You’re tempted to start stop­ping pre-emp­tively just in case, risk­ing rear-end col­li­sions — which sta­tis­tics have proven to be the case.

You feel like a scofflaw — and, not by co­in­ci­dence, that’s what au­thor­i­ties call the ap­prox­i­mately half of mo­torists who sim­ply choose not to pay the $ 75 be­cause there’s vir­tu­ally no en­force­ment mech­a­nism.

I looked up scofflaw in the the­saurus: law­breaker, pub­lic en­emy, crim­i­nal. Nice tag to put on some­one, es­pe­cially tourists who may be a lit­tle dizzy


from their sur­round­ings. “Hope you en­joyed your visit here — now pay up!”

I felt sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter af­ter learn­ing I’d in­ad­ver­tently joined a large and grow­ing Cam­era Con­tempt Club, whose $ 75 dues are purely op­tional.

This news­pa­per ed­i­to­ri­al­ized to “Un­plug red light cam­eras” last April, long be­fore my ar­rival, be­cause so many of the ci­ta­tions go un­paid. Cit­i­zen ac­tivist Kelly Canon led a suc­cess­ful drive to ban the cam­eras in Ar­ling­ton in 2015, earn­ing 60 per­cent of the pub­lic vote to shut­ter them. (A pe­ti­tion to do the same in Fort Worth fiz­zled last sum­mer.) The Texas Se­nate has twice ap­proved bills to ban them; let’s hope both cham­bers do it this ses­sion. And Rus­sell Bow­man, an Irv­ing in­sur­ance lawyer, is among a num­ber of folks fight­ing the gad­gets in court — and he has the Texas Supreme Court se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing throw­ing them out.

Be­sides the ar­gu­ment that it’s im­pos­si­ble to prop­erly con­front a me­chan­i­cal ac­cuser who cites you weeks af­ter the fact, one other le­gal ar­gu­ment is that law­mak­ers made an er­ror while draft­ing the law back in 2007.

Do you think they re­mem­ber do­ing it? Maybe we should send them a pic­ture of the mis­take and ask them to de­fend it.

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