A Good Terrible Idea

by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, July 21, 2010 No Comment(s)

How could a good idea and a terrible idea be the same idea? It is when the idea is red light cameras. The idea of catching people who bust red lights is a good idea. It is one of the most dangerous traffic violations, often compounded by the fact that the driver busting the light is also accelerating to do so. That is the reason so many red light collisions are serious, too often fatal. The driver in violation never gets on the brake if an accident looms; the victim (usually the innocent driver) doesn’t expect a speeding car bearing down at an intersection after the light turns green. 

These cameras are already in use in some South Florida cities and more are scheduled. Critics say they are just a way for cities to make money in hard times. They also say the cameras cause accidents; when a car makes a sudden stop that the driver behind it doesn’t expect. Well, the second driver should expect it; if not, that driver is probably planning to bust the light as well. We think most of those critics are just irresponsible people who want to break the law and get away with it, not once in awhile, but every time they see a light turn yellow. 

That good idea turns terrible, however, when the use of the cameras is expanded to award tickets to people making legal right turns, except they don’t come to a complete stop. It is called “rolling through,” and most do it. You arrive at a light, come almost a complete stop, see the way is clear and roll into the turn. The same happens all the time at stop signs. In many cases, there is no other safe way to handle the situation. Anyone who drives a small car knows that many intersections have high foliage right at the corner, so you have to move at least a few feet past the stop sign just to see if anything is coming. It is hardly dangerous. Your car may be rolling, but barely, and it is easy to stop if necessary. 

The papers have been picking up this story lately, with interesting illustrations of the unfairness in some cities. One driver got a ticket for a rolling right turn and the citation clocked his speed at zero. Probably because the technology doesn’t distinguish between one mile an hour and zero. 

Many stop signs are unnecessary, especially those four-way stops at locations where the street at 90 degrees forms a “T” – it doesn’t go through. Those stop signs only exist because neighborhoods complain about speeding traffic. Their purpose, like speed bumps, is to slow traffic, and somebody almost stopping and then rolling through has clearly been slowed.

Using cameras to penalize people only using common sense is not primarily a safety device; its purpose is to generate revenue. It says here that this is organized crime approved by a municipality, much as those notorious speed traps in north Florida towns. I got caught once, 15 years ago, and am still angry. We were coming back from a funeral in the north and when we entered Florida, I had a bright idea. Why not drive the back roads, avoid the crazies on I-95? Just take our time. Relax. See some country. Route 301 was the first choice. All went well for an hour. I had the van on cruise control, exactly 55, the speed limit. It was a wonderful, relaxed, safe ride. I congratulated myself on the back roads choice. 

Then I saw a stop light up the road. Seemed odd, for there was no reason to stop in this rural area. But I knocked off the speed control and glided to the light, where I got a ticket that cost $130. The speed limit had gone from 55 to 45 to 30 in a few blocks. People were getting tickets left and right. One guy was screaming in the police station. I complained to Attorney General Bob Butterworth at the time. I called it organized crime run by the cops. I wrote about it, too. Apparently, according to the Internet, nothing has changed. I was angry then and am angry now. I would like to blow up the cars of every cop who ever wrote a ticket in that despicable burg. Unfortunately, blowing up cars may be illegal up there, and they might have cameras to catch you. 

Alternatively, I rant.

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