Saturday, April 6

Camera Shy

A recent, epic five part series by Matt Labash on the Daily Standard website makes a strong but misguided case against the use of photo-radar and red light cameras by police. Although Mr. Labash goes to great lengths to point out that there is no evidence that the cameras will save lives, that the speed limits are currently too low, that police forces are motivated by the enormous monetary returns that camera's provide, and that the cameras are little short of a fraud on an innocent populace, he manages to miss the point of speed cameras and red light cameras entirely.

Whatever the police departments say when they are touting them to the public or to lawmakers, they are not useful because they save lives (which may or may not be true), they are useful because they enforce the law effectively! Most of Mr. Labash's quarrels with the use of cameras are actually misdirected complaints about the underlying laws that they are being used to enforce. If the speed limit is 35 mph. and almost all drivers actually travel at 45 mph., they are all breaking the law! It may be an absurd law (which it clearly is not) or a debatable law (which it clearly is), but it is the duly enacted law and it is completely fair for the police to enforce it by imposing the fines imposed by the elected legislature. If you have a problem with the law, appeal to your legislator, but don't complain when you are punished for breaking the law.

It is also bogus for Mr. Labash to argue that speed cameras are a drunk driver's best friend because, instead of being pulled over and interrogated by an officer, he is just mailed a speeding ticket based on a photo snapped at an intersection. The photo does the police's job of dealing with speeding motorists better than they could ever do it in person; it is not intended to deal with the problem of drunk driving. Cameras do, however, free up policemen, who might otherwise be looking for speeders, to focus their attention on truly dangerous drivers. The cameras are not intended to replace policemen, they merely supplement their efforts by performing routine tasks that are inherently mechanical in nature, allowing policemen to concentrate on law enforcement that requires the presence of an actual officer.