Law Professor Challenges Traffic Camera Ticket, Hijinks Ensue
January 13, 2017 1:18 PM   Subscribe

First of all, the city attorney wasn't sure if the case was civil or criminal. The professor definitely was not in his car when it was found to have been speeding, but he received a violation notice. He decides to challenge it and learns how little interest local attorneys for the city have in the law.
posted by BradyDale (150 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
I offer it only to show how our ruling elites--

--grabs popcorn, settles back in to read rest of article.
posted by Etrigan at 1:21 PM on January 13, 2017 [12 favorites]


The traffic camera tickets in a nearby county make it clear that you must produce an affidavit from the person driving the car if you plan to claim someone else was driving; no idea if that's true or not, I've never checked because I've always been obviously at fault. I'd probably do it if I weren't though.

I do respect that he points out all the stuff he's doing he'd never tell a student to do. That cross examination question is only not completely terrible because it mysteriously worked.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:24 PM on January 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


Florida doing the right thing?
posted by Splunge at 1:34 PM on January 13, 2017


It's an interesting story about fighting a traffic ticket, if true, but the bit about standing seems fairly bonkers to me. I've never heard of a government needing to show that it was injured to bring a civil enforcement action. The author's argument seems to be an attack on the regulatory power of government not much different from something a sovereign citizen type would make. I think he is arguing that a city can't fine you for running a red light if the city wasn't somehow injured, which is an argument that would get you laughed out of court.
posted by burden at 1:35 PM on January 13, 2017 [24 favorites]


Thanks, OP. What a depressing story. He's never going to get his money back, is he?
posted by Bella Donna at 1:36 PM on January 13, 2017 [6 favorites]


FYI, the author is a morally repugnant conservative. He believes that a lesbian couple should not both be legally recognized as the parents of a child; that Texas courts should defy the Supreme Court and further restrict access to women's healthcare; and that colleges should be free to discriminate against LGBT students and employees; among many other positions.

He signed a statement calling on the local, state, and federal government to refuse to follow Obergefell (the case legalizing same sex marriage nationally).

The website this was published on is an outlet of the Witherspoon Institute.

The author's argument seems to be an attack on the regulatory power of government not much different from something a sovereign citizen type would make

The author is fanatically opposed to what he calls 'the regulatory state'. He is a far-right extremist and religious fundamentalist.
posted by jedicus at 1:43 PM on January 13, 2017 [139 favorites]


He's never going to get his money back, is he?

Sure he will, minus court costs and fees that will have him owing money to get his money returned.
posted by lstanley at 1:44 PM on January 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


Jedicus, does any of that invalidate his analysis of how traffic tickets are enforced?
posted by Spacelegoman at 1:48 PM on January 13, 2017 [34 favorites]


I'd never heard of this law school. Which isn't dispositive of anything, just surprising considering there are only 205 accredited law schools in the USA and I've been a practicing attorney for seven years.

Civil violations (also called infractions) are indeed a relatively new creature. Neither precisely criminal nor civil, they are nonetheless not SO new that a law school professor should have never heard of them. He is right - the cops shouldn't be perjuring themselves, not in these affidavits or anywhere else. And he is right that the city attorney should know how her own laws and procedures work. The rest of this muck is, well, muck. As I read the hyperbole I thought that this guy must be a conservative zealot of some species and lo that I am correct.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:52 PM on January 13, 2017 [41 favorites]


Jedicus, that is the ad hominem-est argument I have ever seen! When it comes to the constitutionality / rightness / societal value of red light cameras, his personal viewpoints and politics are completely irrelevant. I might want to punch him in the face if I met him in person, but I agree that red light cameras are a bunch of BS, especially and particularly because they enrich private entities and create contractual revenue obligations to, you know, fine people. In that respect they're not unlike privatized prisons.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:57 PM on January 13, 2017 [29 favorites]


When it comes to the constitutionality / rightness / societal value of red light cameras, his personal viewpoints and politics are completely irrelevant.

Except that they are, because the viewpoint informs the legal analysis. As was pointed out, infractions aren't something new.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:02 PM on January 13, 2017 [9 favorites]


Jedicus, does any of that invalidate his analysis of how traffic tickets are enforced?

I'm going to go for... yeah. Yeah, it does. Because he states, right at the top of his article, 'ruling elites have corrupted the rule of law' - except that this is a tautology, as they are ruling elites. What he means is 'nefarious forces who are unlike me, a regular guy, who is like you (except I am smart because I am a law professor)'.

Fact is, speeding does harm the city, and a solid observation of speed rules is one of the things that makes a modern car-using civilisation work. The fact that they are operated by companies, and used as cash-generators by organisations including governing bodies, is a by-product of capitalism. Pesky capitalism!
posted by The River Ivel at 2:03 PM on January 13, 2017 [40 favorites]


does any of that invalidate his analysis of how traffic tickets are enforced?

It helps give context to his motivation and legal strategies (as asked about above). It may color how believable his account of events is. And it may also help some people decide if it's the kind of website or author they want to give traffic or attention to.

that is the ad hominem-est argument I have ever seen

Ah, but I didn't make an ad hominem argument. I didn't say his complaints were wrong because he's morally repugnant or because he advocates radical fringe legal positions. Indeed, I also happen to think that issuing tickets on the basis of a photo of a license plate is both legally problematic and bad public policy. But if I had known what I know now about the author and his affiliations, I would never have given him the attention or the traffic.
posted by jedicus at 2:05 PM on January 13, 2017 [51 favorites]


Certainly, all citizens have a duty not to break criminal laws with culpable intent. But we owe that duty neither to the city nor to the state but to each other.

I would take his duty and concern for his fellow citizens seriously if he wasn't treating them with disdain throughout his article. I would take his concern for the law seriously if he upheld the law at all times, not just when he thinks other people might be around.

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by Capt. Renault at 2:06 PM on January 13, 2017 [14 favorites]


I think the clerk who rolled his eyes at another wannabe Perry Mason had a point.

Google "Faulkner University Law School." You'll see.
posted by spitbull at 2:07 PM on January 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


From the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

Speeding
In 2015, speeding was a factor in 27 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths. Speeding has been a factor in more than a quarter of crash deaths since 2005. Speeding was defined to include crashes in which the driver was issued a traffic citation for speeding or in which driver-related factors included driving too fast for conditions, racing or exceeding the posted speed limit.


The public certainly has an interest in speed law enforcement.
posted by spitbull at 2:14 PM on January 13, 2017 [28 favorites]


The author sure comes off like an asshole. I suspect he doesn't care. I was expecting the article to go off into gold fringe flags and sovereignty, but then the legal arguments he describe sound like real law, not moon law. So I'm not sure what to think, except I don't think I would enjoy this man's company.
posted by Nelson at 2:16 PM on January 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


If we are going to stop those nefarious evildoers who jeopardize the health of the republic by sliding through yellow lights when no one else is around and driving through empty streets at thirty miles per hour in twenty-five zones, then we need a way around such pesky impediments as a lack of eyewitnesses.

What a fuck. Who is his editor?
0. Traffic laws feel unreasonable to you when you are an entitled jackhole, but in the aggregate, they promote safety.
1. It's constitutional to pass laws targeting things that do less than jeopardize the health of the republic.
2. They are red-light cameras, not yellow-light cameras. How about people just don't run red lights?
3. When you make the split-second decision whether to run a red light, how do you check to make sure no one is around first?
4. When you make the split-second decision whether to run a red light, how do you check to make sure the streets are empty first?
5. Since the state has the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, maybe they don't want to rely on unreliable eyewitness testimony when they don't have to?

There are plenty of great arguments against red-light cameras, but he spends about 2% of his time making them and the rest feeling disproportionately proud for having actually practiced some law.
posted by radicalawyer at 2:16 PM on January 13, 2017 [23 favorites]


From the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety again:

Why is red light running a problem?
Red light runners cause hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of injuries each year. In 2014, 709 people were killed and an estimated 126,000 were injured in crashes that involved red light running. Over half of those killed were pedestrians, bicyclists and people in other vehicles who were hit by the red light runners.

An Institute study of urban crashes found that those involving drivers who ran red lights, stop signs and other traffic controls were the most common type of crash (22 percent). Injuries occurred in 39 percent of the crashes in which motorists ran traffic controls.

posted by spitbull at 2:24 PM on January 13, 2017 [7 favorites]


But we owe that duty neither to the city nor to the state but to each other.

Wait, who does he think the city and state represent?
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:33 PM on January 13, 2017 [22 favorites]


To quote The Dude: "You're not wrong, Walter. You're just an asshole."

(Walter: alright then.)
posted by GuyZero at 2:36 PM on January 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


His perspective is important here because he's not really arguing that red-light cameras are BS for safety reasons, he's arguing that the state does not have the right to issue you a ticket unless it can prove standing. But I suspect that that is just his legal rationalization for arguing that the state does not have the power to make running an red light illegal or some other libertarian-esque nonsense.

That said, he does kind of have a point. The only reason that traffic lights exist is because drivers can't communicate any other way to co-ordinate safe passage through an intersection. So, if there aren't any other cars around that can possibly be in the intersection at the same time as me, it's perfectly safe for me ignore the traffic signals and blow through the light (or stop sign, for that matter). But, if we allow that, we create this legal gray area where there is no objective way to determine if someone was okay blowing through a light. So it makes sense that you just get rid of almost every exception (the right turn on red is the only common exception allowed) so you either stop for the light or violate the law.

Instead, you have this legal gray area where the state can fine you for breaking the law without you actually causing any harm. This is where prosecutorial discretion is supposed to come into play. I think that you should be able to tell the office that pulls you over, "Visibility was good, there weren't any other cars around except you and you're parked, so I ignored the light." And the cop should let you go. But if you ran the light because you weren't paying attention, you get fined because that's totally unsafe and you just got lucky.

But red-light cameras aren't about safety, they're about generating revenue. They can't make a decision about the choices the driver made or assess the scenario (sometimes running the light was the safest thing you can do). They DO, however, introduce a powerful incentive to avoid getting a fine. This leads to more people slamming on their breaks for a yellow and getting rear-ended as a result.

Speed cameras are all about money too. I read through a bunch of the transcripts of the meetings debating putting them in place for a bunch of jurisdictions while researching for an essay and not once did anyone even mention effects on safety. Vendors didn't present any info about the cameras affected safety and the elected officials never asked. The other relevant piece of research is that driving faster doesn't increase the likelihood of a collision, differences in speed do. Speeding is NOT unsafe if everyone is doing it to the same extent.
posted by VTX at 2:37 PM on January 13, 2017 [11 favorites]


He does have a point that the ticketing system described is weird. In the UK the registered keeper (owner) of a vehicle is required to identify who was driving it at the time of an infraction, and failure to do so is a separate offence with a higher penalty than an ordinary ticket. Thus his gambit wouldn't work here.
posted by grahamparks at 2:39 PM on January 13, 2017 [7 favorites]


As a general rule, the state does not need to show injury to enforce its own laws (though, unsurprisingly, in discrete cases where no injury has resulted to anyone, the state often exercises its discretion not to enforce). Standing is a matter for private citizens. Indeed, the assumption that the state can enforce its own laws has been a background to the obnoxious attack since roughly the mid-1980s on private rights of action.

One of the key underlying principles of the common-law system is that legal disputes should be settled on a case-by-case basis, with each case being between people whose interests are meaningfully affected by that particular factual dispute. The purpose of a standing requirement is to make sure that people who are not involved in a dispute don't meddle, which can be costly and cause other problems (e.g., collusive litigation). But the state always has an interest in enforcing its own laws.
posted by praemunire at 2:40 PM on January 13, 2017 [9 favorites]


Speeding is NOT unsafe if everyone is doing it to the same extent.

As a pedestrian, I will never be speeding to the same extent as a car, so they can slow right down, thanks.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:44 PM on January 13, 2017 [85 favorites]


Oooh, a good example of that is the murder rate in Chicago. The idea is that the city, for various reasons, can't seem to solve most murders and as a result, there is less disincentive to commit murder and the murder rate goes up.

So like, even if you shoot someone as they jump off a building, you still want to make it abundantly clear that this is a place where murderers are caught and prosecuted.
posted by VTX at 2:45 PM on January 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


The only reason that traffic lights exist is because drivers can't communicate any other way to co-ordinate safe passage through an intersection. . So, if there aren't any other cars around that can possibly be in the intersection at the same time as me, it's perfectly safe for me ignore the traffic signals and blow through the light (or stop sign, for that matter).

Wait what? That's pretzel logic. Traffic lights are how we communicate at an intersection. They aren't the only way we could. They weren't a compromise when something else failed. They work remarkably well, although autonomous cars will eventually make them obsolete. There is no social consensus about falling back to some other system in light traffic. Many red light accidents happen when people *think* they are alone but can't see or don't notice or misjudge another vehicle or a pedestrian.

In some jurisdictions and at some intersections you can revert to treating a red light as a stop sign. But you can't run it. *You can not be sure* you are the only occupant of the roadway at any time, let alone at an intersection in any developed (or simply non-level) area at least. We live by many social rules that are inefficient in purely energetic terms. But this isn't one of them. It has an aggregate benefit for you to sit there 60 seconds even though you don't see cars coming from the other roadway. Someone, someday, will do that when you are trying to make a yellow, or get distracted by an animal in the road, or one of millions of other possible unforeseen risks.

Running a red light is not and should not be a judgment call.
posted by spitbull at 2:47 PM on January 13, 2017 [30 favorites]


As a pedestrian, I will never be speeding to the same extent as a car, so they can slow right down, thanks.

Exactly. That's why there are no sidewalks on the interstate.
posted by VTX at 2:47 PM on January 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


Here is the red light camera Florida study PDF
posted by robbyrobs at 2:49 PM on January 13, 2017


The logic for why you don't run a red light even when it looks safe to do so is the same logic for why you never point a gun at something you're not willing to kill even if you think it isn't loaded. Even if you *know* it isn't loaded. The extra measure of absolute adherence to procedure is that the consequences of even a rare mistake can be so deadly.
posted by spitbull at 2:50 PM on January 13, 2017 [32 favorites]


Also every single driver thinks they are better than the average driver.
posted by spitbull at 2:51 PM on January 13, 2017 [33 favorites]


Speeding is NOT unsafe if everyone is doing it to the same extent.

That is nonsense of the first order. Even on an interstate. Human reaction time is limited and things happen subjectively faster at 90mph than 60mph. Also faster vehicles have more energy and thus are more dangerous.

But don't take my word for it. Read here. Or here. Or here. Or here. Or here.
posted by Nelson at 2:53 PM on January 13, 2017 [59 favorites]


Also every single driver thinks they are better than the average driver.

In truth, only half of them are. (I, of course, happen to be in that half)
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:54 PM on January 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


Running a red light is not and should not be a judgment call.

Bullshit. In fact, there is a law in MN where if you're on a motorcycle (which might not have enough mass to trip the sensors leaving you at a red-light forever) and it's late at night, it's perfectly legal to run that red-light as long as the rider judges that it's safe to do so.

Also, taking a right turn at a red light is exactly what you're doing. You stop, you look around, and you make a judgement that it is safe to run that light.

It's not absolute, the idea that you can make a judgement about when it's safe to run a light is already enshrined in law, all that's left is dickering over when it is/isn't safe. Do I think you should wait for a red-light 99%+ of time? Yes, absolutely. But if I can see clearly for a mile in every direction, come to a full stop, take a good look around and don't see anyone? Run that light.
posted by VTX at 2:56 PM on January 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


Not for nothing, but the city of St. Louis had a similar traffic speeding/violation-by-camera enforcement scene. When I received one such violation in the mail, I dutifully paid my ticket, despite having graduated law school, in part because I was applying to the Bar Exam and they make you declare every single thing you have ever done wrong, and I was paranoid. But anyway, the city was successfully sued some months later in a class action, and my settlement money was $20. Which paled in comparison to the $100 I had paid for the ticket, but did have the effect of invalidating the law. For precisely the situation that he describes in this article: these cameras automatically pursue criminal actions in personam against the owner of the vehicle -- not the vehicle itself -- without regard to who is actually driving it, and without any witnesses that can be confronted at trial. This effectively shifts what is the state's criminal burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt (or, at the minimum, probable cause) onto the defendant to disprove guilt, and was struck down in St. Louis on those grounds (and, I believe, as a violation of the Confrontation Clause).

I have no doubt that this guy is a dick, but he's right about this law and folks should be raising class actions about them all over the country until they stop being used to shortcut constitutional safeguards.
posted by likeatoaster at 2:56 PM on January 13, 2017 [19 favorites]


Speeding is NOT unsafe if everyone is doing it to the same extent.

Energy goes up with the square of speed so yes, accidents are more dangerous when they occur at higher speeds. And non-linearly so.
posted by GuyZero at 2:57 PM on January 13, 2017 [27 favorites]


He might be an asshole but he's right about this issue IMO. Red light cameras are the worst. They are there to bring in revenue for a private company. I'm fine with speed enforcement and know that speed contributes to terrible accidents, but if we're going to get ticketed, there should be a real cop involved as a witness and no private corporations benefiting. This to me is a similar issue as private for-profit prisons, which I also think we need to get rid of. There's a definite conflict of interest here.
posted by FireFountain at 2:57 PM on January 13, 2017 [5 favorites]


I do agree that it's super annoying that the government can bypass certain things when inconvenient to their money making (like who was driving the vehicle), but not when my car gets totalled by someone who was probably driving drunk.

Though I guess I'll grudgingly concede that it's not the same government entities doing each thing and etc.

I'm still annoyed though. That was like a 4 month old car!
posted by ODiV at 2:58 PM on January 13, 2017


I'm fine with speed enforcement and know that speed contributes to terrible accidents, but if we're going to get ticketed, there should be a real cop involved as a witness and no private corporations benefiting

But those are logically different arguments from the claim that enforcing red light or speed laws has no social benefit in exchange for the restriction on liberty.
posted by spitbull at 2:59 PM on January 13, 2017 [5 favorites]


As a fellow occupant of a dead-end factory law job, I feel for the city attorney. First, because I highly doubt that she practices as is depicted here, but also because: for a lot of us, this is just a job. We all just want to get through the day and then go home at a decent hour. If there's a legit problem, fine, we'll deal with that. But throwing everything from standing to Hobbes and Locke and the Social Contract and the American Experiment at the wall to see what sticks because of some 'principle' -- fuck off. Where's your concern for your fellow citizens when I just want to come home and have dinner and not have to stay late to research Constitutional case law because you don't want to pay a traffic ticket? Fine, fine, the machinery of the State is oppressing you -- can I go home now?
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:00 PM on January 13, 2017 [21 favorites]


2. They are red-light cameras, not yellow-light cameras. How about people just don't run red lights?

It's actually more of a meaty problem than it appears. It's legal to go through a yellow light, right? The standard for whether you stop or go through on a yellow is generally "which is safer". So if you go through a yellow and it turns red on the tail end, a cop won't ticket you because it was yellow when you went. But a red light camera doesn't know or care.
posted by corb at 3:03 PM on January 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


but throwing everything from standing to Hobbes and Locke and the Social Contract and the American Experiment at the wall to see what sticks because of some 'principle' -- fuck off.

I imagine that if you punched the author of this piece in the face it would be the best fucking day of his life. Like he'd hit peak happiness in that moment as he fantasized about just suing you for dozens of reasons in several jurisdictions simultaneously.
posted by GuyZero at 3:04 PM on January 13, 2017 [10 favorites]


Where's your concern for your fellow citizens when I just want to come home and have dinner and not have to stay late to research Constitutional case law because you don't want to pay a traffic ticket

I mean, speaking as a fellow occupant of a dead-end factory law job -- but one that involves criminal law and really important constitutional rights -- maybe don't work in criminal law if you're not willing to do some constitutional research and defend your significant intrusion into individuals' liberty and property rights? Smh I just really can't at all with that argument.
posted by likeatoaster at 3:04 PM on January 13, 2017 [18 favorites]


That is nonsense of the first order. Even on an interstate.

Then why were there fewer accidents per mile traveled in West Germany than East Germany where they had speed limits on their autobahns? West Germany had safer cars, a better licensing process, and better maintenance.

Or you can read this Slate article.

Speed makes accidents more severe, that's physics. But the relationship between speed the likelihood of being in an accident has to do with the difference speed (higher OR lower!) than the surrounding traffic.

I can probably dig out a study that looked what happened when police changed their enforcement focus. When they stopped trying to enforce the speed limit on a section of road to focus on some other section, the safety record on the section they stopped got better.
posted by VTX at 3:09 PM on January 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


I did read that Slate article, it's one of the ones I linked. It states that crash rates didn't go up when speed limits were raised, but fatalities did. "Overwhelmingly, studies show that freeway deaths increase with freeway speed limits".

But you go on believing speed limits are dumb and red lights don't apply to you.
posted by Nelson at 3:12 PM on January 13, 2017 [18 favorites]


The main social and theoretic issue the author is concerned about and perceives is the anthropomorphic fallacy in how society is structured, and how that seems to contradict certain social values as expressed in legal ideas and the Constitution, from his perspective as a law professor.

For example, it is not a given "fact" as some might claim, that cities, or bureaucracies, or corporations or other kinds of institutions are like people and can be "hurt". That's a metaphor and you'd have to be so deep within a value system to perform this reification so as not have to examine that assumption. (For example sociologists and economists both have studied the problem of individual vs the aggregate and how to even understand that.) And it is that behavior that plausibly other people find hurtful and problematic.

So I don't see any answers but the author's story has a legitimate concern if one can be open-minded about it.
posted by polymodus at 3:18 PM on January 13, 2017


I wonder how I have managed to go my entire 32 years of driving and without being tagged for running a light. Speeding a few times, when I was younger and dumber, but it simply is rarely the case that a red light is timed so as to trick you into running it. If you are driving at an appropriate speed for road conditions and paying attention, it is really, really easy never to run a red light. Therefore, on some level, running a red light is almost always either a sin of commission -- an intentional act, a decision made in the flash of an eye that can test the limits of human response for the average driver in a visually complex situation at speed -- or a sin of omission, as in you weren't paying attention to the traffic signals hanging across the road right in front of you because you were texting your BFF or spacing out to Jimi Hendrix or whatever (and I believe most accidents caused by running red lights result from people "accidentally" running them).

It's not hard to obey traffic signals.

I get the non-safety-related arguments against red light cameras, and I've heard of actual traps where red lights are designed to snare people. But I don't understand why people desire to run red lights actively, and see doing so as a right or a privilege of their expertise. The best marksmen I know are the most rigorous about even the most persnickety of gun safety rules. The best surgeons don't take shortcuts they know they could get away with. Airline pilots carry a calculated amount of extra fuel and plot routes over emergency landing sites. When you have life and death power over others, as you do in a 3500 pound or more vehicle moving at 20-55 mph (I don't think you'll find lights at any higher speed on any roadway I know) you are responsible for the extra margin of safety.

The whole premise of the OP article seems to be that driving freely on the public roadway is an inalienable right rather than a tightly regulated privilege that requires you to follow the rules even if they're stupid, and despite whether you think they're stupid. It *is* a social contract.

I love driving. I have driven over a million miles in my life, over more than 30 years, and in every single one of the 50 states, and in Europe, in the most remote places in America (I work in rural Alaska, and drive there) and on the busiest streets we have (I live in Manhattan, and keep a car here). I have never once gotten a ticket for running a red light. I have of course run red lights, although not recently enough for me to remember specifics anymore. In every case I got away with it, and I did it because I made a really rapid decision (and trusted my senses and my judgment and my car that I would be safe, or decided road conditions meant stopping short would be more dangerous than risking the intersection) and -- more typically -- because I fucking spaced out, which even the very best drivers are known to do after hours on the road, or even because they assume they know their local streets too well to need to pay close attention, habituation being a hell of a drug.

A few years ago I was first on the scene to a pedestrian hit by a car in New York City, at about 9pm. He was an older man, out walking his dog. The dog got off the leash and ran into a 30-mph (at the time) roadway, right before a light, which was yellow at the moment a car full of young people (in a fucking convertible no less) plowed through the light, missing the dog but T-boning that old man who had chased his dog out of reflex into the dark street (Riverside Drive, for those who know NYC).

His brains were coming out of his nose when I got there moments later (it was outside my window, I saw it happen). And the screams of those kid in the car still haunt me. They never meant to do that. They'll live with it forever now. Had they slowed for that yellow light, they might have had a chance to stop in time.

If you haven't seen that, don't tell me how good a driver you are. It was one of several experiences that made me a totally different driver than I was as a young man. I still love the feeling of ripping up curves and opening up on the interstate. But I am always able to picture that guy twitching on the pavement and those kids screaming from their stopped car as I tried to comfort him.
posted by spitbull at 3:26 PM on January 13, 2017 [29 favorites]


She asserted that I had violated the “rules of the road” and explained, “You were caught on camera speeding.” I asked her for any evidence. She replied that she did not need evidence. I was deemed liable because an automobile that I own “was caught speeding.” But the complaint is against me, I noted, not my car. But I am liable, she insisted, because I loaned my vehicle to “someone who speeds.”

I asked where in the laws it prohibits me from loaning my vehicle, and how I am to know in advance that any particular person is going to speed using my car. Agitated by my “semantics,” she advised me to raise any due process issues with the trial court.
Dude. She didn't say the law prohibits loaning the vehicle. She said the law holds the vehicle owner liable for traffic camera infractions, regardless of who the driver is. After a quick search of the Alabama code, I'm not finding the statute that would support that assertion, but this jackass didn't bother citing to any part of the code or any case law, either. So we're left with the City Attorney's alleged recitation of the law and this guy's response claiming that he is completely ignorant of what the law might be. So in the absence of the actual statutory language, I'm going to defer to the one who actually attempted a recitation of the law.

I really don't care whether this guy is a terrible person or a conservative or whatever his political ideology may be. It has no bearing on the merits of his stupid arguments. Assuming Alabama law holds a vehicle owner liable for traffic camera violations of those driving his or her vehicle unless there is evidence that someone else was driving, he won the case because a police officer apparently accidentally gave false testimony under oath. The officer testified that he signed the affidavit without any evidence that there was probable cause regarding Adam MacLeod. But if Alabama law is what the City Attorney claimed, then there was, in fact, evidence giving probable cause: The photograph of the violation which establishes liability of the registered vehicle owner. It seems, therefore, that the officer's testimony was erroneous.

Pro tip: If you're going to write a ranty article about erosion of the rule of law, maybe think about finding out what the law actually is and then citing or even *gasp* quoting it.

Now, what if there's not any actual recognized Alabama law - statute or otherwise - that provides for registered owner liability for traffic camera infractions, but the state's courts are acting like there is and holding people liable in the absence of such a law? Well, that would be kind of a big deal. It's a shame this author didn't try to find out whether that's the case, or say so if he thinks it is.

For anyone interested, Title 32 of the Alabama Code is where the motor vehicle and traffic laws are found. Maybe someone has more time and curiosity than me and can figure out where the state is getting its position that registered owners are liable regardless of who the driver is.

And as for the argument, which has been reported elsewhere, that such a law violates due process because it does away with probable cause, I disagree (without having given it a ton of thought, I admit). If the infraction is that of failing to prevent your car from being driven through a red light with a camera, the photo is all that's needed for probable cause, since you being in the car and driving isn't an element of the infraction.

The refusal of the court to return the appeal bond is a separate issue and yeah, that's preposterous and a miscarriage of justice. I wish the entire article was something like:
Can you believe this? I lost in traffic court and appealed the ruling pursuant to [CITE STATUTE]. But to appeal it, the court required me to pay a bond - in cash - in the amount of double the citation amount, which is apparently required by [CITE STATUTE]. Then, when I won on appeal and judgment was entered in my favor [CITE TO DOCKET], the court clerk refused to return the bond money and insisted that I must file a motion, pursuant to [CITE STATUTE]. I filed the [CITE STATUTE] motion, and the court has apparently ignored it and not ruled. So I've filed a motion pursuant to [CITE STATUTE] asking the court to rule on my previous motion asking for my bond money back. For anyone interested, here's what the relevant procedural statutes about appeal bonds in Alabama say about the matter: [QUOTE AND CITE STATUTES]. And here's my case number and a link to the docket: [CITE]
posted by The World Famous at 3:30 PM on January 13, 2017 [24 favorites]


The whole premise of the OP article seems to be that driving freely on the public roadway is an inalienable right rather than a tightly regulated privilege that requires you to follow the rules even if they're stupid, and despite whether you think they're stupid. It *is* a social contract.

Isn't it more about skipping some parts of justice that are too "inconvenient"? I willing to be convinced otherwise because his style was annoying and it's possible I glossed over it, but didn't it start out that he literally wasn't driving the car when he supposedly committed the infraction?
posted by ODiV at 3:33 PM on January 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


I so wish that we had red-light cameras in my city. Drivers here basically just take red-lights and stop signs as weak suggestions and blast through them pretty much constantly.
posted by octothorpe at 3:40 PM on January 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


ODiV yes, I agree. I mischaracterized his argument a bit incorrectly.
posted by spitbull at 3:41 PM on January 13, 2017


I mean he definitely slides into some bullshit which is where my eyes started to cross, but I think it was beside his main complaint.
posted by ODiV at 3:42 PM on January 13, 2017


The refusal of the court to return the appeal bond is a separate issue and yeah, that's preposterous and a miscarriage of justice.

Not to justify such behavior, but I can see how that could have been the court's employees wanting to punish the guy for being a major nuisance and a major asshole to boot. Which makes it understandable, though not legal.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:44 PM on January 13, 2017


Not to justify such behavior, but I can see how that could have been the court's employees wanting to punish the guy for being a major nuisance and a major asshole to boot. Which makes it understandable, though not legal.

It may be that they are not authorized to release the bond without a court order, and that everybody has to ask the court (i.e. a motion) for that order, but this guy was such a smug jackass at his appeal hearing that he bailed without asking for it. We'll never know, because he's such a legal genius that he can't be bothered to cite or even mention any actual, you know, laws or procedural rules.
posted by The World Famous at 3:49 PM on January 13, 2017 [12 favorites]


But a red light camera doesn't know or care

At least where I am, the camera takes a video, so that would be pretty clear if you challenged it. I have a nice video of myself looking like a total idiot plowing through a red in a confusing intersection.

Plus, here you're supposed to stop at a yellow unless it's unsafe to do so, a fact a judge I worked for liked to remind me of while people honked and screamed at her.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:59 PM on January 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


In the magical land of Canada I once got a speeding ticket (mailed to my parents, the owners of the car I was driving). My Dad gave it to me all full of serious disapproval and said "I expect you to handle this".

So I called the number on the ticket and said I would be absolutely thrilled to pay the ticket I had received if I it meant that I could drive the car in photograph.

I was driving my parent's 10 year old Renault Alliance at the time. The car in the photograph was a brand new Ford Mustang.

The ticket cancelled by the call center person instantly.

Dammit.

(The real pleasing kicker was that I was absolutely sure I would get a ticket because I was speeding on the 401 a week earlier and saw the telltale flash from the van on the side of the road but I guess I dodged that bullet because there may have been more than one car in the frame).
posted by srboisvert at 4:05 PM on January 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


At least where I am, the camera takes a video, so that would be pretty clear if you challenged it.

Before our red light cameras were sent packing, drivers were regularly told that it was no defense against their ticket even if the photo from the camera showed the light green. Which happens with some regularity, because the sensors aren't perfect. It was a combination of things like this, the lack of due process and no meaningful appeal process that finally convinced the court to side with the class action that it was all a bit over the top, legalwise.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:17 PM on January 13, 2017 [7 favorites]


But if Alabama law is what the City Attorney claimed, then there was, in fact, evidence giving probable cause: The photograph of the violation which establishes liability of the registered vehicle owner.

I totally agree that going from "you're responsible for your vehicle" to "who says I can't loan it out" is a weird rewriting and makes the author somewhat untrustworthy. I also don't love his apparent politics. Perhaps he is lying.

But if things unfolded the way the author recounts, the officer didn't produce the photograph in court and said he did not have it. It also isn't 100% clear if the officer ever saw photographic evidence, but from the way he answers the question about perjury, it seems plausible to conclude he had never seen any photographic evidence.

And come on. We are talking about an automated camera system which does not readily make available the photographic evidence here.

If no evidence backing up the citation can be produced for review, well, I'm not a lawyer, but that seems like a pretty good reason to dismiss a case. If as a matter of course a system is operating under rules where evidence is often not produced for review and nobody is able to testify they'd ever seen it, there's a basis for the claim that the system has a problem. Even if it comes from somebody personally mulching neighborhood children in their privileged vegetable garden.

And that should go double when there are financial incentives to issue citations. I don't know why anyone thinks it's a good idea to let *any* business get paid per case -- contract someone to keep the equipment in good condition if you like, but the city should own and operate it. Any other arrangement is just asking for trouble.

Perhaps it's not true that as a matter of course American Traffic Solutions operates the camera system and recommends the Montgomery police department initiate an action against a vehicle’s owner without providing photographic evidence. But that's what the author said happened in his case, and if the court let him off, it seems to be because they agreed.
posted by wildblueyonder at 4:19 PM on January 13, 2017 [8 favorites]


The ticket cancelled by the call center person instantly.

And people wonder why Americans mutter about moving to Canada. Damn.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:20 PM on January 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


Right on red requires a full stop everywhere and a motorcycle is not a car. Bullshit back atcha.
posted by spitbull at 4:46 PM on January 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


My husband got a red light ticket when his ex's boyfriend ran a red light (in a car that was still under his and his ex's names). He didn't get notification about the ticket until after he missed his court date. The photo didn't look like my husband at all, and he was provably not in the state when it happened, but he still had to plead guilty and pay the fine.

Maybe red light cameras do work as a speeding disincentive. But false positives do happen, and there's often nothing to be done about them. Does that still make red light cameras the right answer?
posted by hopeless romantique at 4:49 PM on January 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


Also this:

Bullshit. In fact, there is a law in MN where if you're on a motorcycle (which might not have enough mass to trip the sensors leaving you at a red-light forever) and it's late at night, it's perfectly legal to run that red-light as long as the rider judges that it's safe to do so.

This has zero bearing on the matter. It is not at all "running a light" to come to a full stop before surveying an intersection and proceeding, same as with right on red in every state. And the MN law actually only says it is an "affirmative defense" if you're cited for proceeding *after stopping and waiting* and only because your bike is too light to trigger the road sensor that detects waiting traffic, so it doesn't apply in non-road-sensor intersections, which is most of them.

If it's legal, then other drivers know to expect it. That is not the same thing *at all* as a "judgement call" to do something that is rationally and patently illegal, which is to proceed at speed into an intersection after a light has turned red.

There is a judgement call made -- *after* stopping and proceeding only after making sure you are clear. If you're not clear you're at fault, just like at a stop sign. Effectively that res light is a stop sign. And other drivers are aware that a car with its right signal on at a red can turn right on red or that a motorcycle stuck waiting at the front of a line of traffic can proceed after 35 seconds if it's a sensor intersection.

Making an expected and legal "judgement call" while fully stopped is totally different from making an unexpected and illegal one at 40mph.

"Judging" that you'll make it through a light that's already red if you just floor it is a citable offense everywhere in the developed world. And it kills people every single day.
posted by spitbull at 5:09 PM on January 13, 2017 [16 favorites]


My comment was made with the assumption/understanding that the photo was in evidence, but that it was not apparent in the photo who was driving. If there was no photo at all in the record for the court to review, not even one of the car and its license plate, then yeah, that's a whole different thing and legally problematic.
posted by The World Famous at 5:16 PM on January 13, 2017


I am not aware of speed cameras on highways, but I also don't drive on highways much. I hate that the rollout of red light cams here in Chicago was so corrupt and shitty, because it taints the speed cameras too. But they make a difference and there are signs everywhere. I live on the corner of a park where there are speed cameras and people really do slow down. As a pedestrian and a cyclist, I hate when drivers speed on city streets.

1 out of 10 pedestrians will be killed if hit by a car going 20mph.
5 out of 10 pedestrians will be killed if hit by a car going 30mph.
9 out of 10 pedestrians will be killed if hit by a car going 40mph.

Speed kills.

I got busted by a red light camera once. I was approaching an intersection with a left turn arrow and I was caught turning left after the light had turned red. I had a good "excuse" - my large, tall dog was in the car and standing up so any sudden stops could send him flying forward, which is dangerous for him and me [please don't @ me about dog seatbelts, they don't work on him for reasons not worth getting into] so I determined it was better to keep going through the turn than to slam on my brakes. But I'm still not mad about the ticket - the fact is, I should have approached the intersection more slowly knowing the circumstances with the dog.
posted by misskaz at 5:35 PM on January 13, 2017 [14 favorites]


without any witnesses that can be confronted at trial

In itself, using automatically recorded video does not violate the Confrontation Clause. Not even under Crawford. There was a 7th Cir. decision almost directly on point a couple years ago. It should not tax the imagination to figure out why a person can be convicted even if the sole direct evidence of the crime is not the testimony of a human who can be crossed.

Now, a defendant should be able to cross a witness about the reliability of the recording, but that's a further issue.

It really makes me grit my teeth to defend traffic cameras, because they implicate half the problems I have with local government, but, really, this guy remains a dick. If you can't come up with some random angle a city attorney hasn't thought of when you have all day to contemplate it, you don't even deserve your job at your scam of a law school. Maybe you should worry less about your traffic ticket and more about the students you're fleecing.
posted by praemunire at 5:38 PM on January 13, 2017 [15 favorites]


So we're defending the integrity of speed cameras and outsourcing them to private corporations because the guy doing the arguing is kind of a dick? That's a new one.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:06 PM on January 13, 2017 [7 favorites]


I have to say I throughly enjoyed the article having had a bad experience in small claims (local government ain't the People's Court).

I too was dismayed by the further information uncovered by jedicus. But this statement is very odd,

jedicus: "But if I had known what I know now about the author and his affiliations, I would never have given him the attention or the traffic"

For a second I had to check if you were the OP. And since you're not, and I assume you're meaning the visit to the website to learn about the authors troubling political opinions--this traffic--you would wish to withhold? Really? Should I interpret this as sentiment in kind with your revulsion or you value your web visits always this highly?
posted by xtian at 6:08 PM on January 13, 2017


So we're defending the integrity of speed cameras and outsourcing them to private corporations because the guy doing the arguing is kind of a dick? That's a new one.

Well, as a lawyer, I've been discussing substantive problems with parts of his argument, but if that's what you want to take from it, it's a free country.
posted by praemunire at 6:15 PM on January 13, 2017 [12 favorites]


Speeding is NOT unsafe if everyone is doing it to the same extent.


This is not quite accurate. Other variables are in play. For example, the distance between autos, and the distance (the number of cars) a driver can see ahead are important factors in compression. The further back you are in line when a car in front of you hits its brakes, the less buffer you'll have in your stopping distance. If you are not looking for brake lights several cars ahead, even a (normally) safe distance between you and the car immediately in front of you won't keep you from rear-ending. The well-known formula of one car length for every ten miles per hour is useless if you are the tenth car in line when the guy in front slams on his brakes, and you don't react until the guy in front of you shows his brake lights. Other speed-related variables are weather and darkness.

In general, going with the flow of traffic is a good idea, but a faster speed requires understanding that different laws of physics apply. I will defend to the death the notion that most drivers are not as skilled as they'd like to believe. My notion is reconfirmed every time I take a road trip.

I agree with most here, that traffic regulations are a net good. I also can think of reasons to run a red or yellow light. Generally I try to be a safe driver, but I'm willing to take a ticket if the judge disagrees with a decision like the ones we are discussing. I also remember that, um, about 35 years ago cameras and aircraft used in speed tickets on the interstate were not valid. That's changed. Welcome to the future. Maybe my grandchildren will be strafed by drones if they exceed the speed limit.

Anyhow, my point is that regulations not only fill municipal coffers, they are supposed to, you know, regulate. If you accept the idea of a one-way street, then you probably shouldn't complain about a 25mph zone in your neighborhood. MacLeod seems to pick the wrong nits. If the issue is who was driving the car, then let the driver tell the judge just who was driving. But, unlike parking tickets, bad behavior at the wheel is a public safety topic, even if the infraction itself is minor. There are varying degrees of speeding, and most states have woven that understanding into their traffic regulations. For example, If you get pulled over for doing over 100mph here in Oregon, I'm pretty sure you'll have get some one to bail you out of jail and give you a lift to the impoundment yard to get your car--plus, you may spend the next year or so riding the bus until you get your license reinstated.

It's common sense to think that running any given red-light is a situational event. But then, so is stopping at a stop sign. So are time-bound left-turn lanes, and intersections with red-arrows. If you do it safely, then more power to you. But if you get a ticket, then don't whine when you pay the fine.
posted by mule98J at 6:19 PM on January 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


I think some of us are defending the principle that the state (at whatever level) has an interest in enforcing traffic laws in the public interest, and that it is legitimate in principle to have an automated and impartial system for capturing offenses against public safety.

No one denies that the implementation of red light and speed cameras is often corrupt and about revenue more than safety.

But I think it's also relevant to compare cameras -- objective, uniform, consistent -- with the judgement of a single police officer that has surely been the standard in the vast majority of red light citations in history. Does anyone doubt that given the ability to discriminate and enforce such laws at their discretion, cops and prosecutors have used such citations unfairly and for corrupt or discriminatory purposes in the past? Of course they have.
posted by spitbull at 6:22 PM on January 13, 2017 [6 favorites]


Maybe my grandchildren will be strafed by drones if they exceed the speed limit.

Not likely. They won't be driving their cars and there won't need to be traffic signals because cars will talk to each other.
posted by spitbull at 6:24 PM on January 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


We'll still need signals until technology comes up with the self driving bicycle, self driving horse, and self driving pedestrian.
posted by Mitheral at 6:27 PM on January 13, 2017 [8 favorites]


Anti-Nanny State Lawyer Successfully Fights Speeding Ticket is like one of the top 5 wet dreams of every douchebag white guy libertarian, just about every one of their websites/blogs has a story like this if not an ad somewhere saying how you too can successfully fight that speeding ticket you got barreling through some poor peoples' neighborhood at twice the speed limit cause you were in a hurry to get home to play video games or argue on Twitter, so none of this story (and yes who the author/subject is is part of the story) is surprising.
posted by osk at 7:19 PM on January 13, 2017 [11 favorites]


I guess uh, the moral of the story is never let anyone borrow your car.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:23 PM on January 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


If complaints were handled the way our Canadian friend srboisvert describes upthread, I think people would find them a lot less bothersome. But they are actually handled as revenue grabbing traps, and once you're caught any avenue for demonstrating your innocence is blocked because $REVENUE. I mean here people were repeatedly told that even though the only evidence produced, the photo from the camera system, showed the light GREEN, that the ticket would still be enforced and FUCK YOU CITIZEN NOW PAY UP. That is why we don't have them around here any more. Thank you, separation of powers and court system. (And no sour grapes; I've never gotten a ticket from one of the stupid things.)
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:32 PM on January 13, 2017 [5 favorites]


I'm confused by this line, what "problem" is the author referring to here? And what does mean by it?:

To get around this “problem” (as a certain law-and-order president-elect might call it), several states have created an entirely novel phylum of law: the civil violation of a criminal prohibition.
posted by polymodus at 7:57 PM on January 13, 2017


He means he thinks civil infractions should have the exact same indictment and trial procedures, in the same courts and on the same dockets, as all criminal cases. Because he thinks for some reason that anything else would be a constitutional deprivation of due process.
posted by The World Famous at 8:01 PM on January 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


But if I can see clearly for a mile in every direction, come to a full stop, take a good look around and don't see anyone? Run that light.

If you think this is truly the case and you still get caught with a ticket you are obviously too stupid or unobservant to safely make that judgement. So what is your complaint?
posted by JackFlash at 8:08 PM on January 13, 2017 [8 favorites]


The well-known formula of one car length for every ten miles per hour

Ah yes, the well-known one-second rule (which is what that works out to).
posted by alexei at 8:24 PM on January 13, 2017


It's legal to go through a yellow light, right? The standard for whether you stop or go through on a yellow is generally "which is safer". So if you go through a yellow and it turns red on the tail end, a cop won't ticket you because it was yellow when you went. But a red light camera doesn't know or care.

This is not true. A properly set up camera system will not trigger if you enter the intersection before the light turns red. A computer can actually distinguish more consistently than a human observer between legally entering on a yellow and illegally entering on a red. Most systems will provide photographic evidence showing the exact position of your car when the light turns red and the actual red light. So your argument is false.

There may be cases where the calibration is incorrect but that is true of any enforcement technology including radar and breathalyzers. You can challenge that if you sincerely believe that to be the case. But you can't challenge the underlying accuracy of properly calibrated equipment. The proof is in the photo.
posted by JackFlash at 8:41 PM on January 13, 2017 [5 favorites]


He means he thinks civil infractions should have the exact same indictment and trial procedures

Is it a civil infraction though? Pretty sure you can still get criminally charged for speeding (and rightfully so). It sounds like they just created the ability to put it through as civil so that it's smoother to process?

I'm not a lawyer though, so what do I know? I'm just still annoyed that I apparently needed an actual witness to identify the driver for the hit and run on my car, but when it involves a fine to the city/state, let's make sure we remove all obstacles. Makes me suspect the goal is revenue and not actually public safety.
posted by ODiV at 8:41 PM on January 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


The further back you are in line when a car in front of you hits its brakes, the less buffer you'll have in your stopping distance. If you are not looking for brake lights several cars ahead, even a (normally) safe distance between you and the car immediately in front of you won't keep you from rear-ending. The well-known formula of one car length for every ten miles per hour is useless if you are the tenth car in line when the guy in front slams on his brakes, and you don't react until the guy in front of you shows his brake lights.

Sorry, what? If you're maintaining enough distance to stop if the car in front of you slams their brakes, how does that become not enough distance if a car further up slams theirs? Whatever it is that happens ahead of the car in front of you that makes them slam their brakes, you still have that distance when they do.

(I learned it as three seconds distance, which works out to about 45 feet per 10mph)
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:44 PM on January 13, 2017


Speeding is NOT unsafe if everyone is doing it to the same extent.

Right. Because everyone travelling a certain speed causes there to be a discontinuity in the graph of kinetic energy vs. velocity right at that speed.

I'm pretty sure (and this is not hyperbole, it's true) that even monkeys intuitively understand physics better than that.
posted by lastobelus at 8:45 PM on January 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


Sorry, what? If you're maintaining enough distance to stop if the car in front of you slams their brakes, how does that become not enough distance if a car further up slams theirs?

Collisions decrease stopping time. If someone in the chain reacts slowly and collides, everyone behind will also lose (most of) the stopping time they lost.
posted by lastobelus at 8:49 PM on January 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


Trust Metafilter to turn "loudmouth weasels out of a speed camera ticket" into an argument over the physics of vehicular motion.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:58 PM on January 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm confused by this line, what "problem" is the author referring to here? And what does mean by it?:

To get around this “problem” (as a certain law-and-order president-elect might call it), several states have created an entirely novel phylum of law: the civil violation of a criminal prohibition.
He's saying that cases should either be civil or criminal. Instead the authorities are cherry-picking bits of civil law and bits of criminal law and merging them together.

In the UK the government's done the same thing with ASBOs and their successors. It's a convenient way for the authorities to administer harsh penalties without providing the usual legal protections.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:40 PM on January 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


I once got a red light ticket. After entering the intersection on green waiting to make a left turn, which is legal in the jurisdiction. At the time in Florida they were 100% administrative, so I told ATS to go fuck themselves with a pogo stick. Other than the occasional letter from a bill collector, nothing came of it. Since I'm not buying a house or otherwise in need of credit, they can continue fucking themselves with a pogo stick for the next five years.

One reason why I maintain residency in another state is that even if they do try to suspend my license over it, my home state of ignores out of state administrative suspensions. Only an actual court order will get it suspended and they don't even do that for ignoring an actual citation in Florida. Since I don't drive in Florida any more, it makes no difference to me if I can't drive in Florida, so I again give zero fucks about their revenue generation schemes.

It isn't a tactic I'd recommend others use, but it works for me. After all, I've paid a few traffic fines in my day, although I have never been found guilty of a moving violation. Since they just want the money, states where you go to actual court for traffic tickets are quite accommodating with deferred adjudication or pleading guilty to a non-moving violation if you are willing and able to pay. God help you if you can't pay, though. The system is stacked heavily against the poor.
posted by wierdo at 10:47 PM on January 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


This is not (really) a story about traffic tickets, or civil and criminal law -- and it's certainly not really a story about private companies and traffic enforcement, dismaying though it may be. Instead, it's in the genre of the consistently misunderstood McDonald's coffee lawsuit -- a seemingly charming, maybe even intuitive, vignette that is designed to seem approachable, but really contains a basically anti-democratic message. Just as the McD's story trains you to focus on debates over coffee and personal virtue, while masking massive corporate malfeasance, this rather nasty piece of work is designed to get you to focus on relatable traffic ticket disputes, when it's really about encouraging contempt for government and pushing a truly bizarre set of legal conceptions (like the idea that governments must have standing to enforce laws of general application). It's quite nasty propaganda, which should not be surprising, considering the source. If you read it as an invitation to debate traffic tickets, you're being hoodwinked.
posted by SandCounty at 11:19 PM on January 13, 2017 [20 favorites]


I think he is arguing that a city can't fine you for running a red light if the city wasn't somehow injured, which is an argument that would get you laughed out of court.

I didn't read it that way; I think he was arguing that the city can't (really, 'shouldn't be able to') use civil law to pursue what is rightly a criminal matter, or alternately put, either it must demonstrate quantifiable injury as a legal entity in itself, or it must go through the hoops of criminal prosecution in order to act on behalf of the people generally. But the picking-and-choosing elements of both does seem suspect.

That seems like a reasonable enough argument, although personally I am in favor of speed cameras because I think most people drive like shit and we'd be better off if traffic laws were enforced by death squads of highly-trained merciless ninjas. So I'm probably more amenable to the argument in the abstract than in the particulars.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:43 PM on January 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


King George seems to keep getting into what this man writes the way King Charles did with Mr Dick. I had no idea the Declaration of Independence was about asserting the distinction between civil and criminal law.
posted by Segundus at 1:50 AM on January 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


If you read it as an invitation to debate traffic tickets, you're being hoodwinked.

Which is the worst possible reading of the article. The guy is a professor of law, if the "don't try this at home" and "focus on the general lesson/issues" and "literally read the last paragraph of what he said in order to articulate the essay's stated concerns" are not incredibly obvious assumptions going into the piece, then maybe you're not the right audience.

like the idea that governments must have standing to enforce laws of general application

This is not actually the main idea of the article, and the litmus test is if a reader thinks that's the author's basic unwavering opinion, then there's a misunderstanding, because there are other paragraphs in there that qualify and limit his stance. Sometimes it's readers who read a piece of critique and draw inferences that the author may not actually support. The article was vague enough overall in terms of problem statement and any concrete action that people are just importing their views and inclinations on what was written. That's simply not how academic text is handled.
posted by polymodus at 4:20 AM on January 14, 2017 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: death squads of highly-trained merciless ninjas
posted by oheso at 4:28 AM on January 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


To get around this “problem” (as a certain law-and-order president-elect might call it), several states have created an entirely novel phylum of law: the civil violation of a criminal prohibition.
posted by polymodus at 10:57 PM on January 13 [+] [!]

He means he thinks civil infractions should have the exact same indictment and trial procedures, in the same courts and on the same dockets, as all criminal cases. Because he thinks for some reason that anything else would be a constitutional deprivation of due process.


First, he doesn't think that if you read what he said as a critique, exposing a contradiction or ambiguity in a system. It's like a rhetorical, Socratic question that he asked the city attorney. That's a standard academic technique and I'd expect people who passed the LSAT, for example, should have a developing facility in that regard. It's a lot easier to think that just because he challenged a particular perspective means he truly believes the opposite to an extreme, so that should not be how to read a text like this.

Second, my question was really, what in the world does referencing a certain president figure (is it Trump, because I honestly have no idea the meaning/context and Google didn't help much) have to do in clarifying his point? How does that serve his argument? Because I am willing demolish his construction if such a reference was somehow not appropriate what he's trying to say.
posted by polymodus at 4:30 AM on January 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


It's like a rhetorical, Socratic question that he asked the city attorney. That's a standard academic technique

This is the kind of douchebag move that makes public meetings last longer and do more damage to my teeth than they should. Say what you mean, don't waste time and patience with misleading rhetorical flourishes, and we all get to go home on time.
posted by asperity at 7:54 AM on January 14, 2017 [5 favorites]


It isn't a tactic I'd recommend others use, but it works for me.

So you're saying you're special? Sounds like you characterize nonpayment of tickets as civil disobedience. For that to make ethical sense you'd have to have some basis for asserting their illegitimacy. I guess if you never actually ran those lights for which you were electronically cited there's some basis for that.

But on the face of it I don't see you asserting your innocence of the underlying violations. Which makes me glad I don't drive in the same state as you. At least this lawyer pursued redress via the legal system. Simply refusing to pay fines because you can get away with it is the height of assumed privilege, really. I doubt you are really as indemnified as you think, actually, against this coming back to bite you in the ass. But even if it's a real loophole, it's a dubious one of it actually gives you a disincentive to obey traffic signals. You didn't say that, to be fair. But in the case of the tickets you've consciously ignored, so far without repercussions (because you have a primary residence elsewhere, which suggests you have the means to pay or contest these tickets), in any of those instances did you actually run a light sufficiently egregiously that a live cop would have busted your ass?

You may be the exceptional driver who can judge an upcoming intersection without fail and in spite of the signal state. Maybe you're a retired Formula 1 champ. But other people on the road are like toddlers on their first Big Wheels and they're on your track, bro, texting and putting on makeup and driving too fast for prevailing conditions, with unsecured large animals in their front seats in an unfamiliar rental car they are driving because they only drive once a year.

I just got back from an early morning drive I take sometimes to explore back roads and enjoy my expensive Pirellis and my Mazda's fine handling on curvy rural roads mostly empty of traffic. Traction control off. Apexes intersected, heel to toe practiced, maximum momentum maintained. I get the thrill of driving, fast and assertively. I fucking love it. But I don't get running red lights as the equivalent of running a few mph over the limit or taking a curve a little aggressively. I don't understand how you can decide to do it consciously except under very unusual conditions (generally requiring that you're already driving too fast for conditions or have made some other bad decision, like having your pet unsecured 🙂).

Why? It usually saves you little or no time and a tiny bit of gas, but in situations with timed lights (most big cities and more and more developed suburbs) you'll just wind up stopped at the next light anyway. So what is the rationale for doing it?

/reviews insurance coverage
posted by spitbull at 8:40 AM on January 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


He decides to challenge it and learns how little interest local attorneys for the city have in the law.

This is one of those funny interpretations of "law" that imagine laws to be a computer code or a law of physics-- something immutable whose mechanism can be used to one's advantage once they are perfectly understood without anyone being able to contradict you. That's not the way the law works at all: laws are also about intent and precedent and shared understandings.

These kinds of arguments, reminiscent of sovereign citizen blatherings, are done by people who are convinced you can "hack" the law. You really can't, especially when it comes to cars on public roads, which are highly regulated places whose rules are entirely determined by the state. It's not that local attorneys have little interest in "the law," it's that they have little interest in someone trying to make grand constitutional claims over basic civil law regulations that are already widely accepted.
posted by deanc at 9:08 AM on January 14, 2017 [6 favorites]


y'all really want the government(s) to be able to just fine the FUCK out of everybody without any procedure? that's a fucked up view. the government is not one thing. some of it is good, some of it is bad. some regulations are good, some regulations are bad. get some nuance instead of knee-jerking "well this guy is a libertarian and he doesn't like it so government is best!!!11"
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 9:16 AM on January 14, 2017 [9 favorites]


I'm not seeing "without any procedure" here, actually. I'm seeing objective evidence of what happens on the road, without fear or favor.

And if "the government" isn't in charge of enforcing traffic safety, who is? In this case the government is "is," more than in most, since we all use the roads regardless of station in life.

You do not want to live in a world where the roads your kids walk to school on or you drive to work on become a libertarian paradise.
posted by spitbull at 9:29 AM on January 14, 2017


Yeah, I think there's actually some things it's reasonable to view with a skeptical eye about how traffic infractions are counted and charged to provide a source of reliable revenue to the city, and how that impacts people's rights. Think of, say, "ticket quotas", where police are being urged to write tickets against their judgment simply to bring money in. A traffic camera in a low traffic area has similar motives, especially when contracted out to a private company.

And there's huge issues when a private company has been contracted out to enforce the law. What authority do they actually have? Can police delegate their jobs, legally or reasonably? These are questions that shouldn't be answered with "well this one guy is a dick."
posted by corb at 9:29 AM on January 14, 2017 [4 favorites]


some regulations are good, some regulations are bad.

In balance, it is good. They don't target anyone unfairly. The regulations aren't burdensome (don't run red lights, stay within 10 mph of the speed limit), and have public and legislative support.

In the law, most things are legal and within the bounds of government. A few things are obviously out of bounds and go beyond the law. And some things exist in a region of public acceptance and understanding of how the public believes things should work, regardless of someone's own legal interpretation that he insists is the correct one.

There are no such things as legal loopholes, if only because the legislature can proactively close the loophole or because the courts, lawyers, and law enforcement will all agree, "we know what the intention was," and go about their business enforcing that law.
posted by deanc at 9:33 AM on January 14, 2017


If you live and raise your kids on a corner where people run the stop sign regularly you hope a cop sits there all day writing tickets.

There is a really simple way to avoid contributing to the purported revenue grab of red light cameras. Don't run red lights. Done and done.
posted by spitbull at 9:33 AM on January 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


It seems that red light cameras are about a fair and unbiased an application of the law as possible. There is no racial discretion on the part of cops to single out certain people. Nobody has to fear the arbitrary application of the law. Nobody just minding their own business gets singled out. You won't get targeted just for driving a junker. It's quite simple for everyone to avoid a violation.
posted by JackFlash at 9:41 AM on January 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


Which is to say this is a false analogy to illegal search or stop and frisk policies and the like. The car is not your body or your home, and the roadway is not your property. It is a commons. And left to its own devices it would become a Darwinian tragedy. You need a license to drive. Your car needs to pass inspection. Surveilled enforcement of basic safety rules does not strike me as invasive in the same way as any enforcement that involves selective, biased human judgment.

If the enforcement mechanism is then abused or corrupt at the point where human judgment enters into it, then of course that's a problem. But traffic enforcement has always been incentivized for local communities and states by revenue capture. That's not at all a new dimension here. As you mention, ticket quotas have been around forever too.

But unlike Officer Grumpy, who can say he saw you run a light you actually didn't and win every time, the traffic camera in theory provides the objective proof. Of what you actually did. Is anyone saying cameras don't work right?

In any case we are fast approaching a time when your car will know exactly what you've done to the millisecond with video and your insurance company will have access to that data. The market is driving this trend, and it will continue. I'd personally worry more about the future of your private driving data in the hands of private industry than government.
posted by spitbull at 9:43 AM on January 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


Also, of you fear being falsely accused it is dead cheap and simple now to run your own dashcam, and many do.
posted by spitbull at 9:53 AM on January 14, 2017


JackFlash: "It seems that red light cameras are about a fair and unbiased an application of the law as possible."

Keeping in mind that not every intersection is so equipped and there may be a bias in the selection process that disproportionately ends up targeting poor or minority drivers. If only because denser areas which are more likely to have light controlled intersections in the the US tend to be poorer.
posted by Mitheral at 10:02 AM on January 14, 2017 [3 favorites]


Yeah, well that's a possibility but doesn't really have much to do with red light cameras per se. You are talking about selective policing in general. I would argue that dense traffic areas are dense because large numbers of non-local people use it for transit to and from work so will be more likely cited. If you are going to police dense traffic, I would rather it be done by computer than by cop discretion.
posted by JackFlash at 10:34 AM on January 14, 2017


Dense traffic areas are often densely trafficked because the people who live there don't have the political clout to get traffic control measures that would inconvenience people who drive through someone else's neighborhood. Simple math often turns out racist in American society.
posted by Etrigan at 11:02 AM on January 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


There are no such things as legal loopholes, if only because the legislature can proactively close the loophole or because the courts, lawyers, and law enforcement will all agree, "we know what the intention was," and go about their business enforcing that law.


Are you saying that you're okay with non-elected officials just deciding that they know what the legislature's intention was and then enforcing whatever they decide that is? Or are you just saying that this is how things will inevitably happen?
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:12 AM on January 14, 2017


But unlike Officer Grumpy, who can say he saw you run a light you actually didn't and win every time, the traffic camera in theory provides the objective proof. Of what you actually did. Is anyone saying cameras don't work right?

Someone above said that was the case in St. Louis. And, as I'm sure you know, an absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence.

The way that this kind of thing (malfunctioning cameras) comes to light is by people challenging them in court. If people aren't able to challenge them in court, the cameras can malfunction without any recourse by the people harmed by those malfunctions.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:16 AM on January 14, 2017 [5 favorites]


It seems that red light cameras are about a fair and unbiased an application of the law as possible.

As long as the photos cross some human's desk, there's an opportunity to throw away all the ones of the mayor's kid, or all the ones of people from the county, or all the ones with white people.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:49 AM on January 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


Again, you are bringing up something that has no connection to red light cameras per se. You are making an argument for having no vehicle citations of any kind.
posted by JackFlash at 11:55 AM on January 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


Oh cool, one of those threads where everyone in the comments is responding to different arguments that they perceive are directed at them but in reality involve mostly strawmen.
posted by midmarch snowman at 12:13 PM on January 14, 2017


Red light cameras aren't perfect. There were multiple cases in Jefferson Parish of people who were sent pictures that clearly showed them crossing the intersection when the light was GREEN. Not according to the dashcam but according to the very system that sent them the ticket. Their protests were met with PAY UP CITIZEN OR ELSE despite having what any normal person would consider proof of their innocence from the very system that sent them the ticket. This is one of the reasons the court sided with the drivers and shut the camera system down.

For the most part these systems aren't about safety, they are genuinely about revenue. And that strongly discourages any kind of accountability for misfires, poor calibration, or deliberately shortening the yellow light (this was proven to have been done at at least five interchanges) to increase the infraction rate.

Any time you have an entity that can levy fines and keep the proceeds, the mechanism will be abused. See also "civil asset forfeiture," also known by the synonym "theft." Yes the laws need to be enforced but you never want the enforcers to profit from finding people guilty. And red light cameras are about nothing but profit.
posted by Bringer Tom at 12:36 PM on January 14, 2017 [3 favorites]


I'm not seeing "without any procedure" here, actually. I'm seeing objective evidence of what happens on the road, without fear or favor.

Like I said above, if the author of this article is telling the truth, he's describing a system in which no one was able to produce the alleged objective evidence, and in which the civil actors who engaged with his case admitted they hadn't seen the evidence.

That's a pretty big contrast from the idealized case you're seeing. Perhaps this is not the general case with how red light cameras work.... but it's not hard to imagine the incentives that shaped the system to produce the experience the author had lead to a generalized experience.

And that's before we get to the other ways that placement and configuration of both lights and cameras might well involve "favor," which others have brought up in the thread.

It's interesting to see even Metafilter get tripped up over the mixed concerns here -- maybe this is a model for how the left ends up as a circular firing squad. Enforcing traffic laws is a good idea. Having government is a good idea. So is talking about the specifics of how those are determined, reviewed, and enforced, and I'm honestly really surprised to see a forum with a reputation for thoughtful reflection get bogged down by people insisting that isn't a worthwhile discussion because a libertarian brought it up.

Since we're on the topic of what this is really all "about", it's worth noting that this discussion has a lot in common with the ideas that data-driven decision making is impartial or even Lessig's old examination of code as law.

Automation is a magnifier. Impartiality isn't something that just happens with automation -- and in fact, unless you're both thoughtful and careful in where you retain attention and review with any system, chances are good you're going to build partiality and even injustice into an automated system.
posted by wildblueyonder at 1:32 PM on January 14, 2017 [5 favorites]


Red light cameras in particular are notoriously unreliable. They commonly assert violations occurred when someone, for example, creeps past the imaginary stop line programmed into the camera, but never enters the intersection. Or, as happened to me, they trigger when someone enters on green but exits on red, which is not illegal in many states.

The problem is that the criteria for the camera system generating a potential violation rarely comport with the actual law on the subject and in many jurisdictions the review process before sending the citation is nearly non-existent. It is certainly possible to program and calibrate a reliable system if regular checks and maintenance are performed. That is not how traffic camera systems currently deployed in the US work.
posted by wierdo at 2:03 PM on January 14, 2017 [4 favorites]


Oh, and in case you're wondering how it can safely be legal to exit an intersection on red, a green light means "go unconditionally" in zero states. You are required to yield to vehicles/pedestrians already in the intersection when the light turns green. People often fail to do so for some reason, instead treating the green light as some talisman of protection.

If people treated them as legally required, red light violations would be problematic (in a practical sense) much less often. Very few people run red lights so late that the opposing direction already has a green light when they enter the intersection except in cities that refuse to follow the MUTCD and lack the required all-red period.

Longer yellows do a lot more to reduce crashes than red light cameras, but they don't generate revenue or give the law and order types a hardon, so we get shorter yellows and cameras rather than the proven safety improvement.
posted by wierdo at 2:17 PM on January 14, 2017 [5 favorites]


Man, it's always the traffic threads that illuminate so many dumb tendencies of otherwise rational MeFites.

First off, even if this guy worships Cthulu and his other legal views weigh constitutionality by how much it awakens the Old Gods, that doesn't mean he's wrong about this. The tendency to reactively disagree based on general antagonistic political biases is one of those reasons fake news works and Trump was elected. Let's not continue that stupidity, just as a general principle.

Second off, this is really similar to something that happened in Los Angeles, where red light cameras were challenged. The ultimate outcome is that people still get sent tickets from red light cameras (I believe the same company is even behind it) and threatened with penalties, but those penalties were found to be unenforceable, meaning that there's no penalty if you ignore the notice. Why? For pretty much the same reason that this guy cited: the photo isn't proof that you were the driver, and the laws regarding running red lights are based on penalties for the driver. All of the specious bullshit about a general interest in enforcing laws ignores that fundamental liberal protection of the state actually having to prove that the person charged with violating the law did so.

Tangentially, when this was litigated in LA, one of the bigger points made is that while the state has an interest in safety, using red light cameras hasn't been found to improve safety at all. And if the goal is to improve public safety, the state should prefer a method that doesn't require anyone to potentially surrender property or liberty — like lengthening the duration of yellow lights. The notion that traffic signals are inviolable because they're the best way to communicate between automobiles would imply that other methods of ensuring compliance absent penalties by varying patterns within those lights should be preferred.

Further, many here seem to be operating under the assumption that morality is derived from the law, therefore disobeying traffic signals is an immoral act, and disobeying them ever leads to some general harm to the state — that's a conception of government that both enshrines authoritarianism and ignores that the legitimacy of laws comes from the public, not the laws themselves.

One of the other traffic issues that we're dealing with here in LA is — and people love to blame Waze for this — increased speeds on residential streets. That's led to calls to increase enforcement of speed limits, but California state law requires that for a speeding ticket to be valid, it has to be within a decade from the last time the street's speed was audited, and when they're audited, the speed is set at the 80th percentile mark. Which means that many of the streets in LA don't have valid limits at all, and that locals are often reluctant to go through with the audit process, because for many streets, that would lead to an increased posted limit. (Since I'm on the transportation committee for my local neighborhood council, we have to deal with this a fair amount.) And while some people want to spend the money to get traffic enforcement cameras put in, despite the fact that the tickets are pretty unenforceable (despite our streets having valid audits), there's very little support for the notion that those increase safety either. What does have solid evidence behind it is that if you put up the digital speedometer displays, showing people the speed they're driving will lead to fewer accidents and fewer fatalities. Just like how narrowing roads ends up being a better way to control speeds than speed limits, but while people will gladly push for more speed limits and enforcement, they'll almost always fight you on more narrow streets.

I also have to imagine that this is something that would likely highlight a broad urban-rural divide: Many people here seem to think that substituting the judgment of the lights and traffic planners for individual judgment is always going to be safer, which strikes me as a naive, urban view. Anyone who has grown up driving on rural roads knows that there are plenty of times that you can legitimately see far enough to treat a red light as a stop sign, or sometimes to even just run it altogether — if you can see a couple miles in all directions, you have a pretty good sense whether you can cover 25 feet before anything comes up.

Finally, it's a particular strain of leftish idiocy to ignore common causes with conservatives due to irrelevant disagreements. The use of traffic enforcement as a revenue generator is something that's been widely known for at least 50 years now, and we know that — contrary to any feels you may have about the author of this blog entry — that it disproportionately hurts the poor, who are disproportionately minority, lgbt, etc. Defending red light cameras or speeding cameras on specious appeals to safety and dismissing legitimate constitutional and liberal complaints because they come from someone whom you disagree with on other issues means sacrificing the economic and legal well-being of people whom progressives purport to defend (e.g. Ferguson, Mo.) instead of recognizing the possibility of broader collaboration. It's stupid and alienating, and reinforces the conservative slander that liberals are constitutionally predisposed to oppose freedom and support an oppressive state.

This is especially true because despite traffic enforcement being a picayune problem in general, it's one that a lot of people experience and those quotidian issues are the best way to actually build effective political engagement, something that's going to be necessary to push back against the short-fingered vulgarian-elect. Dismissing someone's arguments because you disagree with them on other issues or disagree with some of the precepts they used to reach a conclusion you would otherwise agree with is both fallaciously ad hominem and counterproductive.
posted by klangklangston at 2:26 PM on January 14, 2017 [10 favorites]


Defending red light cameras or speeding cameras on specious appeals to safety

More than thirty thousand deaths in the United States every year is not something we should just shrug at, and given that most of us know and love people who've been killed or severely injured by automobiles (or have been injured ourselves), it's not fair to suggest we don't really care about safety.

Anyone who has grown up driving on rural roads knows that there are plenty of times that you can legitimately see far enough to treat a red light as a stop sign, or sometimes to even just run it altogether — if you can see a couple miles in all directions, you have a pretty good sense whether you can cover 25 feet before anything comes up.

Leaving aside whether that's a reasonable thing to do at all, this is not the kind of intersection at which red light cameras are installed. They cost enough that municipalities can't install them at every intersection, so they've got to prioritize. That kind of intersection is not a priority. The urban-rural divide isn't really an issue here, since rural jurisdictions aren't installing them anyway.

It's a problem that municipalities installing red light cameras have often done so with terrible contracts with private companies that don't necessarily have public safety as their interest. It doesn't follow that it's not possible to have fair, well-managed red light camera programs.

What does have solid evidence behind it is that if you put up the digital speedometer displays, showing people the speed they're driving will lead to fewer accidents and fewer fatalities.

I'd love to see more radar signs everywhere, placed right next to the posted limit signs. They also cost enough that a lot of places can't afford to keep them up year-round everywhere they'd be useful, though. Many of them aren't permanently installed, and they don't have much lasting effect even a week after they've been moved elsewhere.

Just like how narrowing roads ends up being a better way to control speeds than speed limits, but while people will gladly push for more speed limits and enforcement, they'll almost always fight you on more narrow streets

There are some of us who push for narrower streets (and better pedestrian and bicycle amenities, and reduced minimum parking requirements), but it's a hard job in the face of over 60 years of existing infrastructure that subsidizes speeding automobiles at the expense of absolutely every other concern. Hell, we can't even have reasonable driver education and testing to make our poorly-designed roads a bit safer.
posted by asperity at 3:14 PM on January 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


What does have solid evidence behind it is that if you put up the digital speedometer displays

Not long ago the electronics surplus warehouse Electronics Goldmine had an offering of the displays for those signs that were really cheap because they had bullet holes in them. There were enough of these for a surplus house to buy them and make them a front-page item.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:33 PM on January 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


while the state has an interest in safety, using red light cameras hasn't been found to improve safety at all.

Has anyone responded to this point? I'm curious what the pro-red-light-camera argument against it is.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 3:52 PM on January 14, 2017


The other relevant piece of research is that driving faster doesn't increase the likelihood of a collision, differences in speed do. Speeding is NOT unsafe if everyone is doing it to the same extent.

To add a beating on this dead horse, speed limits aren't always about collisions. They can be about traffic flow. Traffic moving about 35 more or less is easier to join at an intersection than traffic moving at 50. You need less of a gap between cars to turn in and accelerate to flow speed without causing someone to have to slam on the brakes. We've got a notorious rural highway section around here where a couple of residential communities' feeder roads intersect. They're both giant traffic problems when people back up trying to get on the highway AND frequent locations of collisions when someone pulls out without room. It's made much worse because nobody drives at the speed limit on the highway which would a) make it easier to join so traffic wouldn't back up, and b) offer more reaction time and less energy once a collision happened.

PLUS, traffic laws are about having common expectations for what other people will do. When I'm turning onto the highway, I expect traffic to be moving at a certain speed. So that's the size gap I'm looking for in traffic. When some jackass is going 20-over, I might not always recognize that before I've pulled out in front. Whose fault is that collision? Maybe technically (and in some jurisdictions maybe only partially) mine, but I would say it wouldn't have happened if the person had been observing the speed limit like I expect.
posted by ctmf at 4:23 PM on January 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


Are you saying that you're okay with non-elected officials just deciding that they know what the legislature's intention was and then enforcing whatever they decide that is? Or are you just saying that this is how things will inevitably happen?

I'm saying that when the combined forces of the legislature, the courts, and the enforcers accept a certain thing as "legal", then it is.

Are traffic cameras legal? They are. Are the fines from traffic cameras part of the law? They are.

Issues like this are quite literally why we have a democratic process: so people who object can address the government and lobby their elected officials to pass or change laws. Furthermore, it's one of those de minimus situations where the impact is both minimal and ultimately duplicates an existing form of legal enforcement. In practice, this is no different than a parking violation, and you're fined whether you or your friend double-parked your car.
posted by deanc at 4:25 PM on January 14, 2017


And I realize you're talking about the freeway, but the original author used the example of going 30 in a 25.
posted by ctmf at 4:27 PM on January 14, 2017


>while the state has an interest in safety, using red light cameras hasn't been found to improve safety at all.

>Has anyone responded to this point? I'm curious what the pro-red-light-camera argument against it is.


Well, I doubt many people will be convinced since, like for bicycle helmets, you can always find somebody with a study on either side.

This analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicates that red light cameras have reduced red light fatalities by 24%. The Institute is a non-profit funded by auto insurance companies and is also responsible for crash safety tests for cars.

As far as credibility, the Institute and insurers get no revenue from red light cameras but they do have an interest in programs that reduce the insured loss of life and property. I doubt they would be recommending red light cameras if it significantly increased the number of rear end collisions compared to fatalities as some have claimed.
posted by JackFlash at 4:37 PM on January 14, 2017 [5 favorites]


There is no racial discretion on the part of cops to single out certain people. Nobody has to fear the arbitrary application of the law.

Yeah I suspect the overlap in the Venn diagram of people who concern themselves mightily about government intrusion over their constitutional right to drive like a dick and people who are concerned about inequity of enforcement of the law toward poc is conspicuously small.
posted by osk at 4:43 PM on January 14, 2017 [4 favorites]


Also fuck common cause with conservative assholes whose constitutional right to be a dick on the road probably also extends to making road dangerous and inaccessible for bicyclists. That train left the station a long time ago.
posted by osk at 5:00 PM on January 14, 2017 [5 favorites]


Also fuck common cause with conservative assholes whose constitutional right to be a dick

There's evidence that many if not most human beings are interested in preserving and even regularly exercising their constitutional right to be a dick.
posted by wildblueyonder at 6:01 PM on January 14, 2017 [3 favorites]


Whether or not the author is a dick (I read the article before his dickishness was made known to me), he has a valid point that the system in his jurisdiction hadn't fully thought out all the legal ramifications of this combined civil/criminal action. The system is relying on most people's aversion to hassle and added cost to defend oneself or challenge the law. That ain't so good.

I have mixed feelings about cameras as speed or red light enforcement. I do believe that aggressive and unsafe driving is a serious problem, but it seems that the existing laws usually don't get enforced when it would make the most difference - rushhours, and heavy traffic. Instead, speed traps are set up in sneaky out of the way places, like offramps, poorly signed areas, or in anomalies. My one and only speeding ticket was for doing 60 km/hr on a 4 lane road that happens to go by a school, so gets signed for 40 km... and the ticket was in the evening... Or the red-light ticket that is at 3 AM with almost no traffic, when someone stops, looks, then goes.

My only moving infraction is that aforementioned speeding ticket, so you can assume that I do observe the rules as much as possible, even when they seem useless. Cameras have made $0 from me. It is a voluntary tax...
posted by Artful Codger at 9:23 AM on January 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


The further back you are in line when a car in front of you hits its brakes, the less buffer you'll have in your stopping distance. If you are not looking for brake lights several cars ahead, even a (normally) safe distance between you and the car immediately in front of you won't keep you from rear-ending. The well-known formula of one car length for every ten miles per hour is useless if you are the tenth car in line when the guy in front slams on his brakes, and you don't react until the guy in front of you shows his brake lights.

Sorry, what? If you're maintaining enough distance to stop if the car in front of you slams their brakes, how does that become not enough distance if a car further up slams theirs? Whatever it is that happens ahead of the car in front of you that makes them slam their brakes, you still have that distance when they do.

(I learned it as three seconds distance, which works out to about 45 feet per 10mph)


Imagine a line of, say, 20 cars. Let's say that you can hit your brake pedal 1/10 of a second after you see the brake lights of the car in front of you. If you are going 60 feet per second, you will travel ten feet before you begin to slow down. But what if the guy in front of the line hits his brakes? If you wait until the car in front of you hits the brakes, you will have traveled 120 feet.

This is what I meant by compression. This is why visibility becomes more important the faster you go. On a flat, straight road, you can be in the midst of a nightmare before you have time to get your foot off the accelerator.
posted by mule98J at 11:29 AM on January 15, 2017


Most of the "cameras don't make the roads safer" arguments that I've ever heard involve a lot of hair-splitting over the definition of "safer", or they have biased or very small samples, or they concentrate on implementations of either red-light or speed cameras that are pretty clearly sub-par.

For instance, the automobiles-uber-alles organizations love to trumpet that "ticket cameras increase accidents" (N.B. you can always tell when you're dealing with a retrograde organization if they call collisions "accidents") based on inconclusive studies and media reports.

That said, it's pretty clear that it's possible to install speed cameras and red-light cameras in pretty obnoxious ways, such that they generate revenue but don't do much else. And in fact, the revenue-generation goal and the safety goal are at odds with each other -- an ideal "safety" camera would catch zero violators, by virtue of having a deterrent effect, and would therefore cost money to operate rather than generate revenue. So as long as municipalities think that they can make money from speed / red-light cameras, or are working with vendors who do, reasonable people are probably going to be highly suspicious of their implementations. After all, the ideal revenue-generating camera ought not to have any deterrent effect at all: it should be like an ambush -- invisible until it's too late. The goals and usage tactics are not reconcilable.

E.g.: at one point, administrative judges in Chicago were throwing out 60-70% of red-light camera tickets because the lights in question had illegally short yellow-light intervals. This apparently occurred after the city switched to a different for-profit vendor to operate the camera system, and it doesn't take a lot of imagination to suspect that the switch in vendors and sudden uptick in illegally-short yellow lights are connected. (Whether or not it is, the appearance of impropriety is certainly present.)

In Virginia, the public opinion against red-light and speed cameras grew so hostile a few years ago (mostly driven by a widespread public perception that they were being used as a local-government revenue source rather than a safety mechanism, which given the suspicious partnerships with for-profit operating companies was probably not false) that the state effectively banned speed cameras and put severe limitations on red-light cameras, such that there aren't enough of them to really affect driver behavior all the time.

There are, at least that I've seen, something of a shortage of traffic camera implementations that aren't plagued by being expected to pay for themselves via fines, a strategy that makes about as much sense as giving cops a bonus every time they fire their weapons in anger and telling them that's in lieu of a salary. So that the results aren't much worse is somewhat impressive.

Although I personally hope that ticket cameras will become obsolete due to autonomous vehicles, there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the underlying technology. But it was rolled out to the public in such a tremendously poor way, that even setting aside the American public's relentless quest to ensure that nobody gets between them and their God-given right to drive like an asshole, it's unsurprising that they've fared so poorly.

My guess is that we'll see another resurgence in interest in traffic cameras, perhaps during the long transition to autonomous vehicles when the manually-driven ones will start to rack up a disproportionate collision rate that will finally start to be realized as absurd. And, being built with modern technology rather than the 1980s/1990s stuff that most current systems were built with, those new systems can be rolled out in ways that will actually influence behavior. E.g. rather than targeting specific intersections or points on a road, they could provide 100% blanket coverage over an area using thousands of networked sensors, and modify drivers' behavior in real-time via warnings (directed optics or sonics would probably be effective), rather than relying on the very distant stimulus of a mailed $75 ticket. There's voluminous evidence that a high probability of even a minor consequence is far more effective in modifying behavior than a low probability of a more severe consequence, so such systems would probably be able to really improve driving -- but they certainly wouldn't pay for themselves.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:22 PM on January 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


"More than thirty thousand deaths in the United States every year is not something we should just shrug at, and given that most of us know and love people who've been killed or severely injured by automobiles (or have been injured ourselves), it's not fair to suggest we don't really care about safety."

It's entirely fair. If you care about safety, you should care what's effective. That's what I meant by a specious appeal — you're arguing that because of your sincere emotional desire to mitigate harm, red light cameras are worthwhile. That's bullshit, and if you care about safety, you'll take the time to actually investigate what works. It's also worth noting that caring about safety is fine in isolation, but holding that as an acontextual trump is bullshit — if we wanted to eliminate traffic fatalities 100%, we'd outlaw cars. But the costs for that aren't worth the reward. Which means that at a certain point, just invoking 30,000 deaths each year is meaningless.

"Leaving aside whether that's a reasonable thing to do at all, this is not the kind of intersection at which red light cameras are installed. They cost enough that municipalities can't install them at every intersection, so they've got to prioritize. That kind of intersection is not a priority. The urban-rural divide isn't really an issue here, since rural jurisdictions aren't installing them anyway."

Yeah, so, you know that red light cameras were first used in the '60s in Israel, and that globally, they've been installed in rural, suburban and urban environments, right? The most frequent overt justification for installation in rural areas is the reduction of man-hours required to monitor an intersection.

It's a problem that municipalities installing red light cameras have often done so with terrible contracts with private companies that don't necessarily have public safety as their interest. It doesn't follow that it's not possible to have fair, well-managed red light camera programs.

Again, one fundamental issue with fairness would be an inability to prove that the person accused of violating the law has actually violated the law. While it may be possible, the burden is on proponents to demonstrate how that concern would be mitigated.

I'd love to see more radar signs everywhere, placed right next to the posted limit signs. They also cost enough that a lot of places can't afford to keep them up year-round everywhere they'd be useful, though. Many of them aren't permanently installed, and they don't have much lasting effect even a week after they've been moved elsewhere. "

While they are expensive, that's hardly an argument against them compared to installing cameras and supporting an enforcement regime. Additionally, you're wrong about their lasting effects: study after study finds that they are the most cost-effective method, both per hour and per day, with only display boards giving carry-on effects.

There are some of us who push for narrower streets (and better pedestrian and bicycle amenities, and reduced minimum parking requirements), but it's a hard job in the face of over 60 years of existing infrastructure that subsidizes speeding automobiles at the expense of absolutely every other concern. Hell, we can't even have reasonable driver education and testing to make our poorly-designed roads a bit safer."

So what? I mean, I'm coming at this from the perspective of someone who is actually doing that — pushing for more pedestrian and multi-modal transportation planning, including narrowing streets, etc. — and that it's hard is not a reason to push for red light cameras, which are much less effective, more expensive, and have legitimate due process problems baked in. That the right thing is hard isn't a reason to pursue the wrong thing.

"To add a beating on this dead horse, speed limits aren't always about collisions. They can be about traffic flow. Traffic moving about 35 more or less is easier to join at an intersection than traffic moving at 50. You need less of a gap between cars to turn in and accelerate to flow speed without causing someone to have to slam on the brakes. We've got a notorious rural highway section around here where a couple of residential communities' feeder roads intersect. They're both giant traffic problems when people back up trying to get on the highway AND frequent locations of collisions when someone pulls out without room. It's made much worse because nobody drives at the speed limit on the highway which would a) make it easier to join so traffic wouldn't back up, and b) offer more reaction time and less energy once a collision happened."

Right, but that's something where you'll find that drivers in general already deal with that safely — that's the whole principle of setting limits based on user audit. You can make arguments that setting lower limits can discourage non-arterial traffic flow, but that will require enforcement because it's against the way that people tend to drive. Fighting traffic is like fighting water — it's much easier and smarter to design channels that use the built-in tendencies of drivers (or other vehicles — bikes have a different set of incentives than cars do, and designing traffic patterns should take advantage of that) rather than relying on regulations that require enforcement to overcome the regular tendencies of drivers.

"I'm saying that when the combined forces of the legislature, the courts, and the enforcers accept a certain thing as "legal", then it is.

Are traffic cameras legal? They are. Are the fines from traffic cameras part of the law? They are.

Issues like this are quite literally why we have a democratic process: so people who object can address the government and lobby their elected officials to pass or change laws. Furthermore, it's one of those de minimus situations where the impact is both minimal and ultimately duplicates an existing form of legal enforcement. In practice, this is no different than a parking violation, and you're fined whether you or your friend double-parked your car.
"

The problem with the implied moral justification there is one easily highlighted by invoking segregation. Segregation was legal. That didn't make it right. That doesn't make traffic regulations equivalent to segregation, but it does show that normative arguments from legislation should be treated with skepticism.

"This analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicates that red light cameras have reduced red light fatalities by 24%. The Institute is a non-profit funded by auto insurance companies and is also responsible for crash safety tests for cars.

As far as credibility, the Institute and insurers get no revenue from red light cameras but they do have an interest in programs that reduce the insured loss of life and property. I doubt they would be recommending red light cameras if it significantly increased the number of rear end collisions compared to fatalities as some have claimed.
"

I'd probably go easier on you if you hadn't repeatedly given naive, condescending arguments for traffic cameras at every point, ignoring many of the fundamental points against them, but everything there — from the lack of an actual link to the specious assertion of credibility — shows that you probably don't know what you're talking about.

First off, the contention that the insurers get no revenue from red-light cameras is inaccurate: auto insurers generate significant revenue from increased premiums after traffic violations, including red light violations. Their incentive isn't just to minimize property damage, their interest would be to increase the number of traffic violations while minimizing their pay-outs. Sometimes, those curves may be related, other times they won't be.

There's a analysis from the Federal Highway Administration, including a literature review, which finds deeply mixed results, with some intersections showing a decrease in right-angle crashes, and more intersections showing an increase in rear-end crashes. One of the criticisms of this study is that the IIHS lead researcher was one of the lead researchers on the FHWA study; it nevertheless was far less sanguine on red light cameras than the IIHS was, specifically criticizing the IIHS for over-estimating spillover effects and ignoring citywide effects external to treatment sites.

But the implementation and outcomes differ significantly across sample sites, with Los Angeles showing an increase in overall crashes at treated intersections, Florida deciding that implementations similar to their road conditions led to an increase in collisions, Virginia finding that they increased collisions, Greensboro, NC finding that they increase collisions, and the Australian Road Research Board finding no effect in a decade of data in Melbourne.

Compare this to addressing the problem of people running red lights by extending the duration of a yellow signal, something that even the lead author from the IIHS agrees is the most effective method. That's nearly free, involves zero problems with wrongful accusation, and fulfills the American constitutional principle that if there's a way to achieve the same state objective without impinging upon the property or liberty of citizens, that's to be preferred.

Yeah I suspect the overlap in the Venn diagram of people who concern themselves mightily about government intrusion over their constitutional right to drive like a dick and people who are concerned about inequity of enforcement of the law toward poc is conspicuously small."

Y'know, I realize that my comment was long, but I actually addressed this: As automated-enforcement frequently makes mistakes in identification, but having the time, knowledge and disposition to successfully challenge traffic tickets correlates with higher income, and is disproportionately white and male, this is something that reinforces a power structure that disadvantages people of color (and other historically-oppressed minorities) disproportionately. Being blithe about this is itself a privilege.

"Imagine a line of, say, 20 cars. Let's say that you can hit your brake pedal 1/10 of a second after you see the brake lights of the car in front of you. If you are going 60 feet per second, you will travel ten feet before you begin to slow down. But what if the guy in front of the line hits his brakes? If you wait until the car in front of you hits the brakes, you will have traveled 120 feet.

This is what I meant by compression. This is why visibility becomes more important the faster you go. On a flat, straight road, you can be in the midst of a nightmare before you have time to get your foot off the accelerator.
"

I understand what you're trying to say, but this is nonsense as phrased as a reply — you're imagining a chain in which each link counts against the reaction time, but not against the distance traveled. At 60 fps, 20 cars back, you'll have traveled 120 feet, but the person in front of you would have traveled 110 feet, meaning that in your example, you would only have to leave, say, 11 feet to be in the clear. And even that would still be irrelevant if you're traveling a safe stopping distance behind the car in front of you — at 60fps, roughly 40mph, the traditional wisdom is four car lengths back — or roughly 60 feet; the defensive driving recommendation of two seconds would be about 120 feet back. The problem is that basically nobody does this, generally because there's more traffic than carrying capacity. In practice it often makes a lot more sense to design roads with better sight-lines and avoid needing to stop suddenly without being able to see multiple cars in advance rather than insist that everyone follow a guideline that is widely ignored. (It is one reason why I loathe vehicles — especially SUVs — with glass tinted so that you can't see through them as a lower vehicle. Being able to see and think about five or six cars ahead is incredibly valuable to driving.)

As a tangent: I haven't driven in too many countries, but it does seem like a lot of the traffic problems in North America come from the tension between people who want to enforce norms versus people who don't care about them. Like, on a highway, it's not so dangerous to have people speed, or to have people adhere strictly to the speed limit, but if you're going to adhere strictly to the speed limit, you shouldn't be in the passing (left) lanes. If someone wants to go faster than you, it's much better to have them in front of you than behind you. Likewise, I see both road rage and accidents all the time when some people merge early before a lane closure and then want to punish the grasshoppers for not merging before the very last moment, when you actually get more people through if everyone zippers as much as possible (not least because you're using the a greater volume of road, increasing capacity). One of the nicer things about driving in Italy was that it seemed like there was no ego related to getting passed — if someone wanted to drive faster than you, let them by. Here, too many people think that if they're going a single mile faster than the truck in the right lane, they don't need to speed up any more to pass, no matter how many miles of backup they're causing behind them.
posted by klangklangston at 10:32 PM on January 15, 2017


"Most of the "cameras don't make the roads safer" arguments that I've ever heard involve a lot of hair-splitting over the definition of "safer", or they have biased or very small samples, or they concentrate on implementations of either red-light or speed cameras that are pretty clearly sub-par.

For instance, the automobiles-uber-alles organizations love to trumpet that "ticket cameras increase accidents" (N.B. you can always tell when you're dealing with a retrograde organization if they call collisions "accidents") based on inconclusive studies and media reports.
"

The Virginia study wasn't inconclusive: It found that collisions increase overall, including collisions with injuries, because rear-end collisions are more prevalent to begin with than right-angle collisions, and that installing red-light cameras did not, in general, have a positive effect.

The framing that you're using is backwards: Red-light cameras should have a demonstrable positive effect beyond what other means to mitigate red-light collisions can achieve in order to justify punitive enforcement. The best-case meta-analysis is that they can have a mild positive effect that is less than what is achievable by other means, e.g. lengthening yellow-light duration and giving increased warning for impending red lights through other signage. Because they are unable to demonstrate that, the presumption should be against their use, not for it. Otherwise, you're both wasting public money to install them, and wasting private money and time with the necessary enforcement. That they can sometimes have a positive effect isn't evidence that they're the best solution; that they often have a negative effect is evidence that they are not the best solution.
posted by klangklangston at 10:48 PM on January 15, 2017


but if we're going to get ticketed, there should be a real cop involved as a witness

True! Real Cops are so well known for being fair, impartial, objective, and unbiased. And for never ever perjuring themselves or discriminating based on race or class either!!

This whole debate boils down to this: it is almost never necessary to run through a red light. It is very easy not to do so if you drive attentively and defensively, as you should. You have no right to do so. It isn't a fundamental freedom issue. You agreed to follow the rules of the road when you got a license and a registration and an insurance card. And soon it is all going to be on video and in memory so the precious cowboy driver freedom caucus will have to look elsewhere for their last stand for Liberty and The Open Range. You are being fenced in.

And since I drive those roads and have a kid, I'm glad of it. You do not have a right to run a light no matter how fast your car is or how good a driver you think you are or how late you are for a date or how much you Love Freedom or how venal municipalities or insurance companies are.

The premise that running a red light is normal and acceptable and often unavoidable underlies so much of this debate. But it's bullshit. Stop your car. Wait. Proceed when the signal changes. It's not rocket science. And if you get tagged for cheating on the rules, I have zero sympathy.

Unlike real violations of due process and personal liberty I am perfectly comfortable saying to fellow drivers "well, if you have nothing to fear you have nothing to hide." It's my road as much as yours.
posted by spitbull at 4:42 AM on January 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


This analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicates that red light cameras have reduced red light fatalities by 24%.

A major problem with this analysis is that the installation of red light cameras roughly coincided with the side airbag mandate, which significantly reduces deaths from side impact collisions even if the crash rate remains the same.

Nobody is arguing that people should be free to run red lights willy nilly. There are, however, situations in which it is truly unavoidable, like if you are stopped at the light and one or more emergency vehicles need to pass when there is no room to move to the side without crossing into the intersection. There are also many situations in which the cameras issue violations for conduct that is not actually against the law. Given the common lack of any reasonable process to dispute the ticket, I can't see how a person can consider the cameras, as implemented, to be a reasonable means of enforcement.

The fact is that better design does far more to prevent crashes than cameras do, so what exactly is the point of having them?
posted by wierdo at 6:40 AM on January 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


By the way, I have a vested interest in people not driving like jackasses, given that I haven't had regular access to a car in almost two years. I'm far more at risk if a collision happens since I don't have a metal cage surrounding me. Yet somehow I can still see how the downsides of enforcement cameras far outweigh the benefits.

I don't have skin in the game, but I'm sure someone will say my opinion is what it is because I want to be able to drive like a jackass. My opinion is what it is because decades of experience show that outside of a few specific areas, proper design improves safety and traffic enforcement simply doesn't. Proper design doesn't punish the evildoers, though, so it doesn't satisfy the puritanical streak we Americans seem to all have.
posted by wierdo at 6:49 AM on January 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


>This analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicates that red light cameras have reduced red light fatalities by 24%.

>A major problem with this analysis is that the installation of red light cameras roughly coincided with the side airbag mandate, which significantly reduces deaths from side impact collisions even if the crash rate remains the same.


The study accounts for the improvement in safety features by comparing cities with and without red light cameras over the same time period. In cities without red light cameras, there was as 14% reduction due to improvements in car design, but cities with red light cameras improved by 24% more.

They have since updated the study and found that cities that turn off red light cameras have seen an increase in fatalities compared to cities that keep them on. So they have seen the effect of both installing and removing red light cameras. Both provide evidence for red light cameras increasing safety.
posted by JackFlash at 7:42 AM on January 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


"The premise that running a red light is normal and acceptable and often unavoidable underlies so much of this debate. But it's bullshit. Stop your car. Wait. Proceed when the signal changes. It's not rocket science. And if you get tagged for cheating on the rules, I have zero sympathy."

I don't think that's true, at least in this thread. You seem to be completely ignoring the very real problem noted by the author, and by others here: red light cameras cannot at this point prove who was driving, and since moving violations are criminal citations tied to a DRIVER and not a VEHICLE, that's a big fucking problem.

This problem has neutered the whole idea in plenty of jurisdictions, because without real proof you can't treat the fine like a real fine, meaning (as others have noted) it's often completely safe to simply ignore the dunning notices that result.

It's not okay to ignore this problem with automated enforcement.

Oh, and I will add this, in the "yes, he's an asshole" department: As former resident of Alabama, I'm comfortable describing Faulkner University as a lower-tier school. Its law school is only recently accredited (2009). There are at least two other well-regarded law schools in Alabama; my guess is that Faulkner's law students aren't exactly top tier, either.
posted by uberchet at 9:48 AM on January 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


you're arguing that because of your sincere emotional desire to mitigate harm, red light cameras are worthwhile.

That's not anything I argued, nor did I notice anyone else arguing that. I just don't think it's reasonable to assume that people aren't sincere, simply because they're not reaching the same conclusions that you are. Share better evidence, suggest better ways of interpreting that evidence, whatever, but please don't claim people are acting in bad faith just because you think they're wrong.

Yeah, so, you know that red light cameras were first used in the '60s in Israel, and that globally, they've been installed in rural, suburban and urban environments, right? The most frequent overt justification for installation in rural areas is the reduction of man-hours required to monitor an intersection.

Nope, didn't know any of that. Most of what I know about the topic is from discussion of my state's recurring bills to ban the use of red-light cameras statewide, and here it's pretty much all urban and suburban jurisdictions using them at heavily-trafficked intersections. Their locations aren't a secret.

The problem that red-light cameras are trying to alleviate is a real one, and while I don't think that they're the best method to do so, I'm also not convinced they're useless or impossible to implement just because a lot of places have done it poorly. I don't appreciate having people from outside the cities that might be using them here (rural legislators) prohibit cities here from trying them.

I'm not sure what to make of longer yellow-light periods. The evidence seems to show that they reduce red-light violations (good!), but I don't see how they'd do anything to reduce speeding (and might even encourage it). They certainly make everyone else wait longer at intersections, pedestrians included, purely because we can't trust drivers to drive at a safe speed on the roads we've built.

And that last bit is really important. A lot of people find it frustrating to treat dangerous driving as a force of nature rather than an individual choice that drivers make, over and over again, to put other people at risk. I find it frustrating, even in situations where I know that redesigning intersections or streets will reduce the number or severity of collisions, to absolve drivers of responsibility for their own terrible decisions. I do know that redesign is pretty much always the best solution for public health. But if a red-light camera might help matters while we're waiting for redesign, I'm OK with giving them a go.
posted by asperity at 10:59 AM on January 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


red light cameras cannot at this point prove who was driving, and since moving violations are criminal citations tied to a DRIVER and not a VEHICLE

It depends on state law. Many states have laws that specifically say that the liability for the citation is the registered owner of the vehicle. It is not a criminal violation. It is like a parking ticket. In fact, some states forbid the recording of faces of drivers for privacy reasons since proof of driver is not required.

Rental agencies can submit an affidavit under oath specifying the renter of the vehicle, in which case the renter becomes liable.
posted by JackFlash at 11:13 AM on January 16, 2017


Late to the party, sorry about that.

In the Netherlands it is simple. The owner of the vehicle gets the ticket mailed to him and can see the picture the camera took online. If the owner wasn't the one driving, he's free to try to get his money back from whomever WAS driving, but as owner of the vehicle (s)he is responsible for paying the fine, and that' the short and long of the story. That's how that specific law was written.

It has been challenged in about every way mentioned above, and the law stands. All the way to what amounts to our supreme court.
posted by DreamerFi at 1:09 PM on January 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


Same with where I live in Taiwan except no one here has the time or shitty law school education-fueled douchiness to challenge it past the local courts.
posted by osk at 3:10 PM on January 16, 2017


In the Netherlands it is simple. The owner of the vehicle gets the ticket

How does that work with penalty points? In the UK you'll automatically get points for any speeding conviction, which in turn results in increased insurance premiums etc, which can be a far bigger consequence than the actual cost of the ticket.
posted by grahamparks at 4:56 PM on January 16, 2017


In some US states (including my home state of Washington), no points are assigned for red light camera or speed camera fines.
posted by mbrubeck at 5:34 PM on January 16, 2017


"This whole debate boils down to this: it is almost never necessary to run through a red light. It is very easy not to do so if you drive attentively and defensively, as you should. You have no right to do so. It isn't a fundamental freedom issue. You agreed to follow the rules of the road when you got a license and a registration and an insurance card. And soon it is all going to be on video and in memory so the precious cowboy driver freedom caucus will have to look elsewhere for their last stand for Liberty and The Open Range. You are being fenced in."

1) Given that different jurisdictions have different rules about what constitutes running a red, it's not something you can just make a blanket declaration on. In Michigan, it's not running a red light to turn left from a two-way street onto a one-way street; in most states, it is. In California, it's not running a red light to enter the intersection prior to the red and then exit after the light has turned red; in many states, it is.

2) One of the findings in Los Angeles was that yellow lights were intentionally shortened at intersections with red light cameras to increase the number of violations. That's making it more likely, not less, that someone would run the red.

3) Given that one of the fundamental issues is still that you can't necessarily prove that the person issued the ticket was the person driving, freedom is an issue here. These violations have the coercive power of the state behind them, and it seems like you're willing to argue that an illusion of increased safety for you is worth sending an innocent person to jail for, and that's pretty goddamned appalling.

"And since I drive those roads and have a kid, I'm glad of it. You do not have a right to run a light no matter how fast your car is or how good a driver you think you are or how late you are for a date or how much you Love Freedom or how venal municipalities or insurance companies are.

The premise that running a red light is normal and acceptable and often unavoidable underlies so much of this debate. But it's bullshit. Stop your car. Wait. Proceed when the signal changes. It's not rocket science. And if you get tagged for cheating on the rules, I have zero sympathy.
"

Right, which is why your opinions shouldn't be part of a policy debate on this. You're not evaluating evidence, you're making an argument that your personal concerns are absolute and trump both practice and injustices happening to other people. Further, you don't seem to actually know very much about driving, or are lying to yourself.

Rolling a stop sign now and then isn't a big deal — basically every driver does it. Other infractions that can be classed as "failure to observe signal" include things like entering an intersection at all while a pedestrian is anywhere in the road. Or, for a similar number of points, failure to yield to a pedestrian at an unmarked crosswalk. These are, like speed limits, laws that are almost universally flouted and generally unenforced. Arguing that because you have a kid, and these all increase risk at least marginally, they should all be universally and ruthlessly enforced is at best quixotic, at worst a draconian over-reaction that wouldn't make your day-to-day life much safer. Instead of relying on the judgment of police officers, you'd be effectively decoupling the penalty of infractions from their ostensible purpose of proportionally decreasing risk. It's dumb, and thinking through it outside of the lens of an emotional appeal to your child's safety should make that clear.

"The study accounts for the improvement in safety features by comparing cities with and without red light cameras over the same time period. In cities without red light cameras, there was as 14% reduction due to improvements in car design, but cities with red light cameras improved by 24% more."

Right, and their study has deep methodological flaws, including a failure to account for regression to the statistical mean, incorrect population growth numbers, the dropping of a variable to decrease statistical degrees of freedom, and improper conflation of intervention and non-intervention intersections.

For a literature review of studies that claim positive effect, you can see The effectiveness of red light cameras in the United States-a literature review. (Llau AF, Ahmed NU. Traffic Inj Prev. 2014;15(6):542-50.)

A critical review of those studies is here: Explaining Differences in Crash and Injury Crash Outcomes in Red Light Camera Studies. (Langland-Orban B, Pracht EE, Large JT, Zhang N, Tepas JT 3rd. Eval Health Prof. 2016 Jun;39(2):226-44.)

And again, even if Langland-Orban et al. are unfairly pessimistic regarding an increase in collisions or injuries, they must be considered against the costs of other interventions, and considered in light of serious public interest concerns.

"That's not anything I argued, nor did I notice anyone else arguing that. I just don't think it's reasonable to assume that people aren't sincere, simply because they're not reaching the same conclusions that you are. Share better evidence, suggest better ways of interpreting that evidence, whatever, but please don't claim people are acting in bad faith just because you think they're wrong."

That's the opposite of what I'm saying. I believe that Spitbull is sincere in his desire to preserve the safety of himself, his kid, and even the general public. I 100% believe that he is arguing in good faith. My point is that sincere belief doesn't make red-light cameras effective. Nor does the fact that running red lights is illegal and that it's a general good to enforce laws. He's arguing that because he sincerely wants to be safe, that justifies infringing on people's rights, even effectively penalizing innocent people. I'm pointing out that 1) the evidence that red light cameras are effective at all is dubious, and that 2) for the majority of intersections, red-light cameras are less effective than other interventions that don't have nearly as many significant drawbacks.

"Nope, didn't know any of that. Most of what I know about the topic is from discussion of my state's recurring bills to ban the use of red-light cameras statewide, and here it's pretty much all urban and suburban jurisdictions using them at heavily-trafficked intersections. Their locations aren't a secret."

Right, which is arguably more effective. It would at least be consistent with research showing that the most consistently effective anti-DUI intervention is publicizing the location of sobriety checkpoints — more than the checkpoints themselves. The research in favor of RLCs that most dramatically purports to show the benefits of RLCs heavily utilizes this "spillover" effect, and discounts regression to the mean (arguing, sort of dubiously, that the spillover to control sites leads to an artificial minimization of RLC effect, while simultaneously using the spillover to boost the effects by citing improvements at intersections without interventions).

"The problem that red-light cameras are trying to alleviate is a real one, and while I don't think that they're the best method to do so, I'm also not convinced they're useless or impossible to implement just because a lot of places have done it poorly. I don't appreciate having people from outside the cities that might be using them here (rural legislators) prohibit cities here from trying them."

The thing is, the problem of red-light collisions has been decreasing on its own, or due to other broader trends in American transportation, and every researcher — pro or con — acknowledges that. If red light cameras aren't the best method to deal with red-light collisions, banning them would only be a problem if all methods that were more effective had been exhausted and there was still a problem.

"I'm not sure what to make of longer yellow-light periods. The evidence seems to show that they reduce red-light violations (good!), but I don't see how they'd do anything to reduce speeding (and might even encourage it). They certainly make everyone else wait longer at intersections, pedestrians included, purely because we can't trust drivers to drive at a safe speed on the roads we've built."

Well, no, that doesn't follow. Longer yellows wouldn't certainly make everyone wait longer. Increasing the length of any side of an isosceles triangle doesn't necessarily increase the circumference of the triangle — the other two sides can decrease. This is especially true when you recognize that many traffic cycles are asymmetrical. Even yellow-light duration is something that depends on the intersection when measured in terms of reducing crash and injury/fatality outcomes — it doesn't work everywhere, but it's almost infinitely cheaper than red-light cameras, and it's something that's usually combined with other light-timing changes (all-red, etc.) and can be combined with engineering changes (e.g. improved signage, larger lamp lenses, etc.).

"And that last bit is really important. A lot of people find it frustrating to treat dangerous driving as a force of nature rather than an individual choice that drivers make, over and over again, to put other people at risk. I find it frustrating, even in situations where I know that redesigning intersections or streets will reduce the number or severity of collisions, to absolve drivers of responsibility for their own terrible decisions. I do know that redesign is pretty much always the best solution for public health. But if a red-light camera might help matters while we're waiting for redesign, I'm OK with giving them a go."

It's something that like 56% percent of drivers admit to having done, with inattention being a major factor. To the extent that inattention is the cause, treating red-light collisions as if they're conscious choices obscures other solutions. And it's not like not having red-light cameras is legalizing running a red light: people still get punished for it, through a process with a pretty low false-positive rate.
posted by klangklangston at 8:58 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


I guess I never really thought that much about red light cameras but now that I got a glimpse, or shall I say pages-long manifesto from the type of people who are so adamantly against them, I seriously want to see what I can do to help advocate for them back home in California. Love to see some asshole beemer drivers' heads explode.
posted by osk at 9:49 PM on January 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


The premise that running a red light is normal and acceptable and often unavoidable underlies so much of this debate.

No one in this thread is saying this. We all stop for red lights. Anytime that any of us fails to stop for a light, it's because A. We missed it (terribly unsafe!), B. There was some legal reason to ignore it or treat it as a stop sign (late at night on a motorcycle or a right hand turn), or C. It was the safest alternative for some odd reason (welcome to Minnesota winters!).

That's it. Personally, other than taking a right-on-red, I'd ran three lights in my life, one that I missed, two that I slid through and got lucky.

The fine for running a red light is about safety right? All I'm saying I have a problem with red light cameras because they cannot make a determination that in some scenarios, running the red light might have been the safest thing to do. The scenarios where running a red light is the safer alternative are very rare but since I intent to stop at every red light I'm able and nearly every time I've run a red light has been unavoidable or safer than stopping, I'm really only interested in those edge cases. I don't care about the normal idiots who run lights because they aren't paying attention or are just assholes, I want those jerks fined. And if I run a light because I'm not paying attention, I'll happily pay the fine. But if I get a fine because I was in some odd scenario where running the light is the safest thing to do, I'll be livid.

That's it. I'm not concerned about my liberty being threatened of having my freedom curtailed. It's that if this system were really about public safety, there would be an appeals process to cover these instances where a cop would, at least in theory, exercise some judgement about whether the driver should be assessed a fine. To increase traffic safety while doing justice to those people who really shouldn't be fined but that part of the process is missing and it seems as though it's missing deliberately because it gets in the way of revenue. Revenue should have exactly fuck-all to do with traffic safety. If they need revenue, increase taxes. Fines should only ever be about enforcing the law or charging individuals for social costs.
posted by VTX at 6:24 AM on January 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


A major issue with red light camera systems is that they're generally run by for-profit private entities. It's much the same problem as prisons being run by for-profit private entities. It sets up an incentive to increase the number of people caught breaking the law rather than to decrease the number of people breaking the law in the first place. In fact, from the corporations point of view, the more people running red lights, the more money they make. That's just asking for trouble.
posted by Karmakaze at 8:01 AM on January 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


"I guess I never really thought that much about red light cameras but now that I got a glimpse, or shall I say pages-long manifesto from the type of people who are so adamantly against them, I seriously want to see what I can do to help advocate for them back home in California. Love to see some asshole beemer drivers' heads explode."

Yes, let's advocate for a policy that doesn't necessarily make people safer and will inevitably make the lives of innocent poor and powerless worse just so you can stroke off to some fantasy about annoying rich beemer owners. Your righteous hard-on is certainly worth the risks!
posted by klangklangston at 11:45 AM on January 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


Nobody is arguing that people should be free to run red lights willy nilly. There are, however, situations in which it is truly unavoidable, like if you are stopped at the light and one or more emergency vehicles need to pass when there is no room to move to the side without crossing into the intersection. There are also many situations in which the cameras issue violations for conduct that is not actually against the law. Given the common lack of any reasonable process to dispute the ticket, I can't see how a person can consider the cameras, as implemented, to be a reasonable means of enforcement.

The fact is that better design does far more to prevent crashes than cameras do, so what exactly is the point of having them?


At least in my jurisdiction, you can challenge such circumstances, and in a decent system, there should be enough additional evidence present that shows the emergency vehicle, or that you entered the intersection legally. There should be more behind a red light ticket than just one still photo of your vehicle and a red light. Eg - video.

I do like the idea of adjusting yellow timing to permit vehicles to reasonably clear the intersection. Would you then agree that every jackass who runs a red there is truly deserving of a penalty?

I also appreciate the problems raised about the implementation of red light cameras. If it's being done as a city revenue generator, or a private company's profits are proportional to charges laid, those are both moral hazards.

Nonetheless - cameras can be effective tools for enforcing law and improving behaviour, and the noted problems aren't insurmountable... and it's still a voluntary tax. Each and every driver is free to choose not to break that law. There's no inalienable right to run reds.

...research showing that the most consistently effective anti-DUI intervention is publicizing the location of sobriety checkpoints — more than the checkpoints themselves

What was the metric used to determine this - the number of collisions involving impaired drivers, or simply the amount of DUI charges laid?
posted by Artful Codger at 8:47 AM on January 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


There were multiple metrics in several studies that were conducted primarily in the US and Australia (same places most robust red-light camera studies were conducted, coincidentally), and so there were multiple metrics evaluating multiple campaigns, mostly based on data that was already publicly collected. In general, there were three big categories of outcomes that were evaluated: DUI crashes involving injuries/fatalities; DUI crashes overall; and DUI charges. There were some others based on self-reported behavior, and some based on recidivism of previously-convicted DUI drivers. I'd have to go back through all of it to try to parse out the different levels of effects on different outcomes, but in general, most of the studies directly on the difference between the checkpoints themselves and the awareness campaigns around the checkpoints focused on areas where media markets and law-enforcement jurisdictions were different, like because of state or county borders, like campaigns run in Los Angeles county media, but enforcement in Riverside county, or campaigns run in Brisbane, with enforcement in northern New South Wales. Because the different enforcement agencies would often choose different days for their roadblocks, it'd be that on nights where Brisbane announced roadblocks but northern New South Wales wasn't running any, you'd see decreases in alcohol-related crashes (I believe; could have been alcohol-related driving injuries/fatalities) in New South Wales proportional to the number of people that saw them. When the situation was reversed, i.e. NSW running checkpoints but not Brisbane, if NSW advertised in Brisbane, you'd see a decrease in both Brisbane and NSW, but if they didn't, and only advertised in NSW, you would see a lower decrease in NSW even with the same number of people seeing the ads. I know that in the California ones, they specifically looked at crash data because they wanted to know if it was just people avoiding the roadblocks, and it wasn't, and in another study, they found that increasing the specificity of the description of the checkpoints, like, "At Sunset Blvd. and Echo Park Ave. from 7pm to 10pm" decreased the crashes more than just giving a day and a vague location, even for people that weren't anywhere near the intersection.

This was kinda a tangent that I stumbled down after a comment in another MeFi thread claimed that stigma was the only thing that had been effective in cutting DUI incidence, citing the MADD public awareness campaign. The short answer there is that everyone agrees that MADD likely had some positive effect, but that nobody knows how much (in large part because so many other things happened concurrently, including a ton of legislative shifts, that it's just impossible to parse out). But the MADD version of events is almost certainly false, since they basically take credit for the entire decrease in DUI fatalities since they started, and increased MADD presence in a state was only weakly correlated with changes in legislation regarding BAC limits, bigger penalties, and criminalization, and even those factors are pretty widely disputed in how much any one of them contributed to decreases in DUIs, DUI injuries/fatalities, and DUI crashes (but they definitely had some effect). The other evidence against the MADD stigma argument (which MADD promotes) is that public attitudes toward alcohol-impared drivers are also only weakly correlated with MADD activity in a state (often with the shift in public attitude predicting an increase in MADD activity, rather than the other way around), and since that's all mashed together with the legislative shifts, we just didn't collect the right kind of data to know what worked and what didn't.

Interestingly, and what kind of led me to the DUI checkpoint media studies, one of the attempts that was recent enough to have meaningful data was the attempt to increase stigma and perception of risk though the public education campaigns that showed the brutal aftermath of DUI crashes, something MADD promoted heavily. It turns out that they have a huge positive effect for a very brief period of time, but then decline in efficacy to the point where they may actually encourage drunk driving, because at first they scare the shit out of people, but then people either drive drunk or know someone who does, and when that person neither crashes nor gets arrested (by far the most common outcome for driving while intoxicated), the crashes shown are perceived as less realistic and a form of edgy risk taking. Once people get over their shock, those ads make drunk driving seem cool, perversely, especially for the young drivers who are the disproportionate drunk drivers.

The theory is that by giving as much specificity as possible in announcing the checkpoints, people are more likely to be able to picture themselves there, getting caught driving drunk. So even if they don't drive there, they are more likely to think of being caught driving drunk as a realistic risk, and not drive drunk no matter where they're going. And there was even another Australian study that found, basically, that police could still see these positive effects without even having to run the checkpoints as advertised all the time (another one of those natural experiments through jurisdictional issues, where due to vagaries in outside bureaucracy, some city's cops got shifted from one funding body to another, so their checkpoint schedule was changed due to budget issues after being advertised, and they still saw the benefits on the advertised days more than the new days on which they were running the checkpoints).

Unfortunately, while publicizing checkpoints is still the most effective intervention we know, we also know that they aren't the biggest factor in the overall decline in DUI crashes, injuries and deaths, because their widespread American legalization happened in the middle of the two-decade decline. One of the broader arguments is that, unlike checkpoints, most interventions have a much more pronounced efficacy curve, where they start out really effective and become less and less so (e.g. gory shock ads), and that the decline is most likely due to overlapping, but shifting, interventions that are only temporarily beneficial. Part of the problem with parsing this out is similar to arguments over the decline of violent crime (or traffic deaths, as we see upthread), which has had a similar drop: Pretty much every intervention happens against a background of decline, so every program claims that it's a success and behind that decline. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is strong in policy debates like this.
posted by klangklangston at 7:01 PM on January 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


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