Friday, July 25, 2008

Safety tool or cash cow?

Posted By on Fri, Jul 25, 2008 at 3:19 AM

I could be putting my personal safety at risk with this conversation, but what the heck. I really want to know what are the objection is to the Comprehensive Photo Traffic Safety Program (traffic cameras) around New Orleans, Jefferson Parish and

Gretna. People are really steamed about the cameras and some have even said they won’t pay the fines because their use is somehow illegal or should be challenged in court on the grounds of a violation of privacy rights or a lack of eyeball evidence by a uniformed police officer.

 It seems unlikely that a judge would buy an argument that Americans have an unalienable right to break the law without penalty unless there is an officer in a cruiser there to write out a ticket, but drivers’ arguments on the subject are very emotional. Personally, I think officers’ time is better spent investigating crimes than chasing down people who run red lights. Another common tirade is that the cameras were installed simply to bring in loads of money to the city. So what? We need lots of cash to for vital repairs and services. My only problem with the money is that it goes into the city’s general fund, in New Orleans at least, instead of being dedicated to street repairs or schools or health care.

Don’t get me wrong, I find their presence inconvenient and potentially costly. (I’m expecting a citation in the mail any day for a lapse in judgment on Carrollton Avenue.) The tickets are expensive ? $100 for running a red light or turning right on red without a complete stop, and the late fee is $75 in New Orleans – but it’s the new reality. The fine in Gretna under the new traffic camera regime is $120 for going 5 miles an hour over the speed limit. Geez, it’s like Big Brother is going to make us obey traffic laws or bring us to our knees financially in the process.  

That said, there are good things coming out of the installation of the cameras. New Orleans Public Works Director Robert Mendoza reports impressive drops in motorists running red lights and speeding through intersections that have cameras. The most impressive, and widely reported, is a 75 percent decrease in red-light violations at Poydras Street and Loyola Avenue alone. Sure, it’s inconvenient to have to change our driving habits, and it’ll take a few incidences of slamming on the brakes for yellow lights to get there, but if nothing else, the cameras will help us to diversify our economy. Maybe it will even improve our driving habits and bring down our insurance rates. And as lagniappe you get a photo of yourself committing the violation. It could be the beginning of a new photo Christmas card trend. 

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