Sunday, January 06, 2008


The city of Hattiesburg will be treated to a sales presentation by Traffipax, a company that sells intersection camera-enforcement equipment. Here are a couple of posts on the subject that I put up at the HA forum:

"This is just a stepping stone for us to get used to. Just wait till Big Brother has us watched every where we go to be sure we are not planning to overthrow the socialist regime that is coming to the U.S."

This statement is exactly right. Right now, they're trying to convince us to accept cameras for "safety" reasons. After all, who can argue in favor of running red lights?

But it's the beginning of the control grid. Soon we'll have the cameras scanning license plates (if they aren't set up to do so from the get-go), checking inspection stickers, and issuing tickets for that.

And then the argument will be "who can argue against making people renew their license plates and inspection stickers?"

Then the cameras will be reading lips if not recording the audio of conversations. An arrest or two of some bad people will probably be attributed to the efficiency of the cameras, and who can argue against arresting bad guys?

By then, there will probably have been more cameras installed and then we won't be able to go anywhere or do anything without being watched.

The initial cameras are proposed to be installed at 3 of the busiest intersections in Hattiesburg--hence the most lucrative for the city and/or Traffipax. The reason that those intersections are supposedly so dangerous is simply because they're so busy; one has to go through one of those intersections to get almost anywhere of significance in the city.

Here's Traffipax's arrangement with the city of Lufkin, TX:

"If each person had to pay a fine that ran lights during the "warning" month of October, the city could have raised a total $121,950 due to the red light cameras. Since the money raised is divided between Traffipax, Lufkin and the state, that's a possibility of $36,585 for the city if citizens keep running the lights at the same rate they did during the warning period."

That may or may not be the exact arrangement that Hattiesburg ends up with, but we can be sure that Traffipax (a U.S. subsidiary of a German corporation) is going to make a lot of money off of us. And it will be money we give them voluntarily by giving them permission to spy on us.

I for one, am uncomfortable with the whole arrangement, mostly because we are being asked to sacrifice our freedom to do the impossible: make everyone safe at all times. The cameras aren't going to do that because it can't be done. The cameras are only going to inure us to the increasing surveillance society and make money for a German corporation. Oh, and turn more of us into law-breakers with more and more fines to pay.


Reading the story a little more closely, it does look like Traffipax will be sharing in the ticket revenue:

"Bierma would not reveal the cost of the system but said the city would not have to put up any money to start the program.

'The program pays for itself through the revenue of the citations,' she said. 'Regardless of what happens, the city would never owe more money than the program brings in.'"

We'll never "owe more money than the program brings in?" What does that mean exactly? Does Bierma mean to say that if, for instance, as Ms. Delgado wishes, no red lights are run because of the monitoring, that we'll owe nothing to Traffipax?

In other words, what if the cameras are the excellent deterrent that Delgado and Bierma make them out to be and therefore don't "bring in" any money at all because the cameras successfully deterred every violation? According to Bierma, that must mean that the city would then owe nothing for the cameras.

On the other hand, we know all too well that corporations like Traffipax don't do things that won't make them money. And they know that red lights can easily be disobeyed by accident and in fact are rarely disobeyed willfully (no study to back this up, just my opinion). They know that due to human error or miscalculation, they will make money (and get to surveil us in the process), allowing Bierma to make a statement like the above.

But the human error factor really defeats the argument of having the cameras in the first place, since we all know that red lights are going to be "disobeyed" whether cameras are present or not.

I'd be interested to know what, if anything, city council members may or may not be getting out of this unnecessary arrangement. Have they been on any Traffipax-sponsored trips or received any "gifts" of any kind from a "friend" who has connections to Traffipax? Just wondering--don't mean to cast aspersions or make insinuations. And note that I am not making statements, I am asking questions.


According to the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety, Columbus, MS and Tupelo, MS use red light cameras.

The IIHS reported that studies in California and Virginia show that red-light cameras reduced red light violations by 40%. However, the IIHS also admits that different studies have shown that red-light cameras can increase rear-end collisions.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) also says that red-light cameras reduce violations. However, in Los Angeles County, for example, the results from 3 different intersections varied wildly:
92 percent, 78 percent, and 34 percent. The article containing this info gives no explanation for the variance. It also strikes me as unlikely that red-light running could ever be reduced by almost 100% for an extended period of time.

The FHWA study found that in San Francisco, violations were down by 40% in the first 6 months of the program. While that is positive, no mention is made of other possible contributing factors to the decrease in violations, such as publicity surrounding the presence of the cameras. Also, no mention is made of whether or not these positive results continued beyond the 6-month period, presumably once the publicizing of the cameras had died down or stopped altogether.

In fact, an IIHS publication mentions a few important factors that likely play a much bigger part in reducing red-light violations than the cameras do. First, the setup: In Philadelphia, cameras were installed at what happened to be a couple of the most crash-prone intersections in the country (no indication if the crashes were necessarily caused by red-light running or by being poorly designed intersections with say, poor visibility or something similar). The red-light violations went down significantly--approaching 100% decreases, in fact.

However, the article also notes two other factors that came into play in reducing violations: extended yellow lights and "conspicuous signs [that] warn motorists as they approach camera-equipped intersections." The article then ignores the effect of the signs, plays up the cameras, and acknowledges the helpfulness of lengthened yellow lights but downplays their effectiveness.

One wonders whether or not similar results could be achieved with less privacy-invading tactics. For example, if red-light running is such a big problem, the fine for red-light running could be made more punitive, i.e., substantially increased. Or, dummy cameras could be used so that drivers think they're being watched when in fact the mounted cameras are not recording anything. Or, if municipalities wanted to really get serious about stopping red-light violations, they could install barriers that rise out of the intersection when red lights are on, then recess back into the street when the light turns green. That way, it would be impossible for cars to move at all until the red light ends.

None of the articles I consulted mention how much money Traffipax and other similar companies have contributed to the IIHS or how many former or current camera-enforcement company personnel work for or in concert with the FHWA.

We can see then, that the argument that cameras in and of themselves necessarily reduce red-light violations is very weak and that similar results could likely be obtained through other means which lack the privacy-and-civil-liberties-violating potential of cameras.

And here's another article that raises similar points...


Freshmao said...

I think the use of cameras for traffic enforcement should be unconstitutional. I believe it is an abuse of power. People should enforce the law not mindless cameras that do not hear out the circumstances or care about the person driving the vehicle.

Justin said...

This is an absurd slippery slope argument.

After all, they won't tell us when they start using the cameras for other purposes. They'll just start doing it and no one will know until some whistleblower comes forward.

Charmed Mom said...

I like the idea of bringing up spikes that recess when the light turns green! With the cost of tires these days and having to replace both front or all four...depending on speed of the red-light-runner...PLUS a huge fine...would be a lesson taught in no time! Perhaps people would even learn what the yellow light is really for...warning...spikes on the way up!