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Making the case for Big Brother

POSTED January 29, 2013 9:54 p.m.

If I was a politician, I might be labeled a flip-flopper because I have recently reversed my previous opinion on a local governance issue. The matter in question: red light traffic cameras.

Four years ago, the City of Turlock was considering installing red light enforcement cameras at two Turlock intersections. I was personally against the idea of traffic cameras and was happy when the City ultimately decided against their installation. I have since witnessed a preponderance of red light violators and have to wonder if drivers knew they might be caught on camera breaking the law — and possibly causing accidents and injuries — would it make a difference?

When the Turlock Police Department originally came to the City Council with the idea of red light cameras, I was apprehensive. I was actually a little more than apprehensive; I had a negative gut reaction to the idea. I blame it on the "Matrix" movies instilling an innate fear of digital overlords controlling our every move for my irrational response to fixed traffic cameras.

I also legitimately feared the costs of possible litigation the City may have faced due to the legal grayness red light camera images had at the time. The avoidance of a lawsuit free-for-all was also what ultimately led to the cameras being permanently tabled by the City Council.

But, I have now come to reverse my opinion on the cameras and I hope the City does too.

My change of heart hinges on personal experience, but a new state law also clears the way for cities to reconsider red light cameras under surer footing.

About 10 months ago I was involved in a traffic collision that totaled my truck and left me spinning, literally. I was traveling southbound on Golden State Boulevard through the Fulkerth Road intersection, going about 45 mph, when I was hit by a driver going east on Fulkerth who ran the red light. I had no clue I was about to be in a traffic collision until I felt a big hit and then was spinning in 180 degree donuts through the intersection.

Thankfully, the other driver and I only suffered minor injuries. I can't say the same for my Dodge Ram lifted 4X4. While this red light violator caused me damage, this one incident didn't really change my mind about traffic cameras.

The near-miss collision I had on Monday was the straw that broke the camel's back. I was traveling south on Center Street coming into work when a driver ran the red light at the Olive Avenue intersection, going west. Thankfully, I had not fully entered the intersection and had plenty of time to stop before hitting this distracted driver.

The thing that really worried me about this near-miss was I could see the driver perfectly. I called her "distracted" because you'd have to be to miss a red light, especially when there are cars stopped in the lane next to you, but she wasn't on her phone or eating or putting on lipstick. She just looked distracted.

You might wonder why I think having red light cameras would prevent distracted drivers from running stop lights. Habit.

When I first started driving there were no seatbelt laws; therefore, I wore no seatbelt. Today, thanks to the safety campaigns by the California Highway Patrol, I know that if I am not wearing a seatbelt and get caught, I will have to pay money I do not have to spare; therefore, I ALWAYS put my seatbelt on no matter how distracted I am. The same logic applies to red lights. If I know there's an increased possibility that I will have to pay a large fine for running a red light, I will make a habit out being aware of traffic lights and coming to a complete stop at all red lights.

Most people are motivated by two things — and money is at the top of that list.

A new law — Senate Bill 1303, which took effect Jan. 1 — also clears the way for cities to confidently install red light cameras by establishing statewide standards for their installation and operation and makes it easier to challenge unjustified tickets.

The legislation prohibits the use of red-light cameras to raise revenue and requires that their location be based solely on safety considerations. In addition, warning signs have to be posted within 200 feet of an intersection being monitored by one of the devices.

Drivers looking to clear a wrongful citation also will no longer be required to identify the person responsible for the violation.

Hopefully with the new legislation the City will feel confident enough to take another look at the issue. I would feel safer knowing there's at least one eye — even a digital one — watching for red lights at Turlock's intersections.

This column is the opinion of Kristina Hacker and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.

 

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