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Red light cameras deserve to go by the wayside

POSTED October 26, 2013 12:07 a.m.

Just because man can develop a technology doesn't necessarily mean that it should be employed. That may be said red light cameras which are bothersome to those who feel it lays the groundwork for an Orwellian society.

Modesto, Turlock, Manteca, Fresno, El Cajon, San Diego and a host of other California cities have turned off or minimized use of red light cameras out of several concerns, including legality, high operating costs and the staff time involved to process violations. Modesto elected officials are taking a second look of the controversial devices, which snap a photo of those who proceed through an intersection when they do not have a green or yellow light.

I say good.

Of the 50 cities that contract with Redflex, a company that sets up cameras and leases them to the cities, 44 have turned off the cameras. It's become an expensive undertaking. Modesto is paying $5,500 per month to lease each camera. And of the fines paid by violators, the bulk of the cash goes to Redflex. In fact, an average of $350,000 in fines is paid annually by Modesto violators, but the city of Modesto keeps about 10 percent because it not only has to pay Redflex, but shell out the costs of powering the devices, and police salary to review photos and issue citations.

All this means the trend is for cities to back away from cameras so don't look to Ceres rushing to talk to Redflex.

Some drivers in Ceres are under the false impression that Ceres has red light cameras. They are confusing boxes mounted atop some of the signal light arms as red light cameras. Those "boxes" are either "surveillance" cameras that allow City Hall to keep an eye on traffic flow. In some cases they aren't cameras as they are devices that allow firefighters to change a red light to green in their favor during an emergency by use of a roof-mounted strobe.

In years past, Ceres city officials have talked about installing red light cameras but shied away from them. The hesitation, as I understand it, was that they don't really solve the problem. In the words of City Engineer Toby Wells, the "data is inconclusive." Besides, with Ceres being still small, there are really only two or three - maybe four - intersections where traffic volumes might warrant the worthiness of such cameras, such as Whitmore/Mitchell and Mitchell/Hatch.

In Modesto, fighting tickets has caused a backup in the courts. Social media, is it turns out, has hurt the effectiveness of the red light camera program. Because of websites like Facebook, the word gets out fast about perceived injustices and conditions. Mayor Chris Vierra, who works in downtown Modesto, recently noted how a Modesto Police crackdown of tinted windows went out quickly on Facebook and Twitter and people avoided the area. Likewise, word got out on social media websites that red light camera tickets can be fought successfully.

The California State Supreme Court will be weighing in on two court cases involving the legality of using cameras as evidence of a traffic infraction being committed.

Within the last two years, there have been two successful challenges to tickets issued based on red light camera photographs and videos for violation of California Vehicle Code § 21413 (failure to stop at a red light). The Second Appellate District responded to such arguments by noting the photographs and video were produced by a computer. Consequently, they were not a "statement" because no person produced them. No person could be cross-examined about the pictures or video to reveal biases, perception deficiencies or improper assumptions. Thus, they were not hearsay at all and were admissible.

While officials say the red light cameras aren't nabbing people who are making technically illegal California stops, or rolling stops, while engaged in a right on a red light, I am not so sure. I have a friend who received a costly ticket in the mail after he made a rolling stop on a red light through the intersection of Briggsmore and Oakdale. Jose was making a right turn from northbound Oakdale to eastbound Briggsmore while there was a protected left turn cycle for those going from westbound Briggsmore to southbound Oakdale. My friend didn't know about the website -- highwayrobbery.net - that coaches people in ways to fight their red light camera tickets.

I have been troubled about traffic enforcement by use of cameras because they have shades of a government who spies on its citizenry in a chilling fashion. But it's obvious that in our "me first" society - mix in illegal drivers too -- that people's driving habits are far less courteous than they once were and we need to do something about dangerous drivers. Factor in distracted drivers who text or use smart phones and it's easy to see why any of us can be hit by someone else who is trying to beat the light or just plain doesn't see it.

It's too bad that drivers have to be threatened with a fine to make them think twice about running a red light, an action that might shave seconds off their drive but puts life and property in jeopardy, not to mention years of lawsuits. Their motivation should be in averting disaster, not flirting with it.

Meanwhile, all of this wretched driving means all of us must be vigilant about looking out for the other guy. We have to remember that this world is never safe, as much as we'd like to think. No law, no camera, no practice can end traffic deaths. But we have lots to say about whether or not we will be in one or cause one.

Nice try with the cameras though.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at jeffb@cerescourier.com

 

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