Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Nanny State finds a red light in her pocket.

Instapundit has an update on those ridiculous red light cameras. He has long been an opponent of these ridiculous and dangerous devices. Unlike me, he seems to be against them based on their shaky legal merits and their general ineffectiveness. Go have a look see. I sure hope he's prepared for the impending "Scaggsvillanche."

Me, on the other hand, I'm against them for broader jurisprudential reasons. I simply believe that traffic laws should exist more as an ethic than as hard fast laws that are punishable by the state. Criminal charges should apply only when a driver is so intentionally reckless that his or her threat to the community is readily apparent (eg. fleeing from the police and hitting another driver). Absent that type of behavior, traffic offenses should really be civil matters.

Look, yes it is important to have laws (civilly enforced) that allow us all to get on the roads and be comfortable that we all have a reasonably certain expectation of how other drivers will behave. For example, we should all drive on the same side of the road, stop at stop signs, and realize that green means go. However, red light cameras are stupid. First of all, most people who run red lights simply aren't paying attention, therefore, threatening them with fines does no good – they didn't mean to run the darn light in the first place. In these cases, I tend to believe in the tenet – no harm / no foul.

I'll take it a step further. I understand the general purpose of these laws. They promote safety (though, don't get me started on speed limits). Still, I have often approached a red light late at night – looked both ways and decided that it was safe to cross regardless of the color of the light. I see nothing wrong with that. Similarly, don't we all sometimes hesitate at green lights to wait for traffic to clear even though we have the right of way? I don't want a system to have some kind of overarching control over my personal judgment.

I just see no point in criminalizing the way people approach customary behavior in the first place – and I believe that regardless of whether that criminalization is enforced by camera or street cop. If someone has an accident, let's treat it as just that, not as a crime.

Unfortunately, governments don't really care about your safety - they care about generating revenue. Read the following excerpt from this article:

"In North Carolina, a judge ruled Tuesday that the state constitution requires 90 percent of camera proceeds to be dedicated to the school system. Currently most of that money is given to a private contractor. This ruling will cost the city of High Point $1.3 million, and if upheld will lead to removal of cameras from all eleven North Carolina jurisdictions where they are used. A 2004 North Carolina study also found camera use increased accidents."

Look at how this article clearly, perhaps unintentionally, clarifies the actual pecking order where our safety falls in the governments considerations when making laws. That's right, dead stinkin' last.

I guess this leads me to propose a constitutional amendment I've long dreamed about - I want an amendment that keeps the government from profitting from law enforcement. Seriously, if we could force that one through, I bet everything I own that we wouldn't have 622 laws per year passed in each state every single year. (Hyperbole Alert). Our civil liberties would not be consistently trampled in the name of public profit that is covered by the thin, transparent, and easily penetrable veneer that is public safety. Seriously, if we somehow managed to pass this amendment, well, lawmakers might not snicker when asking themselves, "Will this law actually work? What unintended consequences will this law have? Do we really need this law to accomplish this goal?"

. . . . . . I dream a grand dream.



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