from the if-you-can't-fix-the-system,-just-'fix'-the-output dept
While the discussion over whether red light and speed cameras are helping or hurting continues, there's no denying they're very profitable. In most communities, the beneficiaries of the additional income are extremely reluctant to unplug the cash cow (if you will...). The beneficiary least likely to welcome any dip in income are the companies supplying the camera systems.
American Traffic Solutions is one of two major traffic cam contractors. Its DC-Maryland camera system has recently run into a few snags in the money-making department due to challenged tickets. In one documented case, a driver had his ticket thrown out because the photographic "evidence" showed two vehicles in frame -- and in radar range. (This leads one to speculate whether ATS simply decided to issue two tickets...)
Rather than simply toss out any questionable photos, ATS has decided it would be simpler (read: more profitable) to do a little creative work to alter the output.
The firms operating red light cameras and speed cameras in the District of Columbia and Maryland are working to suppress evidence that could be used to prove the innocence of a photo enforcement ticket recipient. In Washington, the Arizona-based vendor American Traffic Solutions has repositioned cameras and cropped photos so that it is impossible to determine whether another object or vehicle happens to be within the radar unit's field of view.Even though the cameras are also video-capable, no corroborating video evidence is provided to ticketed drivers. The efforts being undertaken to ensure ATS can "write" as many tickets as possible are questionable at best. As The Newspaper notes, they bear every resemblance to suppression of evidence. Cropping a second vehicle out of frame in order to push a ticket through unchallenged is legally dubious. Ethically, it's just plain wrong.
The change is important since DC hearing adjudicators have been throwing out citations whenever another vehicle was visible, creating the possibility of a spurious radar reading (view ruling). The cropping also makes it extremely difficult to use pavement lines to perform a secondary check of the speed estimate provided by the radar. Lines painted on the road for this purpose are visible in one photo, but not the other (view first photo, view second photo).
This isn't ATS' only experience in the ethically/legally dubious arena. Its system in Florida now sports one of the shortest yellow lights in the country, just a shade above the absolute minimum. Decreasing a yellow light by a half-second can result in double the amount of tickets issued. Of course, it also increases the number of accidents, but that's hardly of concern to the red light cam contractor. (It would seem to be a problem for the complicit DOTs, but the ultra-cheap source of revenue is apparently too good to pass up -- or even use responsibly.)
And it's not just law enforcement and traffic cam contractors reaping the benefits of cropped photos and shortened yellow lights -- the money goes all the way up. A reform bill aimed at red light/speed camera systems tanked earlier this year in the Maryland legislature, thanks to nearly $100,000 in direct contributions from camera companies (and their subcontractors) to lawmakers in Annapolis.
There's nothing behind these programs that indicate "safety" or "better driving" is the intended outcome, not when a camera contractor needs to resort to cropping photos and moving cameras just to ensure the income continues to roll in. The complicit government entities are only making it worse with their tendency to become swiftly addicted to new "revenue streams" -- ones that often complement campaign contributions from these same contractors.
The losers here are members of the public who are now more likely than ever to be slapped with bogus tickets, often without any reliable form of recourse.