This is something that I touched upon last week, but was brought back to the forefront of consciousness with the news that, in the first two months of operation, more than 40,000 tickets were issued, purely as a result of the cameras being triggered. Equally staggering, the cameras actually went off more than four times as often – a total of 166,176 times on freeways. Three out of four photos have to be discarded because they don’t clearly show the driver or the number-plate, necessary in order to begin the citation process.
That’s based on sixty cameras [forty mobile, twenty fixed], and would lead to an income of about $6.6 million for the state, if everyone were to pay up at the average rate of $165 per ticket. A nice windfall, especially in a state that is facing a serious budget deficit this year. The system is being run by a for-profit corporation, and the idea that this is about “safety” is given the lie by the fact that anyone caught speeding does not incur any penalty points on their license – they simply have to pay the fine, and nothing else will happen to them. It’s basically a speed tax, and one you can largely bypass if you know whereabout the fixed cameras are located.
As noted previously, the concept of a fixed speed-limit on any highway is entirely ridiculous, because the safe speed on a road is subject to a wide range of variables: time of day, volume of traffic, weather conditions, etc. There are times – and I’m thinking particularly of rain, which seems like an foreign concept to Arizona drivers – when even 55 mph is too fast. But there are others, where the road is entirely empty, when you can go a lot faster without putting anyone else [or even yourself] in jeopardy. Speed cameras have no concept of this; they offer a “one size fits all” approach to justice, which makes as much sense as the laughable ‘zero tolerance’ policy schools have for violence, that results in idiotic concepts such as kids being suspended for playing with a water-gun.
Any inflexible or automated process of law-enforcement is always going to result in this kind of idiocy, because of the difference between enforcing the letter of the law and enforcing justice. The latter is, naturally, harder and requires the presence of actual human to assess the situation and take appropriate action. I am reminded of Demolition Man, where Sly Stallone’s retro-cop is automatically fined every time he uses bad language – which happens about once every five seconds. It also makes me fear that the United States is going the same way as the United Kingdom, which I was fortunate enough to leave before the closed-circuit cameras became omnipresent.
Inevitably, the same arguments are being used here: “If you don’t break the law, you’ve got nothing to worry about.” Of course, you can extend the concept as far as you want to go. Hey, let’s put a camera in your bedroom, shall we? After all – all together! – “If you don’t break the law, you’ve got nothing to worry about.” Once the basic principle has become established, and the public has become comfortable with it, then it becomes a lot easier to take the next step. We’ve already seen this with GPS devices being placed in cars, in case of an accident or theft. However, you can now get the same thing for your kids, or elderly relatives who might be liable to wander off. How long before they become [at first, anyway] optional accessories for all adults, just to be safe?
This probably seems like paranoid thinking, but I recall thinking much the same about those who predicted that cameras would be observing our every act. George Orwell probably got the much the same reaction for 1984, and I suspect he was exaggerating what seemed plausible to him for literary effect. Seems that reality has done a very effective job of catching up on speculative fiction.