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Should the city council consider implementing red-light cameras?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | MARCH 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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YES

The object of red-light cameras is simple: to deter drivers from running red lights.

The Iowa City City Council will hold a work session today to discuss red-light cameras, opening the possibility of increased surveillance at intersections across Iowa City. While some have expressed concern about the cameras, they pose no threat to civil liberties — and are, in fact, a good idea.

Red-light cameras have been proven to reduce the number of crashes that result from running red lights. According to a study by researchers at Iowa State University, these types of crashes were reduced by 20 percent in areas in which red-light cameras were used.

Some arguments against the use of red-light cameras come from a distrust of excessive government surveillance. A certain level of distrust is a good thing, but fears about invasion of privacy from red-light cameras are unfounded. Red-light cameras observe people in a public place and gather no personal information besides the license number and location of a car. Failing to stop for a red light is illegal; if drivers follow the law, there will be no pictures taken of them.

While red-light cameras hold a car’s owner responsible for the fine, regardless of who is driving the car, this system of accountability is no different from the way liability is assigned in car accidents.

Red-light cameras can make mistakes. Occasionally, traffic lights fail to change from red to green and drivers are forced to run the light or stay indefinitely at the intersection. However, Iowa has a system in place for determining when a light is defective and a driver is justified in running it. The only difference between being observed by a police officer or a camera in this situation is that the officer would not pull over a driver for running a defective light, while the red-light camera would still issue a ticket. This issue can be resolved by an appeal.

The vast majority of drivers caught by red-light cameras are in the wrong when running a stoplight, and their outrage at being ticketed by a machine could be avoided if they just waited for the light to change. Any discomfort from having a camera briefly watch citizens at intersections is a small price to pay for safer roads.

— Will Mattessich

NO

We’ve all done it.

If I were to put money on it, I’d say the average person has either sped up when a light turned yellow and/or driven through a freshly lit red light at one point in time.

I’m not saying it’s the right choice. But every individual who mistakenly crosses the line a second too late shouldn’t be ticketed without taking into account other circumstances. This is the problem with relying on technology to do just about everything for us: While it is certainly nice, there are some times when devices have their faults.

This is one of them.

When a light turns yellow and you’re 20 feet away, there’s that moment of indecision. You have fewer than 2.5 seconds to decide whether you should speed up to beat it or slam on your brakes and resist the urge to drive through it.

These situations have been and still can be easily left to the police to judge. Unlike red-light cameras, police officers have the ability to monitor busy intersections, allowing them to make decisions based on a case-by-case basis.

Sure, there are many people who speed and rightfully deserve a ticket. But the average good citizen who obeys the law, drives the speed limit, and has a clean record should not always have to face a hefty fine for a moment of indecision that he or she may have misjudged.

Furthermore, technological devices have the potential to make mistakes — and lots of them.

While this is certainly not the only bizarre case, funeral processions, with more than 20 cars sluggishly following behind one another, may go through a yellow light moments too late.

Are they deserving of a ticket? The red-light cameras “think” so, but would a cop monitoring the area agree?

So while the rationale behind red-light cameras is certainly clear, and they have proven to deter reckless drivers, the average person who misjudges a light should not have to pay the same consequences. Mechanized enforcement unjustly converts gray-scale situations into binary black and white.

— Taylor Casey


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