THE INTERESECTION — I’m waiting for the traffic light to turn green while listening to some knuckle-dragger on the radio explain that global warming is due to Daylight Saving Time “because we now have an extra hour of sunshine.” The traffic light changes, but every Texas motorist knows not to spring out into the intersection unless you first notify your next-of-kin. I slowly ease out into the crossroads which are more like crosshairs and… GOOD GRIEF! A pickup comes barreling across my bow doing about 70, clearly running the red light. It’s a good thing we’ve got video cameras up there on poles which will snap a photo and….
Wait. We don’t anymore. They were mounted at the most wreck-prone intersections, but the good voters in my community cancelled the system. Clearly, a majority of motorists around here likes to be splattered like Jell-O, or maybe they like to splatter others. Either way, not only am I in danger every time I venture on to the roads, my car insurance rates keep going up. Your rates, too.
In case you just moved here from Chad, such cameras are timed to photograph the license plates of cars going through red lights. The cameras can also shoot pictures of the drivers. The photos show the date, time, location and length of time the light had been red when the vehicle sailed through. Later, the motorist receives a letter containing a traffic ticket and a copy of the incriminating photograph.
There are many questions in life which defy answers. Why would anyone who makes more than $500,000 a year vote Democratic and why would anyone who makes less than $500,000 vote Republican? How did Davy die? Why do fools fall in love? To quote JFK, why does Rice play Texas? And why would anyone be opposed to video cameras taping the lunatics who run through red traffic lights threatening to kill us? Maybe they like my splattered Jell-O theory.
We have seen those shots on TV of wrecks caused by vehicles running red lights. Usually they T-bone the other vehicle — hitting the side door, the most vulnerable part of the machine. And, again, we are all paying hard money for it, unless you are among the millions of Texas drivers who don’t have car insurance. More than 100,000 crashes and 1,000 fatalities are caused by motorists running red lights each year, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. Studies show a sharp drop in the number of traffic accidents where the red-light cameras are used, but we shall not let facts get in the way of cherry-picking the laws we wish to obey and those which are simply an ingnored nuisance.
Opponents say the cameras are intrusion into their lives. If so, to be consistent they must avoid all banks, especially ATMs, which cover customers 360 degrees 24/7. Next time you go into a convenience store smile, because you are on Candid Camera. Local TV news shows love to run those grainy shots of some guy entering a Stop-N-Rob wearing a ski mask, gimme cap and dark glasses, waving a gun while the TV anchor intones, “If you recognize this person, call 1-800 HANDS UP.” Recognize him? That could be my brother and I wouldn’t know it. We live in a recorded world, as Tamerlan Tsarnaev told his own brother, Dzhokar.
London is supposedly the camera capital of the world, with the devices located on virtually every street corner. If you don’t want them taking your picture, don’t wear a London Fog. Also, don’t go into any liquor store, police station, airport terminal and most elevators. Casinos are full of cash, customer crooks and sticky-fingered employees. Stay away from them, plus hospitals and office building lobbies. Don’t use toll roads. They are lousy with cameras. Actually, it seems hypocritical for opponents of the red light cameras, citing video intrusion of their privacy, to leave their house.
“It’s merely a way for the city to get more money,” we are told. Then we can assume these people don’t frequent parking meters, or pay their water bill. They avoid pro sports events because tax dollars paid for most of the stadiums and arenas. It is argued that the owner of the car may or may not be the actual driver. Tell that to the owners of vehicles receiving parking tickets.
There is the objection that the camera systems are supplied and operated by private companies, thereby usurping the duties of the government. Are these the same critics who are constantly clamoring for privatization, smaller government and run it like a business? Indeed, a private company picks up my garbage, although some days they deliver. The main, and unspoken, reason for opposing the cameras is simply that the whiners want to break the law and don’t want to get caught or pay the consequences (a fine), or even be inconvenienced. These arguments for opposing a common-sense device that could save lives and clear up a lot of lawsuits are totally transparent. But they are winning. Estimates are that at one point nearly 700 cities in the nation used cameras. Now it’s 530. Currently 21 states and Washington, D.C., use automated cameras at traffic intersections to catch violations. Opponents have one more way to break the law untouched: They can buy clear, plastic shields that blot out their license plate from cameras. The shields are rather like ski masks for cars.
Here in Texas, roughly 60 cities have the camera programs. Montgomery County and League City are dropping systems already in place. If you go there, avoid all intersections. Houston had a video system from September 2006 until voters banned them in November 2010. Good, because Houston has no traffic accidents to speak of. This decline in collision cameras means the T-bone terrorists have won. They are also correct in saying that we don’t need seat-belt laws, mandatory helmets for motorcyclists and child-proof medicine bottles. And, yes, Daylight Savings Time causes global warming.
Ashby sees red at email@example.com