Traffic citation robots and deceit

Traffic citations and enforcement enhancement are usually rationalized as safety measures. It makes no difference that crash statistics often do not support such rationalizations. This lie is particularly pernicious when it comes to automated systems such as intersection cameras.

First is the real reason for such robots, The profits can be very attractive as the cost to develop a citation is much lower than it is with cops. An editorial in the Washington Times describes the problem.

The truth about traffic cameras is that the real motivation behind the programs is revenue, not safety. For this reason, the systems are often rigged to guarantee a large yield of tickets.

Such rigging often includes shortening the caution light time and making other subtle changes that increase the odds of detecting driver behavior that is in technical violation of a traffic regulation. The automated robots also have features due to their very nature that can enhance citation risk.

As reported on, about 80 percent of citations are issued to vehicles photographed making split-second, technical violations that are in most cases invisible to the unaided eye. The trigger on red-light cameras in Fremont, Calif., was so quick that the shutter clicked faster than the signal itself could change from yellow to red.

These traffic citation robots are only the latest technology being used to move traffic safety away from its goals towards an artificial violation of rules that are created to clearly define a line that really doesn’t exist. Radar guns for speed citations are another example. These tend to promote setting speed limits that have no regard for traffic conditions or even well known standards that are enforced in ‘campaigns’ publicized as safety measures that are really just a tax on motorists.

There is a truism that the closer you watch, the more you will see. If you are looking for flaws, you will find them. We see that in the scrutiny of politicians for corruption or undue influence. We see that in sports and in the arts in scoring competitions. We see that in employment in finding reasons to fire someone. It is also in the legal system as a means to find cause for lawsuits. In schools, you see it in the ‘zero tolerance’ policy putting kids in jail for popping an aspirin or having something that might be considered to look like a gun.

There is no way that every contingency and circumstance and condition of the real world can be encoded in a written rule. If those rules that allow for judgment and flexibility and interpretation are discarded, then the written rule can become a weapon. As the courts have show recently, even a misuse or irresponsible application of judgment, especially when it comes to ignoring the values and purpose behind the rules, can have significant consequence. The struggle to find ways to put common sense in traffic robots is only part of the ongoing struggle in lawfare where morality and ethics often get left in the gutter.

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