28 Jan Speeding Tickets & The Quality of Our Daily Life

I received another speeding ticket yesterday — my third this month. These are tickets issued by the city’s new robo speed-trap cameras, strategically placed along roads you’d never think would have speed traps. The offending speeds are 38 MPH in a 20 MPH zone or 41 in a 30 MPH zone. Miniscule speeds on roads you’d swear were 35 MPH zones at least.

If I have pulled in 3 tickets in a month — and I’m no drag-racer — you can bet that just about every driver in the city is getting a ticket once a month, if not every week. You’d think everybody would be up in arms but the city is smart about it: the speeding violations cost a flat $40 and don’t go on your record (i.e., you don’t get “points”). As a result, most speeders won’t protest the violation. They’ll pay the fine and shrug it off as a nusiance.

I’m happy the city’s getting rich suddenly, though I’m not convinced any of the money will be put to good use because it seems city governments are doomed by their own bureaucracy and scattered incompetence. Certainly, this doesn’t help relations between citizens and their government. Buying a bunch of robo-radar traps is like buying into slot machines. It’s a dirty business that generates little good will. There are plenty of reported abuses, like the case of the guy who was fined at random because the photo in the ticket was too dark to read so, apparently, somebody took a wild guess about the identity of the speeder. It took the alleged speeder 7 months to get the violation cleared (if you don’t pay your fine, you can’t renew your license). After that ordeal, he said he would register his car in another state.

Incerasingly, our world is monitored by cameras but it’s not because of the new fear of terrorism. The proliferation of automated cameras is the product, mostly, of budget cut-backs. The age-old fear of the robot has come to pass in the most mundane way: state and local governments simply don’t have the money to hire and train people to do the jobs that have been given over to robotic cameras. For example, there are some toll roads you can’t drive without a prepaid toll-pass that automatically feeds your fee to the camera toll-reader. The end result of this automation is that we get fees, fines, and tickets at every turn but there’s no way to get a refund if there’s a mistake. It’s just too much of a hassle. And good luck trying to get anybody on the phone.

Sad to say, this is about the diminishing quality of life in America. As our nation becomes a poorer one, our governments are getting less generous and less tolerant. And, because we don’t have the resources to come up with better solutions, we are resorting to short-cuts and easy answers that sloppily address the questions of the day. How can your township make more money? Up its surveillance of daily traffic! This might make more money for local government but now, when you or I drive a quiet city street, we may do so ill at ease and a little irritated, wary of being watched and worried that tomorrow or the next day we’ll get an unwelcome notice in the mail.