- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 5, 2009

If you listen to elected officials as they extol the virtues of traffic cameras, you could be forgiven for thinking that the devices are universally popular. After all, the skewed opinion polls they trumpet describe a public standing behind a remarkably effective product that saves lives. After Tuesday’s election, the time has come to dispense with this superficial and demonstrably untrue claim.

Take the city of College Station, Texas, where red-light camera supporters heralded a voter survey in September claiming that 79 percent endorsed cameras as effective and that 64 percent would vote to keep them. Despite heavy voter turnout, however, the support for cameras somehow never materialized Tuesday. Instead, voters approved a citizen’s initiative forbidding the city from using cameras to issue tickets.

Another favorite tactic of photo-enforcement supporters is smugly implying that the only people who would oppose the use of cameras must be red-light runners and speeders - after all, no one has the right to run a red light or speed. We do not think the 72 percent of residents in the southern Ohio city of Chillicothe are lawbreakers and criminals.

Nor do we think the majority of residents 75 miles away in Heath believe the bromide that those who don’t speed have nothing to worry about from photo radar. Business owner Duane Goodwin, for example, found that as out-of-town motorists started receiving tickets in his city, they would avoid shopping there altogether. When he saw his business suffering, he gathered the signatures needed to put the issue to a vote. The majority sided with Mr. Goodwin on Tuesday.

For those keeping score, cameras were completely shut out. Taking into account the six other cities that have voted in the past on the issue, the score stands at 9 to 0 against traffic cameras. The message could not be more clear: Americans don’t want traffic cameras. Nobody has ever forced a referendum demanding the installation of these purportedly popular cameras.

So why are leaders in the District, Maryland and Virginia deaf to public sentiment? From their recent actions, it is hard to conclude anything other than that their ears are attuned only to the sound of cold, hard cash being shoveled into government coffers.

In the past few weeks, Maryland cities have jumped at the chance to set up speed camera traps in “work zones” where no work is going on and “school zones” where there are no students. A well-connected team of lobbyists for the firm Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) convinced a number of jurisdictions to piggyback their program on the existing photo-enforcement contract in Montgomery County. Why waste time, and profit, holding an open and fair bidding process?

The Virginia Legislature, informed by the Virginia Transportation Research Council that red-light cameras increased accidents over their first seven years of deployment, nonetheless voted to reauthorize their use.

In the District, Police Chief Cathy Lanier reportedly is angered that an iPhone application alerts drivers to slow down in advance of speed traps. Obviously, slowing people down is not the District’s real priority.

Given the unambiguous public sentiment on the issue, it’s time to call an end to the dangerous photo-enforcement game. It’s not worth it to sacrifice safety to raise revenue.