- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

Big Brother is out to get us. That's the case, at any rate, for anyone driving in the District of Columbia. In less than five years, the city has sent out more than half-a-million fines based on moving violations recorded by traffic cameras. Resistance is mounting. Two Washington lawyers, Thomas Ruffin Jr. and Horace L. Bradshaw Jr., are pressing ahead with a class-action lawsuit, arguing that the right to due process is violated by this heavy-handed system.
The due-process angle is sound, as car owners are presumed guilty until proven innocent. Hidden traffic cameras snap photos of vehicle license plates and tickets are zapped out through the mail. The only way for a hapless motorist to escape the fine is to finger someone else as being behind the wheel at the time of the supposed infraction. Without a fall guy, everybody is guilty on the lone evidence of error-prone machines, without ever having confronted an accusing police officer and with no concrete proof that a cited person was even driving at the time a photo was taken.
Before safety advocates get all bent out of shape, it's important to emphasize that there is no sound evidence showing that traffic cameras increase safety on American roads. There is, however, growing testimony nationwide that they actually increase accidents. Mostly installed at intersections to bust people running red lights, public knowledge of the location of traffic cameras has a tendency to make drivers jam their brakes in panicked attempts to avoid tickets. For this reason, San Diego Police Chief David Bejarano admitted on ABC's Nightline that, "It's true in a few intersections we found a few more accidents than prior to the red-light photo enforcement." Overall, an analyst with the department confirmed, "The cameras themselves have not reduced the number of collisions that have happened at these intersections." Closer to home, in Maryland's Howard County, rear-end accidents skyrocketed 21 percent in a four-year period during which red-light cameras were installed. Similar data abound in states from sea to shining sea.
Despite this track record, the District and other governments are seeking to expand camera enforcement because it's a huge cash cow. In almost five years of operation, the city has extorted more than $26 million dollars this way. D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams has referred to traffic fines as taxes, and even admitted that the permanent sting is a revenue generator for his government. With cameras positioned at the entrances and exits to the city, it appears that this "tax" is specifically targeted at Virginia and Maryland suburbanites who commute to the city for work.
Automobiles and the ease of individual mobility they provide are important components of American commerce and symbols of our freedom. Right now, in the capital of this great country, there are more than 30 cameras hidden at intersections for the express purpose of soaking citizens out of cash. This is highway robbery. And sadly, for a city grappling with a crime problem, it's the authorities who are the bandits. It's time for this scam to come to an end.

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