- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2003

Increasingly, state and city governments are using cameras to nail commuters for supposedly speeding or running red lights. The ticket arrives in the mail with no proof that the owner of the car was behind the wheel and no corroborating police testimony that a violation actually occurred. The process is run by error-prone machines. Until now, voices of protest have had little success. But last week, Gov. Robert Ehrlich, taking a stand against a legislature dominated by liberal Democrats, vetoed a radar-camera bill, making him a hero to drivers nationwide.

The proposed Maryland law would have instituted the first statewide camera-enforcement program in the country. It was a comprehensive initiative, with cameras set for school zones, residential areas and six-lane highways. The chief judge of Maryland’s Court of Appeals opposed the bill because the expected flood of tens of thousands of new traffic citations would have created a logjam in the court system. At the very least, the windfall of cases would have necessitated new judges, staff and courtrooms, along with a multimillion-dollar database upgrade.

The governor’s main objections to the bill were due process infringements and a lack of effectiveness inherent in the technology. In a letter explaining the veto, Mr. Ehrlich pointed out that a mere photograph can hardly constitute a preponderance of the evidence, and that the system’s effective shift of the burden of proof to the accused “potentially violates the constitutional presumption of innocence.” Concerns about the cameras’ accuracy are equally warranted. For example, two weeks ago, officials in Los Angeles admitted that a defective traffic camera was responsible for more than 3,000 illegitimate red-light violations totalling more than $500,000. And, as Mr. Ehrlich stated, “there is no data to support the notion that speed cameras will reduce accidents.”

By design, traffic-camera projects everywhere are geared to bring in large amounts of revenue. For one thing, with cameras costing $50,000 to $100,000 apiece, it takes many violations just to pay off the equipment — which cities almost never pay for themselves. In sweetheart deals, Affiliated Computer Systems Inc. (formerly part of Lockheed Martin) provides, maintains and operates most traffic cameras for free in return for a cut of the ticket profits and a guaranteed monthly income. The more tickets that are issued, the more money ACS pulls in. We hope Mr. Ehrlich’s veto starts a trend against Big Brother policing techniques that will catch on across the country.

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