The speed trap is as old as the automobile. Small-town sheriffs once armed themselves with stopwatches to run down — sometimes, on foot — “reckless automobilists” racing their Tin Lizzies down the streets over the 12 mile-per-hour speed limit.
The idea then and now is to target someone who’s “not from around here.” Nonresidents can’t vote, which makes them fair game for a shakedown. It wasn’t until last week that someone came up with a solution to this century-old problem.
Dennis Daugaard, governor of South Dakota, grew weary of constituents complaining about the robotic revenue cameras positioned on Interstate 29 just over the border in northwestern Iowa. South Dakotans driving at the 65 mph speed limit could easily miss the sign that abruptly sets the speed limit in Sioux City at 55 mph. Motorists would soon see a bright flash in the rearview mirror. A bill for $168 would follow in the mail.
But no more. Mr. Daugaard signed a bill into law last week prohibiting the South Dakota Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) from participating in this extortion racket. Once the statute takes effect, Sioux City — and any other city in the nation — will remain free to snap as many photographs of South Dakota license plates as it pleases, but when the private contractor operating the revenue camera submits a South Dakota license plate number to the South Dakota DMV, asking for the name and address of its owner, the DMV is instructed to say, “Take a hike.”
Without a current name and mailing address, the photographs are suitable only for the contractor’s photographic album of melancholy memories. The photographs return no money. The South Dakota solution is elegant in its simplicity and respect for a state’s rights. South Dakota isn’t telling Iowa, or any other state in the nation, how to run its business, but South Dakota is within its rights not to participate in a corrupt scheme.
The extent of the corruption was revealed last year when the former executive vice president of Redflex, Sioux City’s revenue-camera contractor, admitted that he bribed local officials in a dozen states, including Virginia, to persuade them to install the cameras.
The inspector general of Chicago is investigating a Redflex plot to use $2 million in illegal incentives to expand the cameras there. Other cities and states with lucrative ticketing programs are looking the other way, declining to investigate credible allegations of fraud.
So far, 60 cities in California have canceled shady red-light camera deals. Santa Ana, south of Los Angeles, dumped its cameras last month. Next door in Anaheim, 73 percent of voters a few years ago approved an amendment to the city charter ensuring that cameras could never be installed in the city.
This is the right way to deal with the revenue-camera scourge. Other states should follow the example of Mr. Daugaard, lest South Dakota license plates, with their immunity to all photo tickets, become the most sought-after plates in the nation.