Red light/green light

Public outreach isn't an option but a necessity for successful photo enforcement initiatives


      In the game Red Light/Green Light, the "it" person stands at one end of the playing field with the other players at the other end. When the "it" turns his back to the others and calls out green light, players run as fast as they can toward him. If the "it" calls out red light, the other players must freeze in place. If yellow light is called, the players must walk— not run — toward "it". The first player to reach "it" wins and becomes "it" for the next round.

   A version of this popular children's game plays out every day on city streets. Motorists can go on green lights, must proceed with caution at yellow lights, and stop at red lights. Unfortunately this is not always the case. In 2007, an estimated 900 people were killed and approximately 153,000 individuals were injured in crashes involving red light running, reports the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing losses from crashes on the nation's highways.

   To beef up public safety and put a stop to unsafe driving practices a new game has arisen. This game requires motorists to stop at red lights or risk being photographed and ticketed for their violations. It's a practice some say stops violators in their tracks and saves lives, but one that others fear violates privacy and sets the stage to further erode the public's Constitutional rights.

   The backlash has photo-enforced communities taking a second look at their systems, and has others backing off on plans to install them. Even some police officials have spoken out against photo enforcement.

   Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff Joe Arpaio, for one, is not a fan of automated enforcement. Arpaio was one of the first to sign an Arizona Photo Radar Enforcement Ban Initiative that may appear on the state's 2010 ballot. If this initiative passes, it will prohibit issuing citations for violations detected through photo enforcement.

   This prospect makes Todd Kandaris, spokesman for CameraFRAUD, an organization founded to lead the fight against automated ticketing, optimistic. "Whenever a photo enforcement system has been voted on by the public, it has lost," he says. "This shows the public does not want these systems and has had them foisted upon them by their local and state governments."

   But those living in communities with successful photo enforcement programs, such as Naperville, Ill., beg to differ. They report that once the public fully understands the need, how they work and what they can do, the backlash becomes nonexistent.

   "These systems are another tool to help law enforcement efficiently and effectively do things with limited manpower," says Traffic Sgt. Lee Martin with Naperville PD. "If we can use technology to our advantage to help reduce accidents and injuries, we are absolutely going to do that."

Privacy versus public safety

   The biggest outcry over photo enforcement lies with whether private corporations should enforce traffic laws. "Outsourcing a law enforcement function creates animosity toward law enforcement," says Kandaris. He maintains automated ticketing puts enforcement in the hands of a company, which is far different than placing responsibility with those who have the mandate and the authority to police. "We believe this breeds a lack of trust among the citizenry toward law enforcement," he says.

   Add to this concerns over Big Brother watching and a loss of privacy, and it's easy to see why photo enforcement opposition has grown among residents from Texas to Illinois to Arizona, says Kandaris. He points out these cameras operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And while Shoba Vaitheeswaran, media spokeswoman for Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., a provider of photo enforcement systems based in Phoenix points out, violation cameras only trigger when someone runs a red light, Kandaris still believes they violate a citizen's expectation of privacy, especially when data from captured incidents is kept 90 days to 12 months. "We have a right to a reasonable expectation of privacy," he says. "We shouldn't have to put up with being videotaped everywhere we go."

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