In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, we were warned of the government’s all-encompassing “Big Brother” organization. In the story, Orwell crafts a narrative that points out the dangers of giving too much power to the government through monitoring outlets like the Thought Police and surveillance cameras.
Orwell says, “There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time… You had to live- did live, from habit that became instinct- in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”
Sounds crazy, right? That, after all, is just a made up story. How could any group of people ever allow themselves to be under constant surveillance?
Currently, we are in the midst of allowing and enabling this type of surveillance to occur. Facebook, Twitter, cell phones: they are acting as our modern day thought police, monitoring our exact locations and thoughts. Hey, but at least, we have the option of disconnecting from those outlets.
Unfortunately, though, there is one outlet that we are all presently and unjustly being subjected to: RED LIGHT CAMERAS. These cameras are being put on every corner and intersection across America, pulling in millions and millions of dollars in fines, while in many cases never being approved or voted on directly.
Well, the idea of red light cameras first became an issue here in the United States way back in 1982. It all started when the story of a reckless driver running a red light and killing an 18 month old child garnered national headlines. People latched on and went crazy. SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE, they yelled. A few years later, red light cameras started appearing.
Over the years, more and more states have implemented the “safety measure,” some with very few limitations of its usage. And, it’s led to a lot of shady business.
The National Motorists Association (NMA) is one of the biggest opponents of the red light movement and has even made a list of their ten biggest grievances with the device. Some of these include:
- Tickets do not improve safety– “there is no independent verification that photo enforcement devices improve highway safety, reduce overall accidents, or improve traffic flow. Believing the claims of companies that sell photo enforcement equipment or municipalities that use this equipment is like believing any commercial produced by a company that is trying to sell you something.”
- There is no certifiable witness to the alleged violation– “For all practical purposes, there is no ‘accuser’ for motorists to confront, which is a constitutional right. There is no one that can personally testify to the circumstances of the alleged violation, and just because a camera unit was operating properly when it was set up does not mean it was operating properly when the picture was taken of any given vehicle.”
On top of the deficiencies and unconstitutionality of the devices (which is further chronicled in the NMA link), there has also been a world of corruption associated to the court hearings involving these cameras. In fact, earlier this month, CBS investigative reporter David Sutta reported on a “Kangaroo court” culture that has been forcing drivers into unwarranted, unlawful, and unethical fees.
Sutta says, “Thousands of appeals are taking place where the driver never stands a chance. It might be fine if you were breaking the law. But what if you weren’t? What if those cities were the ones breaking the law? That very well may be happening with red light cameras.”
Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida Judge Steven Leifman then gives us more insight, saying, “I actually sat in the back [of the courtroom]. No one knew who I was. And it was very disconcerting. There was not a sense of a justice at some of these. People seemed to be getting railroaded. Their issues weren’t being heard.”
Why is this happening? Well, local governments can see cold, hard green right in front of them. That’s right; in Florida alone, red light cameras generate upwards of $100 million a year! They have even been penciled in beforehand when making the state budget.
In a recent USA Today article, St. Petersburg Rebublican Senator Jeff Brandes, says, “Three years ago, these red light cameras were pitched as safety devices. Instead, they’ve been a backdoor tax increase…The state shouldn’t be counting on people to violate laws in order to pad their budgets.”
Thankfully, some relief from this oppression has finally come in. Earlier this week, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that all red light cameras installed by cities before 2010 were illegal and that cities will now have to return the fines back to drivers.
In an interview with CBS4 out of Miami, lawyer Brett Luskin said, “They set up their own set of rules. Their own set fines which were exorbitant when compared to state statute and also their own city hall, rather than county court.”
But this ruling is just a small gesture in the big picture. Currently, 26 states across the country are using red light cameras to bust drivers and bring in revenue. Only, these cameras are not doing as much good as they like to proclaim. Accident rates are still high, especially back end collisions from stopping short. In fact, many studies are coming out that red light cameras do little to nothing to curtail this trend (check out this list of independent studies provided by the NMA).
Hopefully, as a collective group, we can fight the red light system. This, of course, starts first and foremost with awareness of the unjust nature of the system. The last thing that we want is to become what Orwell described in his groundbreaking novel:
“You will work for a while, you will be caught, you will confess, and then you will die… There is no possibility that any perceptible change will happen within our own lifetime. We are the dead.”