Maybe issue isn’t so simple

Our ongoing and seemingly never-ending debate about red-light cameras is playing out the same way across the country, whether any given state has its own version of Tim Eyman or not.

For example, about a half-dozen states have outlawed the cameras, the Hartford Courant reported last week, as the Connecticut Legislature reintroduced a move to legalize them. Voters around the country have almost always rejected camera-based traffic enforcement programs in about 20 referendums in recent years, the paper reported.

Connecticut’s neighbors, Maine and New Hampshire, are among states that have outlawed the use of red light cameras. The arguments against them are the same: They are revenue generators, not life savers; they smack of Big Brother, people can’t confront their accuser.

What’s interesting, or at least completely contradictory, is that those three states — Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire (where the state motto is “Live Free or Die”) — all allow sobriety checkpoints on their roadways. (Legal in all but 12 states.) Checkpoints are where every single vehicle is stopped by police to look for drunken drivers; no probable cause required.

It’s hard to believe that states that value due process so much believe that it’s red-light cameras stepping on their freedom. At mandatory checkpoints, everyone is a suspect, until proven otherwise. On the other hand, the cameras ticket those who break the law, and actually provides proof of the infraction.

Part of the difficultly in the red-camera arguments is the black-and-white nature of the “debate.” Proponents say it’s all about safety; opponents say it’s all about money.

Is it possible that it’s a little more complicated than that?

Opponents’ message tends to get muddled when it simply sounds like people don’t like getting tickets. Here’s Tim Eyman, in response to Senate Bill 5188, which seeks to make refinements (based on objections of opponents) to the law allowing cameras:

“It’s the most pathetic piece of legislation I’ve ever seen, because it does absolutely nothing,” he said. “They really screwed up in 2005. They really created something people hate. They should repeal the statute.”

If laws were based on whether people “hate” them or not, we wouldn’t have much of a civilized society, would we? People also hate to pay taxes.

When someone receives a parking ticket and must pay a fine, is that about safety?

When someone receives a ticket for a rolling right stop from a police officer, and they do, is that about safety?

When people are ticketed in a “speed trap” is that really about safety?

Is it possible red-light cameras catch people running red lights, thus enhancing safety, and raise revenue?

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