At certain places at certain times — say 41st Street and Colby Avenue in Everett any time after 2 p.m. — it’s easy to see how and why red light cameras came into being. Without fail, at least one car, but usually more, travelling east on 41st Street will run the red light. Likely most around the area can cite a similar example. Meanwhile, the other infraction caught on the traffic cameras — the infamous rolling right-hand turn — can be witnessed at any given moment, anywhere in the city.
When the subject of red light cameras comes up in Snohomish County, Lynnwood is at the center of the “debate” because they use them. (The contract with its camera provider expires in 2016.) People complain about such tickets, but they do protest too much. They say that if it was an officer, and not a camera, doing the policing, that the officer would exercise discretion, use it as learning moment, and let the driver go.
This makes people who have received tickets from unyielding officers laugh. People who receive a parking ticket, a citation for expired tabs, or a ticket for properly stopping before taking a right turn, but turning before a pedestrian has both feet on the sidewalk on the opposite side of a two-lane street, (even if said pedestrian is unaware of the vehicle making its turn, making it clear that safety was not issue,) weren’t shown any “discretion.” (There’s no swaying those motorcycle cops.)
Some people who receive a camera ticket complain they can’t “confront their accuser.” People who receive similar tickets from actual police officers don’t get to “confront their accuser” either. One can go to court, plead guilty, and have the fine reduced, and not have the infraction appear on your record. The judge does not want to hear your story; the officer who issued the ticket won’t be in court. To truly confront one’s accuser, lawyers must be involved.
Some camera tickets elicit cries of “entrapment.” Since signs announce that cameras are being used, and that they are completely visible, this isn’t an argument. Just as a “speed trap” on a freeway or local roadway is not “entrapment,” which actually means to entice someone to do something wrong. Cameras do the opposite.
Some people, frustrated with a Lynnwood traffic camera ticket, vow that they will forever boycott the city and its shopping. (News that make Lynnwood residents and safe drivers happy.) But to be true to their cause, those drivers will also have to boycott Seattle and Bellevue, both of which use red light cameras at intersections, and speed cameras in school zones while school is in session. And they keep adding more.
Traffic cameras are an effective tool. (Hence their unpopularity.) They provide photographic evidence of the infraction, unlike tickets issued by police officers. With law enforcement already spread thin, traffic cameras add an invaluable layer of oversight. And yes, fees from the infractions bring in revenue. Just like the parking tickets, expired tabs citations, etc. Everett once considered using the cameras, but then decided against it; now would be a good time to consider them again.
Correction: This editorial has been changed to reflect the true direction of 41st Street. It runs east-west, not south.