I Should Have Been a Manufacturer of Traffic Cameras

I guess I should have gotten into the traffic camera business instead of the tax business. So far this year, Des Moines has taken in $1,565,631 in fines from traffic cameras. Of that, the city has received $952,017 and “Gatso”, the company that manages the cameras, has received $613,614.

Nice deal if you’re Gatso. And not too bad of a deal for the city, either.

But of course, it’s all about safety….

My question is: would cities that use traffic cameras be happy if the cameras really made the roads safer?

The dreaded Naughty Spot, located on the floor in front of the bar stool.

In my house, when my 4-year-old does something he shouldn’t, he gets punished by a combination of having to sit in the “Naughty Spot”, and/or losing privileges. This has been a very effective way of managing his behavior. Most days, there are no incidents that require a visit to the Naughty Spot or revocation of privileges. That makes me happy.

Now apply this same scenario to traffic cameras. Fewer visits to the Naughty Spot (traffic cam violations) means less revenue for the city and for the company that provides the cameras. Would cities really be happy with this scenario? I doubt it. And that’s the problem.

I know that supporters of traffic cams say “well, if you don’t violate traffic laws, you have nothing to worry about.” That’s true. And I should say, I have never received a ticket from a traffic cam. But the nanny state nature of the cameras bothers me, as does the blatant money grab.

Where do we draw the line on sensible enforcement of sensible rules versus the government monitoring us 24/7 for “offenses” such as driving slightly over the speed limit on a mostly deserted road, or not slowing down in time when the speed limit drops suddenly and randomly for no apparent reason, or not coming to a complete stop at a deserted intersection?

Of course we need traffic laws, and enforcement of those laws. But traffic cameras and traffic laws in general are essentially a form of taxation. Where does it all end?