DC’s Golden Miles

“What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” – Matt 25:17

I saw an article last week discussing the “Three Golden Miles” in Washington, DC – where speed and red-light cameras bring in over $30,000 a day (mostly from non-DC residents). On the one hand, I really dislike these policies as I think they have little to do with safety and lots to do with revenue. When governments view the people as sheep to be fleeced in various forms we have some serious problems. On the other hand, I can hardly complain that these cameras (revenue traps, if you will) are a violation of rights. One can only be caught if actually violating the law. (Well, almost, one could get a red-light ticket without actually violating the law, and then be left with having to take a day off of work to protest innocence.)

I’ve never received an automated ticket in DC, but I certainly have received them in times past. Several red-light tickets here in Columbia, MD, and one speeding ticket in Olney, MD. My response to the Olney ticket was a one-man boycott … I will never buy anything in Olney again. (I was actually there shopping when I got the ticket.) My hope is simply to offset the revenue they gained from the ticket, though I suspect my protest will hardly affect policy.

“But weren’t you speeding?” yes – I was, but I was hardly driving unsafely. “But if you were breaking the laws, how have your rights been violated?” – they haven’t, but I also have a right to freedom of association. I can choose not to shop in Olney, and the Olneyans can hardly complain that I’ve wronged them. (Oddly, this is exactly the “wrong” that the Dixie Chicks suffered in the Iraq War kerfuffle – they made a political statement, people stopped buying their records, and somehow they were victims … of freedom?)

I will say that I have a general opposition to current speed laws – the limits are set too low in many  places. If you want 35mph in town or 20mph in the neighborhood then fine, but 65mph on the interstate is a bit silly.

Now, as for the red-light cameras, I will say that there is some sinister behavior out there. Things blew up in Florida recently when it was discovered that cities had been shortening yellow lights and making big revenue gains. The link has a video with reporting on the subject; it’s rather interesting. A few points I took away:

  • When signal times were increased by 1/2 second, tickets dropped by 90% (revenue loss)
  • The state, which makes a significant profit from tickets, recently changed regulations to allow shorter signals. When confronted their defense was that the change didn’t mandate shorter signals, merely allowed them.
  • The red-light camera company, who gets a share of the revenue, contends that longer cycles don’t reduce violations because drivers eventually get used to the longer times and continue to break the law. Even if true, this is hardly an argument against an extra 1/2 second. Unless, of course, one is worried about company revenue at the expense of drivers who cannot respond in time to the newly shortened lights.
  • Many lights were found to be shorter that laws allowed.

I’d honestly like to see an end to red-light cameras. Or, if we’re going to keep them, let’s only install them in lights that have extended yellow times.

As always, policies that folks tend to dislike will continue until people demand change (and/or vote accordingly). Remember, Congress has an approval rating in the teens, and yet re-election rates run right around the 90% mark. Hey, America, those congressmen you keep voting for are the ones that produce the policies you hate.

So too with red-light cameras … maybe I should run for city council or something …

Be careful out there today. If you’re driving in the DC area, the revenue machines are looking for you.

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