A few months ago my husband received a traffic ticket in the mail. It had a crisp photo of his beloved pick-up truck, and its license plate number was clearly visible. It listed how fast the vehicle was going over the speed limit. It gave an exact location and date for where and when the photo was taken.
Unfortunately, the driver at the time was me.
Our marriage and checkbook survived that one, but traffic cameras that catch drivers who speed and ignore stop lights are creating howls of protest from citizens all across the United States. “Invasion of privacy!” they cry. “An unfair way to generate revenue!” some say.
There’s no question that traffic cameras generate revenue for the municipalities that use them. In Arizona alone for the year 2009, the 650,000 tickets issued as a result of lawbreaking drivers being caught on camera added $37 million to the state’s coffers, according to a recent report by National Public Radio.
Are traffic cameras unfair? Not according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing deaths and injuries on U.S. highways. The number of drivers and vehicle miles traveled has risen faster than the availability of police officers, IIHS says. Reduced resources mean fewer police officers in some jurisdictions; and American police everywhere must give higher priority to the demands of apprehending violent criminals as well as homeland security. Traffic cameras, which remain vigilant at the same post every day and every night, are effective in reducing travel speeds and accidents, according to a number of studies.
Are traffic cameras an invasion of privacy? The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that people have a right to be safe in their own homes. Technology, without a doubt, can be a threat to personal privacy when it is used to tap private telephones and hack into personal computers.
In the public sphere, however, the “reasonable expectation of privacy” comes into consideration. Most people and judges agree that if someone takes a picture of you using a public toilet or in a gym shower, then that’s an invasion of personal privacy. But IIHS notes that driving is a regulated activity on public roads and there is no law that says drivers shouldn’t be observed on the road or their violations shouldn’t be recorded.
What are your thoughts?
(As for me, I’m more careful now about obeying speed limits – especially when driving my husband’s truck.)