My heart is racing. It thumps in sync with the seriously cheesy Rammstein music blasting on the stereo. Hey, don’t judge me. It happens to be what keeps me pumped up.
The mask itches. It makes me feel like Ralphie in his bunny suit from A Christmas Story, but I look more like a bank robber. I wonder briefly if sweat is getting trapped behind the ski mask, dooming me to clogged pores for the next week. But I’m just delaying. I turn the key.
The engine revs and the car lurches out of the parking lot. My breaths are shallow and eyes wide as I squeal onto 28th. I stop at the green light, check both ways and wait. It shifts. Yellow. Red.
I jam my foot down and roar into the intersection. The maniacal grin on my face is immortalized with a flash. My heart is outpacing the thrumming music now as I run through another red. The bright shock of light only excites me more. My adrenaline is through the roof.
Flash! Won’t they be surprised!
Flash! I feel like a Chuck Palahniuk character.
Flash! AH-AH! (That joke works much better if you can hear it.)
And it’s over. I turn off the main drag and head for Folsom, the 2 AM dimness calming me. I can’t wait for the first ticket to show up. Just imagine them finding multiple shots of a car with no license plate, the driver in a ski mask, and “FUCK YOU PIGS” written in bright white across the hood.
I wake up laughing. It’s not the first time I’ve had this dream. After all, the photo radar at stop lights is the bane of my existence. The first time I got one, my car was facing backwards in the shot. The road was so icy that when I tried to stop, the car spun through the intersection. It was pure happenstance that it lined up perfectly as the flash went off.
It’s not as though I could fight it. I told them I couldn’t stop. They told me I might have been driving backwards to avoid getting the ticket. I claimed it wasn’t me driving. They said it didn’t matter. In the end, I paid the thirty five dollars, but my nights were plagued with dreams of vengeance. Combine that with the college kids writing on their cars for big games and you get my perfect revenge fantasy.
But it’s just a fantasy.
In Maryland, some kids at Richard Montgomery High School have taken the fantasy and made it a reality. They’ve even one-upped me by making it a prank not only against the city, but against other people they don’t like. By printing out fake license plates, they can get tickets sent to whomever they want. Just like those photo-recognition cigarette machines, the photo radar can’t tell the difference between a photograph and the real thing.
I applaud the Richard Montgomery High kids, not for being complete jackasses by pranking their teachers and fellow parents, but for once again reinforcing that photo radar is inherently flawed. I may not be the most law abiding citizen out there, but the law should be held to a higher standard than individuals (but not Joe Plumber; he should be held to a higher standard too). After all, if they’re enforcing regulations, they should be following regulations.
Beyond the basic flaws with radar that I’ve found, there are many organizations and people out there who aren’t happy about photo enforcement. The National Motorists Association lists plenty of objections, many of which are echoed at the Video Surveilance Guide, as well as linking to studies that cover the detriments of and alternatives to photo enforcement. Even the Colorado Freedom Report has taken on red light traffic cameras.
Since you can read their lists of complaints, I’m sticking with ones I feel they missed:
- That flash is fucking blinding! There are times I wonder if the flash is going to cause accidents. I’ve seen a couple cars lurch strangely when the flash goes off, even when they’re at a stand still and someone else is running the light.
- Sometimes it’s not safe to stop. The other photo radar fiasco for me also involved icy roads. I was going under the speed limit, but still skidded halfway into the intersection. When I tried to get out of the middle of the intersection, the camera nailed me for “running” a red light.
- Don’t drive angry. That line from Groundhog day sums up the problem with police enforcement in a nutshell. Too often, people come away angry from encounters with police or photo radar, leaving them angry and a possible hazard on the road. I’d rather have people driving happily because they rationalize that they barely made the yellow than driving angry and dangerously because they know they’re getting a ticket.
These are hardly scientific points and wouldn’t hold up in a serious argument, but they need to be said nonetheless.
My bitterness not withstanding, there is some merit to photo enforcment. Studies have shown it does reduce driver speed, which is a good thing, and in many places this led to fewer deaths. Red light cameras have been shown to reduce how often people run through the intersection. And using them at dangerous intersections is not only understandable, but recommended.
Despite the benefits, far more people have been burned by photo radar than should be. Highwayrobbery.net is a website dedicated entirely to fighting red light camera tickets in California. Many people think photo radar is merely a scam to get more money. After all, Boulder police seem to hand out more tickets on the last weekend of the month when trying to make quotas than any other time.
Photo radar has so many problems, between malfunctioning and pissing people off (see 6.3), it’s amazing how many problems photo enforcement has. In Colorado, more than 60 percent of photo tickets were tossed out because of bad calibration. In Denver, they had to recalbirate lights just to install the cameras. And it’s not as if this wasn’t a problem in 2007 or before.
I may be annoyed with red light cameras and photo radar, but I haven’t been caught on one in several years, unlike the bus driver who rammed two vehicles in Boulder earlier this month. But thanks to those kids in Maryland, photo radar will be under the microscope once again. Maybe this time, if it’s not fixed, I will try my revenge fantasy. After all, how awesome would that be.