Red-light cameras are robbing commuters, who’ve had enough
In 2016, the amount of revenue generated annually by red-light cameras—meant to catch motorists in the act of running a light—in Nassau County, New York, increased.
The program’s profit jumped by 44 percent, likely due to a $15 increase to one of the fees involved in a camera-related violation, which brought the total cost to $150. Nassau is not the only county in the country to utilize red-light cameras or the crushing fees associated with them. Americans must live with the threat of these cameras as part of their daily commute, and the public response to these impositions comes in the form of license plate covers.
License plate covers are plastic frames that cover a license plate, which obscures them in some way. Some are impossible to see through at an angle, while others use special lenses to make it impossible for cameras that use flashes to pierce them. Some are more than opaque plastic that partially obscures the plate. The exact method and level of technology can vary, but the core function remains the same. As stories like the ones of Nassau County continue to proliferate, the use of license plate covers persists among frustrated commuters.
It is by no means difficult to get your hands on a license plate cover. You can buy anti-camera plates and sprays online for as little as $50, and if that’s still too much for you, there are DIY videos on how to make your own. The demand for these covers becomes obvious when you look at the facts of this modern traffic policing strategy.
Red-light cameras represent a dire philosophy. They reduce a single type of crash: that of cars smashing into each other mid-intersection. But these cameras are either ineffectual or downright detrimental to the rates of other types of crashes, as they encourage drivers to make sudden, dangerous stops rather than cross a line and get a ticket that could cost them hundreds of dollars.
The word best used to describe this relationship is hostile, or perhaps predatory. Why else would Nassau County’s own website declare that they will not allow citizens to review the footage that has so indicted them unless they come prepared with a court order, subpoena, or warrant? It is difficult to describe a set of circumstances that would produce such a conviction without describing one of the parties as a target.
As long as people consider themselves to be targets, they will devise defenses. For as long as police attempt to surveil any population, that population will seek out means of subverting and working around whatever they use, through both high and low tech.
The massive and ongoing Hong Kong protests, for instance, have been a proving ground of these techniques. You’ve perhaps heard of the apps used to track police movements, but other methods have included using laser pointers to blind cameras, wearing bizarre hairstyles that confuse facial recognition algorithms, and even simply using massive poles to cover cameras with boxes.
Of course, whenever such a solution emerges, the law quickly responds through litigation, and that holds true for license plate covers. In section 402 of New York’s traffic law, subsection 8, it states the following: “It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, partnership, association, limited liability company or corporation to sell, offer for sale or distribute any artificial or synthetic material or substance for the purpose of application to a number plate that will, upon application to a number plate, distort a recorded or photographic image of such number plate.” Fines can range from $25 to $200, but, of course, much of that range falls under what you might expect to receive for a red light camera fine.
This is not a new opinion. In the 2010 edition of the Washington University Journal of Law & Policy, Joel O. Christensen wrote in his article, Wrong on Red: The Constitutional Case Against Red-Light Cameras, “Automated enforcement of this sort raises significant constitutional red flags; red-light cameras‘ validity is questionable under both general constitutional principles and the expanding jurisprudential frameworks established by state courts assessing similar schemas. Red-light cameras unduly impede constitutional liberty by depriving motorists of their Fifth Amendment presumption of innocence and Sixth Amendment right to confrontation, and as such should not enjoy protection from Missouri courts.” More worrying is his preceding comment: “Absent legislative or judicial intervention, red-light cameras‘ continued presence seems assured.”
Thankfully license plate covers, at least, may not be a measure that is necessary forever. The number of communities utilizing them has decreased each year since they peaked in 2012, on account of being unnecessary, financially unviable (often due to those victimized choosing not to pay their fines), and evil. Despite this, the predatory mindset which created them continues to survive. However, for as long as it does, human ingenuity will rise to meet it, and whatever method of surveillance is attempted will in time be circumvented.
Peter Tkaczyk is a junior Writing major who counts their Mississippi’s before making a right-on-red. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.