Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Taking aim at Big Brother

Despite the risk to public safety, I have to admit to feeling guilty pleasure at a recent incident in Knoxville, TN, where a guy was charged with shooting a red-light camera three times. With a gun, not with the bird. To read the story, click here.

It seems one Clifford Clark III, for reasons unknown – who has never gotten a ticket from one of the cameras – was accused of blasting away at the camera with a deer rifle. He was stopped because he was acting “suspiciously” and the officers backtracked from the rifle in his car to the slain camera.

The article in the Daily Telegraph noted that, “In Britain there are many examples of speed cameras being beaten, burned and hacked down by angry motorists,” but no reported shootings. Obviously the British have more time on their hands; here in America, we like our justice swift and certain.

Our town, Gallatin, TN, installed three red-light cameras this year and thus joined the expanding social experiment in police surveillance of our daily activities. The cams are on a main drag, several miles apart, and I pass at least one of them every day. Each of these intersections had seen numerous crashes as drivers raced through the red or executed right turns into legally oncoming traffic.

I used to live just down the street from one location, and was amazed at the number of red-light runners, from Kias to Kenworths. It still happens, of course. I recently saw an armored truck driver slap the steering wheel after he saw the camera flash in his rearview mirror. I laughed with the pleasure of one who wasn’t caught.

I have issues with these cameras. There’s the question of verifying who was driving – cars don’t run red lights, people do. (Note to self: Maybe that’s a slogan for a new association – the NRA: National Redlightrunners Association. I wonder if Mr. Clark belongs to that other NRA bunch?)

There have also been some studies indicating that, while these cameras can reduce T-bone wrecks, they don’t reduce rear-end collisions. If anything, those collisions often increase as drivers suddenly slow or stop. The cameras are supposed to click only after the light is red, but why take chances of being caught in the middle of the intersection? Slam, BAM! You got insurance, ma’am?

The police chief, with whom I exchanged a number of e-mails opposing the installation of these lights, says it has made the roads safer. The net result for me has been increased anxiety as I approach these intersections. I check for traffic waiting on the cross street and wonder how many seconds I have before the light goes amber. Will I be close enough to get through or have to jam on the brakes – the legal speed limit at our lights ranges from 30 to 50 – and hope all the drivers behind me do likewise?

Often as not, I accelerate as the seconds tick away on the green and I get closer to the light. This is not, I suspect, what Gallatin’s finest would like to happen. But so far, no gotchas on my end, although my wife got dinged by not quite stopping before turning right at a red light.

And I’m worried. She owns a rifle and used to be a pretty good shot. Maybe I better hide the ammo.