Friday, June 22, 2012

Moneymaker on ‘up-and-up’?

Photo courtesy of
The motoring public is fed up with all the shenanigans that are tied to ATMs, or automatic ticketing machines. Earlier this week, officials in New Jersey asked a lot of questions about the integrity of an enforcement tool that has raked in millions of dollars.

In the Garden State, the question is whether red-light cameras employed around the state have adequate yellow times.

Concerns about whether everything is on the up-and-up spurred the New Jersey DOT to suspend the doling out of tickets at 63 of the 85 intersections statewide that employ the money-making devices.

A 2009 state law permits towns to post cameras at problem intersections to see if the devices reduce the frequency and severity of crashes most common by red-light runners. However, agency officials say the DOT has not checked to make sure the cameras are timed in accordance with the law.

Officials in Cherry Hill, NJ, likely have not been too concerned about yellow time at the city’s lone intersection outfitted with cameras. The community across the river from Philadelphia reportedly has raked in about $1 million in the year since the devices were activated.

To recap: That is $1 million at one intersection.

Until the yellow time issue is resolved, the agency ordered 19 of 25 participating municipalities to stop issuing tickets at all affected intersections – including Cherry Hill. Two more municipalities have one intersection affected.

Not surprisingly, cameras will continue to operate during the review period. If a camera is found to be in compliance, tickets from that camera will be issued. As of Aug. 1, any cameras found to be out of compliance will be shut down.

Some state lawmakers are calling the DOT’s decision a good start, but they believe a permanent ban is necessary.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, said what was initially intended to help promote safer roads has potentially promoted the opposite.

“I’m sure there are many drivers who’ve felt pressured to speed up or slam on their brakes so they don’t get caught on camera going through a red light,” she said in a statement. “If the yellow lights are improperly timed, these cameras present a double safety threat.”

Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Washington, said that if safety is truly the goal, there are simple steps that towns could take to fix dangerous intersections. He suggested increasing the length of yellow lights and adding an all red cycle.

“The fact that simple fixes continue to be ignored while ticket revenues continue to flow into town coffers makes you wonder if safety is really the goal,” Doherty stated.

In addition to Doherty’s call for appropriate yellow times, governments’ goal should be to keep traffic moving in as safe a manner as possible. If safety is the main objective communities should be pursuing intelligent traffic lights that actually monitor and are triggered by traffic flow.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Where’s the dignity?

For the family of a missing driver, there isn’t a worse feeling than being thousands of miles away from where their loved one was last seen. Unless it’s hearing a botched report of his disappearance.

In the days after the family of OOIDA member and owner-operator Surat Nuenoom reported him missing from his hotel room on March 15, they depended on law enforcement to look for him, as well as the local media to get the word out to the public to look for him.

And while the Williams County, OH, sheriff’s office did all they could to find Surat – conducting a scuba search, a K-9 search and a helicopter search in the area where he was last spotted, it was a single news report by WTOL News 11 in Toledo that appeared to have brought the public’s search for Surat to a screeching halt.

That news report, “New developments in the Williams Co. hotel disappearance,” aired on a Toledo television station on March 19, four days after Surat was reported missing and – from what we now know – the day that Surat drowned in the retention pond near his hotel room.

The reporter interviewed a source for the story, who claimed Surat showed up at his garage sale that was at a parking lot, told him his name was “Surat,” and then purchased items from him, including a chainsaw. The station also ran surveillance footage of what they “confirmed” to be Surat arriving and leaving the sale in a stolen Cadillac Escalade.

However, the news station never called Surat’s family to confirm that the man in the video was actually him before they ran the story. They also didn’t share this information with Williams County Sheriff Kevin Beck, lead investigator in the case, to confirm any of the information with his department first.

Surat’s family drove from New Hampshire to Toledo to view the footage and to prove that it wasn’t him. While the station later pulled down the story that aired, the damage to Surat’s reputation and his family had been done.

It was nearly two months later that Surat was found drowned in a retention pond near the Ramada Inn in Holiday City, OH, where he was staying. While the news station later reported that dental records confirmed it was him, they never clarified that their previous news report had been wrong – that it wasn’t Surat in the surveillance video.

But the damage to Surat’s reputation was done, which is a real shame considering what they could have reported about him. They should have said that he was a native of Thailand, but became a U.S. citizen and later served his country in the U.S. Air Force, and then later worked for KBR to bring supplies to our troops in Iraq. That he was a husband, a father, a grandfather and a professional truck driver.