A New Perspective on Photo Enforcement

When photo enforcement is debated locally, arguments are seldom made that consider the impact on visitors and tourism. I suspect public officials view these visitors as easy prey to suck in more revenue, but that view is very short-sighted as those cameras leave a lasting (negative) impression and will undoubtedly be a topic of discussion to friends and family after returning from the trip, potentially discouraging others from visiting and reducing tourism dollars.

Recently, work duties took me to France, another country that has been plagued with speed cameras. This visit gave me some perspective that not a lot of people consider when thinking about photo enforcement. As a visitor to France with some time to kill and a rental car, I was ready to hit the roads, see some sights, and contribute to the local economy. But after driving a short distance down the freeway and encountering several scameras, I decided to limit my travels rather than run the risk of being charged hundreds of Euros for inadvertently driving a few km/h too fast. As a visitor to France, I have no idea how tickets to a rental car driver from the USA are handled. Perhaps I am immune, but perhaps the rental car company passes those charges on to me. And I have no idea if there is any room for error or if they issue tickets for 1km/h over. But being overwhelmed with both navigating and the driving at the same time without assistance, I knew there was no way that I would notice each and every speed limit sign and adhere to the laws 100%, no matter how much I wanted to. The best I could do was to use my common sense, pay attention as much as I could, and try to just go with the flow and stay out of people’s way. My driving was in no way dangerous or unsafe, yet I knew the automated ticketing machines would give me no slack as a live officer probably would. Worse, I knew that I would have no chance to appeal any tickets through any judicial process as I would not be there for the court date.

We take our local surroundings for granted because we drive our roads every day and we are familiar with the signs, and are generally aware of what speed limits should be even if we haven’t seen a speed limit sign. But when you travel to another country like France where the cars are different, the roads are smaller, the road signs are completely different, and you have no idea about where you are going, maybe a little more leeway with law enforcement is appropriate (and I suspect, usually given). While I did my absolute best to adhere to all traffic laws, the driving experience was quite overwhelming. A few examples of areas of confusion that I experienced was with regard to right turns on red, which it turns out are prohibited, and along the freeway it’s not uncommon to see multiple speed limit signs, some of which apply to the road you’re on and others that apply to exits you’re driving by. It’s definitely confusing to the uninitiated. Was I driving above the posted limit in some locations? Probably. Do I deserve to be financially penalized for every time I was over the limit? I would certainly hope not. Did the cameras make me a safer driver? Most certainly not. So what did the cameras in France achieve? Nothing, except robbing the local economies of revenue.

Cameras on our Interstate highways are most certainly targeted at visitors and a majority of drivers who are probably not frequent travelers of that roadway. City speed cameras are certainly targeted more at locals, but visitors are still affected. But I think the conclusion here is still the same… nothing replaces the judgment and capability of a live police officer. Only an officer can give a break to a visitor who’s just trying to make his way around and survive our roadways. An officer can also remove someone (even a visitor) who is unfit to drive, or issue a citation to someone who is clearly violating laws with intent or gross negligence. These are all important distinctions that are vital in creating a society where law enforcement is effective and makes sense, rather than a zero tolerance (i.e., zero common sense) system with no room for error or exception.

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