There's a traffic camera at an intersection I use every day to get to and from work, and it works: At least one co-worker's wallet is $100 lighter after not coming to a complete stop before turning right.
Joe (Nasvik, who wrote our article on Minneapolis' new I-35W bridge) was surprised when the violation notice arrived. He had six-way bypass surgery a couple years ago, so he's an extra-careful driver these days. Plus, he went to court all the time for parking and other non-moving violations when he owned a concrete construction company, and virtually all were summarily dismissed.
He responded to the notice by pointing out that he'd obeyed the sign posted at the intersection in question: No turn when pedestrians are present. No pedestrians had been present, so he figured that was that.
Instead, he was directed to a Web site where he saw a photo of his license plate (but not where it was taken) and a video of what was alleged to be his car. "It lasted a couple of seconds, and all I saw was this dark car moving very slowly," he says. "If that were put into court and somebody said, 'That's your car,' I'd be there to say, 'Prove it: That could be anybody's car.'"
But taking the matter further would've entailed hiring a lawyer, so Joe got out his credit card and paid the fine.
This is a major intersection near the nation's busiest airport. So in addition to jaded commuters driving on auto-pilot as they yak away on the phone, disoriented folks in rental cars weave from one lane to another looking for their hotel. I wasn't able to find out what's happened to the accident rate since the camera was installed in July, but I assume it's down. After all, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Association, red-light violations are the third-leading contributing factor in traffic fatalities. Averting an accident, much less a fatal one, is always a physical and economic blessing.
I'll tell you what, though: At night, that camera practically gives me a heart attack every time I turn left in front of three lanes of oncoming traffic. Though it's up on a pole across the intersection, my brain interprets the camera's blinding-white flash as a police car. I go into suspended animation for a second or two while my brain corrects its initial perception, shuts off the adrenaline, and tells my heart to start beating again.
Maybe I'm just not easily trained — after all, this happens every time, so you'd think by now I'd be used to it. But it makes me wonder what kinds of experiences you may have had, personally or professionally, with traffic-enforcement technology. Is it a positive or negative development? Click here to weigh in.
And please be careful driving over the holidays.