Yes to photo radar
Thursday, June 08, 2006

A bill that would repeal a 14-year-old ban on the use of photo radar devices to enforce traffic laws in New Jersey has been approved by an Assembly committee and is in position for a vote of the full Assembly. It's a good bill and should be enacted.

The measure, A-2064, is sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Princeton Borough. He introduced it after a camera linked to a radar gun caught his car traveling 41 mph in a 25-mph zone in Washington, D.C., where he had gone for a class reunion at Catholic University, and he was mailed a $100 speeding ticket. Photo radar is also used in Scottsdale, Ariz., and other jurisdictions, and has been used in Europe for many years.

The purpose of photo radar and other AMVIS (automated motor vehicle identification systems) is to save lives by deterring speeding, red-light running and other reckless practices. Live police are available to patrol only a small number of danger spots, and AMVIS greatly extend the reach of law-enforcement surveillance.

Critics of photo radar and related technology claim that the real reason towns and counties use it is to increase their revenue from traffic fines, and that most of the tickets are sent to out-of-towners whose complaints can safely be disregarded by local politicians. That's a valid concern, and any state authorizing the use of AMVIS should closely monitor the administration of the law to ensure that it's done fairly. Others challenge the accuracy of the cameras; the proper response is to ensure that the equipment is tested rigorously and regularly. But the unstated attitude of many critics seems to be that it's all right to speed and run red lights if you don't get caught, and that AMVIS are a sneaky and unchivalrous way to catch violators. This makes no sense. Unsafe drivers pose a risk to the lives of everyone else who uses the highways. Why isn't it in everyone's interest to give those drivers an incentive to slow down?

Assemblyman Gusciora's bill is neither unreasonable nor arbitrary. A town or county can use AMVIS only in places where it can be documented that fatal accidents or a high number of traffic infractions have occurred: The epitome of such roads is Route 29 in Trenton, Ewing and Hopewell. Signs notifying motorists that photo radar is in use must be placed in a manner approved by the state commissioner of transportation and installed at least a week before the technology is activated. No person may be convicted of speeding by AMVIS unless he or she was traveling at least nine miles over the speed limit. The fine for a violation may not exceed $54, and no points may be assessed for a conviction. All fines collected must be used to promote traffic safety or prosecute traffic-law violators.

If you Google "photo radar," you'll find a host of entries on how to frustrate the system by coating your license plate with a glare-inducing material and other tactics, and how to successfully contest a ticket in court. That's doing it the hard way, folks. Why not just obey the traffic laws?