It didn’t take long to realize what that that “Photo Enforcement Program” letter from the City of St. Louis was all about. As I opened the letter, the only thing that occurred to me was to make sure whether the letter was for me (as opposed to my wife). It was for me. I had gotten nailed by the new photo traffic enforcement system that the City of St. Louis installed near my house. Over the past 30 years, I’ve received a total of 2 traffic tickets. I guess I was due.
I was pissed, of course. This was going to cost me $100 even though I didn’t do anything flagrant. I had rolled a right turn onto a high entrance ramp through a red light. This occurred at a traffic light 1/2 mile from my house. I had done it hundreds of times; hundreds of other safe drivers do it every day. My crime is that I failed to come to a complete stop before turning right to accelerate down that highway ramp. I was going about 5 mph around that corner. I remembered the strobe flash going off that day last week; at the time, I wondered whether it was aimed at me. Sure enough. I should clarify: I don’t always roll through that right turn. If ever there is any traffic in the area, or any pedestrians, I always come to a complete stop.
How the city would prove that I was moving around that corner instead of coming to a full stop. How could a mere photo determine that? Well, they don’t take just photos. They take a video of your car (in addition to photos). They also installed radar equipment to check your speed at all relevant times. When they send you the violation notice, they invite you to log onto the city’s website to watch yourself violating the law. I watched and I squirmed. I hadn’t stopped completely and the video was proof.
I then wondered whether I could call the prosecutor and try to bargain down the ticket. After all, no one wants a moving violation on his or her record (that causes your insurance premiums to skyrocket). The nefarious designers of this photo enforcement system have already figured that out too. They only charge you under a municipal law that provides that it is not a “moving violation” (even though I was charged with moving instead of stopping—don’t try to figure this out or it will make your head hurt). Since it wasn’t a moving violation, it’s won’t be worth your while to fight the ticket. In true moving violation cases, the prosecutor often reduces simple moving violations—such as speeding—down to non-moving violations such as “excessive vehicle noise” (again, don’t think too much or your head will explode) and you’ll end up paying about $100 anyway. Therefore, the new photo enforcement system is technologically smart and financially tempting for municipalities. Your only real option is to pay the money.
These photo enforcement systems are popping up everywhere and they are quite controversial. In my case, this system nailed me for something no police officer has ever questioned—the cops roll around that corner onto the high ramp too; I’ve seen it many times. In the case of people doing what I did, the system doesn’t make the intersection safer, and it will also cause traffic to clog up more.* Here’s a sample of the some justifications offered by a city that employs these devices and here are a list of the concerns regarding these photo enforcement systems. From the perspective of a city, there is no downside. From a city’s perspective, having a system like this is like having a license to print money.
I’m not feeling guilty tonight, even though I’m proven a law-breaker. Nonetheless, the new photo enforcement system will make me come to a full stop at that intersection. I will follow the letter of the law, even if it doesn’t make the intersection safer and even if it clogs up the traffic. It’s just not worth it to roll around that corner on a red light when it costs $100. From now on, I am aware that “the Man” will be watching me and I’ll be behaving. Not that the city is any safer because of it.
[*For those living in St. Louis, the intersection is at Grand at Highway 44.]