Phoenix is getting rid of its red-light camera system

The fifth-largest city in America is about to drop a traffic enforcement system that many people say is an infringement on civil liberties. By a 5-4 vote, the Phoenix City Council decided to not renew a contract with the company that has installed cameras at 12 different intersections throughout the city.

Since 2009, the camera system has generated more than $7 million in revenue for the city from an estimated 205,000 camera tickets. However, red light camera systems have fallen out of favor in a number of large American cities, including Los Angeles.

However, the system does have its supporters. An op-ed in the Arizona Republic notes that 132 people have been killed by red light runners over the past 10 years and argues that number will rise once the cameras are removed, particularly those placed at intersections near public schools. Of course, with red light fatalities on the rise across America, there's no hard evidence to indicate that red light cameras are a deterrent. In fact, most analysts say the rise in such accidents is due to the phenomenon of "distracted driving" aka people using their phones while driving.

A red light camera in Beaverton, Oregon via WikCommons

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Beyond the veiled threat of excessive government surveillance, red-light cameras are symbolic of another problem local governments face across the country: A greater demand for social services with an increasing unwillingness from taxpayers to pay for those services. America has one of the lowest federal tax rates in the world but we are simultaneously confused and outraged over why we don't have better educational systems, health care and infrastructure. Instead of addressing the challenges head-on, local governments have turned to parking tickets and various fee-based penalties like red-light cameras to circumvent the burden of balancing a clean and transparent budgeting process.

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At the end of the day, everyone wants their streets to be safe and most people would prefer to avoid the feeling that "Big Brother Is Watching." So, how can we have safer streets while simultaneously protecting our civil liberties? The answer, of course, is to hold ourselves accountable by being better drivers, not allowing ourselves to be distracted by our phones and by obeying common-sense rules of the road. That's easier said than done but if people prefer the freedom of choice, they have to meet it at the proverbial intersection of personal responsibility. Red light cameras were created to address a problem but they alone cannot be the solution.


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