Vote yes on Initiative No. 2

By Paul Archipley | Oct 20, 2010

Attempts to reduce traffic infractions – especially the kind that can lead to injury or worse – are commendable.

But the red light camera solution is an answer in search of a problem, and studies show it creates new problems without solving old ones.

We support Mukilteo Initiative No. 2, which would require a two-thirds majority vote of the City Council and a majority vote of the people before red light cameras could be installed here.

On the Nov. 2 ballot, it also would have reversed a decision by the council to install red light and speed cameras, but the council reversed itself after taking a second look. The city had planned to install cameras at the intersection of Harbour Pointe Boulevard and the Mukilteo Speedway, and others at a crosswalk on the Speedway across from Olympic View Middle School.

The idea, in the first case, was to clamp down on drivers who race through intersections when that light turns yellow/red, rather than stop. In the second case, the purpose was to better protect children and other pedestrians from speeding motorists.

Who could argue against those goals?

The problem is, red light cameras don’t work, at least not well enough to solve the problem. And, under the law of unintended consequences, new problems are created.

Firstly, Mukilteo police say there isn’t a problem.  So why the proposal in the first place?

Yes, some motorists do speed in school zones. They do run red lights. Cameras don’t stop that. But they bring in big bucks to cities where they’re allowed – and to the private sector companies that install and maintain the systems.

There you are: It’s all about the money. In Lynnwood, where cameras have been installed at several locations, some city officials have become alarmed at how much money they’re raking in. If the cameras worked, wouldn’t the problem – and revenue – go away?

As for unintended consequences, independent studies have found that rear-end collisions climb where cameras are installed. Trading one problem for another is no solution.

In addition, the system turns our tradition of being innocent until proven guilty on its head. The registered owner of a car that is photographed going through a red light receives a ticket weeks later in the mail, demanding payment. It forces motorists to prove their innocence, rather than the government to prove their guilt. Was the registered owner driving the car that day, at that time, at that intersection? Or was it a spouse, child or other driver? How’s your memory?

And what if the ticket never arrives? It happens. But that infraction will remain in the system until one day, down the road, it catches a car owner unawares. The system is skewed toward finding revenue, not justice.

Initiative No. 2, introduced by well-known Mukiltean Tim Eyman, removes the profit motive by limiting fines to the least expensive parking ticket, about 20 bucks. That means, should the council and citizens ever vote to install red light cameras, it wouldn’t be a revenue generator for the city.

Above all, perhaps, is the moral question. When public safety is used as an excuse to line city coffers, it loses its moral imperative. Public safety is about protecting citizens, not generating revenue.

State Rep. Christopher Hurst, 31st District, who spent 25 years in law enforcement and is chair of the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee, said legislators in Olympia have looked at the issue and will likely do so again.

“Red light cameras do not make people safer,” Rep. Hurst said. “It’s just about the money.”

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