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The ethical problem with red light cameras

The movement to place cameras at intersections and traffic signals so that red light runners and reckless drivers are spotted has only increased in the past 20 years. Many states and major cities use such cameras, usually to catch people who blast through a red light. Other states that don't have the cameras seem to be considering them on a near-annual basis. It's a critical issue, both for public safety and for personal privacy.

However, there is also an ethical dilemma with these cameras: are they really being installed for the good of the public, or are they installed simply to make municipalities more money? And are these motivations mutually exclusive?

Consider that the state of Florida made $119 million last year from red light cameras, and the city of Chicago has made more than $300 million since 2003 from traffic cameras. Clearly, these cameras are a not-so-literal goldmine.

But the greater point here is that these cameras may inappropriately force fines on people, while failing to truly improve public safety. One study found that intersections that had cameras saw less fatal accidents -- but other types of accidents actually increased. Concerns have also been raised about the validity of the tickets themselves. The photographs taken and used to fine a car's owner presume that the owner was behind the wheel of the car. What if the owner let a friend or family member borrow the car?

These cameras may be well-intended, but there are some significant legal issues that they pose.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Red-Light Cameras: Safety Measure or Money Grab?," Tim Jones and Mark Niquette, Feb. 25, 2014

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