Robocops 2: Jury Still Out


A few years ago, I wrote a column for this space ridiculing the use of robotic enforcement of red-light violations after getting burned by one myself.

The point I raised was that the technology was being employed to create revenues, that the intersection where I was ticketed was not a problem intersection, and that Western Civilization as we know it may not survive this affront to all that is fair and just.

This audience of road professionals responded with a predictable lack of empathy. However, being dedicated to defending truth, justice and the American way, I’ve continued my personal research into this matter ever since. Here are some poignant items from my highly biased Robotic Traffic Cops scrapbook.

  • Weeks after my 2010 column was published, I saw an accident at the intersection where I had been robo-ticketed for failing to stop before turning right on red. It was the first accident I’ve ever seen in 25 years of using that intersection about a dozen times a week. It involved a car turning left and a car going straight ahead.
  • The same week of the accident, on consecutive days I witnessed two vehicles run red lights at another local robocop intersection. The offenses were alarmingly egregious. The drivers were turning into an intersection of two high-traffic-volume, six-lane highways and they barely slowed down to glance at on-coming traffic. I had to concede that the city might have had a legitimate reason to robotize this intersection. And I have since taken notice of how carefully motorists come to a complete stop at these intersections.
  • In May, I read a news report about a city contemplating an arrangement with a robotic-traffic-cop company in which people who appealed their robo-tickets would face a $400 fine – more than twice the cost of just paying the ticket – if they lost their appeal. This was to cover the cost of the appeal apparatus that had to be separate from the established traffic court. My ticket carried the same kind of math, but with lower numbers. It probably makes sense from the government side, but it can make the individual citizen a bit paranoid.
  • The nearby city of Chicago jumped into robotic coppery headfirst a few years ago and is now digging itself out of a scandal involving the methods used by the robotic contractor to get the contract. I honestly don’t know if Chicago is more vulnerable to corruption than other places, or if it is more likely to uncover corruption than other places, but I’m pretty sure that money is often the source of corruption and there can be a lot of it at stake in robotic law enforcement.

My band of experience with traffic robots is narrow and personal, just like every other citizen’s, and it is mixed. I can see the discipline it imposes on motorists and I can see the importance of that discipline. But I can also see the potential for abuse, not just in financial corruption but especially in a sort of Big Brother loss of humanity in how we govern and tax ourselves.