Friday, May 7, 2010


To Protect Collect and to Serve

Driving to Syracuse on the Thruway last week, two things were unmistakeable:   (1) we were in New York; and (2) it was near the end of the month.   You could tell by the seemingly exponential jump in the number of state troopers, our armed tax collectors of the road, collecting road tax from hapless citizen-victims in the ostensible form of speeding citations.

Since the State's fiscal crisis became acute, the number of troopers on the Thruway has increased to an extent that's startlingly apparent, and so have the ticket quotas imposed on the troopers.

Around the country, states are imposing unrealistically low speed limits and increasing enforcement.   Or installing red-light cameras, then cutting back on the duration of the yellow light.   Often they no longer even bother with a pretext of doing it for any reason other than raising cash.

Remember Rochester City Council President Gladys Santiago's first statement, after last summer's presentation to Council by the firm hired to install red light cameras in the City?   "We're going to make a lot of money."

Think about it.   Red light cameras create a direct conflict of interest for the City.   Law enforcement is about ensuring compliance with the law.   The City now has a direct pecuniary interest in the law's violation.

The cameras are installed, and are about to be activated, according to the City's Chief of Police.

Locally, municipalities petition Albany for permission to reduce town and village speed limits even further.   Gotta keep the cash machine humming.

Gov. Paterson proposes, as part of the State budget, speeding cameras for main state roads.

And this is one area where many other states are just as bad as New York.   In Michigan, municipalities are openly defying a state law requiring them to recalibrate speed limits to realistic levels, defining "realistic" as a limit set at the 85th percentile of free-flowing traffic on a road segment.

That's how a government focusing on public safety, rather than raising money, behaves.   If New York followed Michigan's 85th percentile standard, the speed limit on the Thruway would be 80.

Ticket revenues have a way of going way up, once states and municipalities find themselves in the red.   Maybe the spreading practice of turning public safety on its head and converting traffic laws into a cash machine will be the next major focus of citizen pushback.   It's happened in some places already, with red-light cameras.

Until it happens here, remember:   You're not driving a car.   You're driving an ATM for the government.

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