NEW YORK STATE Missing the picture with cameras

Legislation introduced in the state Assembly this spring is the latest step in a troubling trend — law enforcement by camera.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele, D-Sag Harbor, recently introduced the Protect our Pedestrians Act (A.10169) to amend the state Vehicle and Traffic Law to create owner liability for failure of an operator to comply with stop signs in the villages of Upper Brookville and Flower Hill in Nassau County and East Hampton in Suffolk County.

You may ask why a bill affecting three villages on the other end of the state affects us here in Chautauqua County. The answer is simple. It won’t take long for cameras in Nassau and Suffolk counties to spread statewide — especially if the cameras bring in revenue.

Thiele’s bill isn’t necessarily about money on its face. We don’t doubt Thiele has the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists at heart. But inevitably local governments who choose to install cameras on stop signs will hope the cameras bring more money into local government coffers.

The problem is the lack of discretion that camera-driven law enforcement brings. Police officers have the ability to use discretion when they write tickets. Sometimes, a warning is given if there was no threat to public safety even though a law was broken. It’s a way to teach proper road etiquette without penalties for a first offense. As a society, our willingness to cede human intuition to cameras is worth serious discussion. The camera may not lie, but it isn’t always accurate, either. Just look at Buffalo, where school zone safety cameras ended up being pulled because they didn’t work as advertised and people got tickets they shouldn’t have received.

Everyone has to do a better job of keeping intersections safe. Drivers have to be more careful and slow down. Pedestrians and cyclists could help themselves by walking and riding safely. Everyone’s carelessness leads life-changing accidents.

But law enforcement by camera is a troubling way to ensure safety. How far are we from jaywalking tickets by camera? How about littering violations caught on camera?

Any nuisance, no matter how small, can become a cause for camera enforcement in the right, or wrong, hands. We should tread lightly with our reliance on cameras to enforce laws.


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