Seeing red?

Dear Ace: I am very, very busy with many phone calls to make and errands to run. So many, in fact, that I have to eat and get ready in the car and sometimes I wind up running red lights. I’ve heard horror stories about how, in some cities, the cops have cameras attached to lights that snap your license plate if you run a red. I’m scared I might get a ticket, and I think I see little cams everywhere! Are those little eyes sending my picture to the police?—Kruisin Fora-Bruisn

Kruisin: Put the brakes on your freak-out. The little cameras mounted on city street signals simply sense your presence (say it with Ace: ohhmm) and trigger a green light. There are no photo-snappin’ light cams anywhere in town. But given your penchant for zooming through our already dangerous intersections when you’re totally not supposed to, maybe we ought to have them. So, Ace demands an answer—why no cameras?

   Washington, D.C., seems to swear by the “automated red-light enforcement.” D.C. Chief of Police Charles Ramsey said to The Eagle, American University’s student newspaper, “Photo enforcement cameras are a major element of our overall strategy to prevent needless injuries and deaths caused by reckless drivers.” The Metro Police’s aggressive campaign to catch light-runners in the act has reportedly cut red-light incidents by 60 percent, but the payoff is a bit slow—just over half of the ticketed drivers actually pay the $75 fine. Plus, the Big Brother-style tech implemented in 1999 has pissed civil libertarians off.

   Sergeant Mike Farruggio, the new head of Charlottesville’s traffic unit, doesn’t know what to make of the issue. The State legislature keeps the red light enforcement program on a short leash because of the surrounding controversy. But Farruggio is warming up to the photographic idea he once found intrusive. “If [drivers] see they would get a ticket and won’t run the red light and that saves one life, then it’s worth it,” he says.

   Picture or no picture, that doesn’t mean you can zip around town with reckless abandon, my heavy-footed friend. Ace found some stats to scare you straight. According to the Federal Highway Association, nearly 1,000 people die each year in crashes related to running a red light (more than half of those victims aren’t the drivers at fault). More than 175,000 drivers and pedestrians are injured. And what Ace here doesn’t get is that while most of you reckless drivers are wary of the dangers of running red lights, you keep doing it, resulting in more than 207,000 crashes per year.

   Ace understands that when traffic on 29 or the 250 Bypass clogs around 5pm, it’s tempting to skirt through a stoplight on the tail of the car ahead of you. But don’t be so naïve! (It loses its appeal at your age, anyhow.) Ace knows your decision to save three seconds by charging through an intersection won’t get you anywhere, except maybe slapped with the City’s $156 penalty, or dead. So put down the cellphone or Doritos and lay off the pedal, kiddies.

   Or, in the future, prepare to say cheese!

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