It's not often that a columnist has the opportunity to alienate friends, family and total strangers with the same 700 words, so I'm going to take a deep, cleansing breath and try to savor the synchronicity of it all.
Listen: Stop whining about the traffic cameras.
If you don't want a ticket for speeding or running a red light, then don't speed or run a red light. It really is that simple.
I've heard all the arguments in opposition. Over and over.
Yes, those cameras are unfair. Well, not really, but geez.
Yes, you'd rather have a real cop nail you for speeding or running a red light. Except, no, you really wouldn't, and you know it. Name one person who likes to see those flashing lights in the rearview mirror. One person not on drugs, I mean, and who's old enough to drive.
Yes, it really stinks that if your car gets caught on camera, you're going to get a ticket — even if you weren't driving it. We've had that argument in our house, too. And still, we end up having to pay the ticket.
Yes, it's a major moneymaker for struggling cities. Go drive through urban neighborhoods eviscerated by the foreclosure crisis and get back to me, okay?
Now, before you fire up your keyboards or set your alarm clocks for that middle-of-the-night rant into my voice mail — and if you swear or call me a socialist, I still immediately hit delete — let me add this:
I hate those cameras. Hate, hate, hate 'em.
I've been nabbed numerous times — at $100 a pop — for going over 36 in a 25 mph zone, as have at least two other members of my immediate family. Every time one of those envelopes arrived in the mail, tempers erupted. Lots of outdoor voices. Smacking the kitchen counter. Mining our memories for why-oh-why we were speeding. 'Cuz, you know, we were certain we had a really good reason for breaking the law. Just like you, right?
Certainly, there are some valid counter-arguments to be made. Lawyer Blake Dickson, for example, has been busy litigating against the city of Cleveland because he thinks it's wrong to ticket drivers of leased cars, and he objects to the appeals process, too.
Not coincidentally, the camera caught his law firm's leased Audi speeding. Twice.
When I called Dickson, our initial discussion started out like a remake of the famous Abbott and Costello skit, "Who's on First."
Dickson: "The person who's driving the car isn't getting the ticket."
Me: "But the ticket came to me."
Dickson: "Yeah, but the car got the ticket. It could have been someone else driving."
Me: "Yeah, but it wasn't."
Dickson: "Doesn't matter."
Me: "But I was the one at fault."
Dickson: "They don't know that."
Dickson also insists the cameras deter visitors to cities like downtown Cleveland. He admitted he had no data to support this claim, but he grew up here, and he's furious that his beloved city is in decline.
"It's my opinion, not fact, that people avoid downtown because of the cameras," he said, "but it's one shared by a lot of suburbanites I talk to. They don't like the crappy roads and the expensive parking, and they're tired of the cameras, too."
You could have virtually the same discussion with suburbanites nabbed by traffic cameras anywhere in the country. Even a brief Google search unearthed countless outraged columns, editorials and letters to the editor from California to Rhode Island.
This isn't one of them, and this is why: I haven't gotten one of those tickets in months.
I'd like to say it's because I'm just that good of a citizen, but I can't even write that with a straight face. I'm a better driver because of those annoying cameras. I'll bet some of you are, too, judging from a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that showed a dramatic drop in fatalities at intersections with cameras.
I'm not asking you to admit it. Instead, I leave you with an observation from Hector Roberto Chavero Aramburo, who was quoted recently in a Wall Street Journal story that had nothing to do with traffic cameras:
"I galloped a lot, but I arrived late all the same."
Gallop if you must, dear reader. But do try to avoid that photo finish.
© 2011 Creators Syndicate