Saturday, September 12, 2009

The man in the monkey mask

I call it a conservative thing. Some may differ, but certainly one has to see Arizona as a red state and Arizona has become the first to follow in the path of countries like the UK by putting up speed cameras everywhere, under the pretense of making the roads safer. Of course as we've seen since the end of the misguided 55 mph national speed limit, speed enforcement in most cases does nothing to reduce the highway death rate and often may make it worse. It's demonstrable that over 80% of drivers exceed posted speed limits and according to the National Motorist's association, the few people who rigidly stick to the limit or drive slower than the prevailing speed, are involved in the majority of accidents - up to six times more than average. The mantra amongst traffic engineers was that the safest speed was that which 85 percent of drivers would maintain and until politics got involved, that's the way it was done. Today, that 85% will drive at 10 to 15 over in a 70 mph zone and generally will keep up that speed if the limit drops to 65. The few pokes who want to do 70 either cause knots of traffic or are forced to sit in the right lane while 18 wheelers honk at them and entering traffic has to take evasive action. Meanwhile as speeds continue to rise, accident rates continue to fall, particularly on the interstates which account for only a small fraction of fatalities.

Arizona however, is using that old "speed is a factor in all accidents" fallacy and the typical scare tactics about dangerous highways to cover up the privatization of law enforcement. It's about money and police departments, like most everyone else, are strapped for revenue. The Arizona machines have issued half a million tickets in the last year and the state has made a $23 million dollar profit.

Arizona is also a libertarian state and some have gone from amusing pranks to sabotage and perhaps even to murder to defeat what they call a "speed tax." Silly String and post-it notes have been found covering camera lenses. One fellow from Phoenix has accumulated 37 tickets but refuses to pay since he cannot be identified as the driver -- he wears a monkey mask while he drives. An Arizona Department of Public Safety spokes man tells us that he "has repeatedly endangered public safety and that the agency is taking his case very seriously." and yet, despite constant surveillance and stake-outs trying to get a picture of him putting the mask on, they haven't been able to find a reason to pull him over - and of course, grave danger to the public safety that he is, he hasn't had any accidents, which may lend evidence to my assertion.

Most Arizonians are either protesting or ignoring these robo-tickets and there may be a link between the shooting death of a speed-enforcement van operator and public outrage over the surveillance program. Citizens groups intend to put up some ballot initiatives next year to ban these things. I hope they succeed.

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