The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday September 28th

Red Light Cameras `Orwellian'

Was this another case of a late-night senior citizen joyrider? No. This was a case of mistaken identity.

Moorefield wasn't in Fayetteville -- and she wasn't driving in the middle of the night.

Apparently, the picture snapped at the red light camera was so fuzzy, a proper identification could not be made and the private company running the ticketing system sent her a citation erroneously.

She fought to appeal the ticket, but eventually had to complain to U.S. Rep. David Price to strong-arm Fayetteville's mayor to get her money back.

Chapel Hill is still considering installing such traffic cameras at intersections. Last spring, the Town Council gave the town manager the go-ahead to seek bids from private companies to operate the cameras. But because of a heavy workload, those bids have not happened yet.

It would be best to table the entire project. Cameras are not needed at Chapel Hill intersections -- and their legality is most questionable.

In San Diego last week, Superior Court Judge Ronald Styn ruled that because a private corporation issues the tickets, the business has a strong motive to give more tickets to make more profit.

Thus, the pictures are considered suspect evidence and not admissible in court. That ruling only applies to the nearly 300 tickets being disputed in San Diego -- it has no legal consequence in North Carolina.

Already, red-light camera programs are in Charlotte, Greensboro, Wilmington and Fayetteville. However, though Styn's ruling does not affect these programs, more people are questioning the legality and fairness of red-light cameras -- including officials in Chapel Hill.

Is it fair? No. This is the municipal government contracting out its responsibility to provide law enforcement.

While a citation from a red-light camera does not add points to your insurance or driving record, it does rip $50 from your wallet.

And consider this. Most of these cameras will be placed at busy intersections. But if a cop catches you running a red light at a smaller intersection, you can face added points and much harsher penalties than the civil penalty issued by the private ticketing company.

We're treating the same criminal offense differently -- giving a lighter penalty to someone running a red light at a more dangerous intersection!

The problem with red-light running in Chapel Hill does not outweigh the Orwellian loss of privacy or the inherent unfairness of this system.

Human judgement in the application of the law makes me feel a lot more comfortable than a camera operated by a for-profit company. Chapel Hill should not buy into this program.

Columnist Jonathan Chaney can be reached at

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