Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cheating and whining

I suppose nearly everyone who gets a traffic citation thinks their ticket was unfair in some way. At least, I do.  Don't you?  It's just human nature to rationalize and excuse one's own misbehavior.  I was thinking about the irony last night of sort of semi-cheating on the on-line Traffic School course I was taking to make up for
"sort of semi-cheating" on a minor traffic nit-pick citation (or at least, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it).

Actually, the "cheating" on the traffic school was just a matter of printing out each chapter, letting it run in the background until the required study time was up, and then using the print-out to take the exams "open book."  Nothing says that's illegal.  Besides, the questions are really nit-picky and tricky.  They purposely ask things you'd never be able to figure out without directly reading the sentence from the course text.  Do I feel guilty?  No.  I don't feel guilty about the citation either.  Mad, yes.  Guilty, no.  That's likely just my self-excusing, but that's the truth.  I'm not upset about doing the crime, just about getting caught.

The citation was from one of those stupid and corrupt red-light camera robotic thieving automatic citation machines.  Yes, I know, rationalizing and excusing myself.  But really, those things should be illegal.  This particular one was especially bad.  I didn't get the ticket for running the red light.  I got it for failing to come to a full stop on a red arrow before turning right in a dedicated right-turn lane.  It wasn't illegal to turn right on red.  It was just illegal to do it without coming to a stop first.  That's not really what those cameras are supposed to be catching.  The accidents caused by that behavior are not nearly as serious as those from people actually going straight through an intersection on red light.  But as it turns out, the right turn tickets are where they make almost all of their money.  And make no mistake, it's all about making money.  They only put them up at intersections where they can make money.  And they don't work.  They can't work.  If the cameras actually stop people from running red lights then they don't make money, and if they don't make money, they take them down.  So they only operate the cameras at intersections where they are pretty sure people will get caught unawares.  They are, as far as I'm concerned, cheating.  They justify the cameras based on the straight ahead red light running accidents, but then most of the tickets they give out are for something much less serious.  The system is a lie and a cheat.  And they know it.  If they really wanted to cut down on accidents, the simple and free way to do it is to introduce a time lag between when the light turns red in one direction and when the light then turns green in the other direction.  That works really well.  It just doesn't make any money.

The thing is, I actually have no way of knowing whether I actually ran the red light or not.  I was totally unaware of it at the time.  I did not knowingly run the light.  A month or so later I got the ticket mailed to me.  I was totally dumbfounded.  Did I really run the light, or is their equipment just set to make it look that way?  I have no way of knowing.  If I believe their equipment, then I did it.  Should I believe their equipment?  I don't know.  I know that law enforcement is often corrupt.  I know that machines often malfunction.  I know they would likely not admit it if they knew it was malfunctioning.  I know they have no scruples.  Did I really run the light?  I really don't know.  I'm not in the habit of doing it on purpose.  I go through that intersection every day, and they have had the equipment there for several years, so apparently I have never run that light before.  I may have done it that one time, but I can't really say one way or the other.

In the photo, I had the sun-visor down, because the sun was shining directly in my face.  I was coming down a hill and around a corner facing into the sun.  The red arrow is obscured by an overgrown tree at the bend until you get around the corner.  I had only a very brief time to see the red arrow, and there are lots of other things to be paying attention to:  Watching the car in front of me; Watching for pedestrians; Watching for cars coming from the left. 

The risk was nil.  The risks all had to do with the things I actually was watching for, not with the red arrow I apparently didn't see.

I seriously thought about fighting the ticket.  The code section cited on the ticket was somewhat dubious.  The tree obsuring the view of the light may have been a justification.  But in the end, I figured the traffic court commissioner has heard all the excuses a thousand times and isn't likely to be sympathetic.  They have a well-oiled system of extracting money from drivers, and that system pays their salaries.  They aren't going to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.  In the end, my whining would get me no where.  Their view would be that regardless of all that, it's my responsibility as the driver to find the light and obey it - end of story.

So, I paid the exhorbitant roughly $600 for the fine and traffic school, and did my time (or most of it).

I was counting up all the traffic tickets I have ever received.  It's more than I would have guessed.  I think I've gotten 6 tickets in 46 years of driving.  Oh, yeah, I also got one riding my bicycle back before I had a driver's license - riding my bike on the wrong side of the street - that was really nit-picking.  And then there was a jay-walking ticket.  Some of the auto tickets were legitimate (one speeding, one actual red light I didn't see).  Most were at best nit-picky (two red-light cameras - this one and one for being a fraction of a second late; one for being in the wrong lane with a trailer).  At least one was out and out corrupt on the part of the cop (a supposed failure to yield right-of-way that never actually happened).  On the other hand, I have probably gotten away with far worse things.

The reality is that most drivers could be cited for something nearly every time they get behind the wheel.  A defensive driving instructor in one class made that very point.  If a cop followed you around constantly, you could get a ticket every day.  It's kind of a strange system in which everyone is guilty, most of us quite frequently, but we get caught rarely, and when we do, it is often for minor nit-picks rather than for the probably far more serious things we should have gotten caught for.  Does that system end up producing safer traffic?  Not sure.  It's more like God and the prevalence of sin.  We are all guilty and live only on grace.  Should we whine when our guilt finally catches up to us?  Probably not, but we do anyway.

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