I think I got a traffic ticket yesterday while driving home from work. Hang on a minute, you’re probably saying to yourself. How can you not be sure? Did a cop pull you over and give you a ticket, or not? Well, no. At the moment, I have no ticket in my possession. And no police officer stopped me yesterday. But I probably was cited for a moving violation anyway — automatically, by a machine.
I was driving south on Six Forks Road. It was almost completely dark. I realized that there was a long line of cars in the right lane, which I needed to get into. Slowing down, I looked for a place to merge into that lane, but didn’t see any way to do it. As my gaze reverted to the road in front of me, I saw that the traffic light directly ahead was yellow . . . and I was moving too slowly to get through the intersection in time. Before I could react, three things happened: The light turned red. My car entered the intersection. And a bright flash illuminated the dark street.
I had just been photographed running a red light.
I should have known better. Earlier this year, the city of Raleigh began implementing a program called Safelight, installing photo enforcement systems at key intersections. The intersection of Six Forks Road and Rowan Street was the second location in the city to get one of these. It was no secret — the cameras are housed in big pole-mounted gray boxes that are easy to spot, and a sign reading RED LIGHT PHOTO ENFORCED tells you exactly what they are for. I’ve been driving past this setup for the last six months. I knew it was there. But I forgot.
So I expect that I’ll be receiving a ticket in the mail, telling me I have to pay a $50 fine. I called the Safelight office to find out how long this takes, and spoke with a very nice woman who said they verify the photos, print citations, and mail them within a day or two. I should have my ticket in a week or so.
I am aware that some people object to photo enforcement systems of this sort, but most of the arguments I’ve heard are either “Big Brother” hysteria or claims that the cameras are an invasion of privacy. I’m sorry, but I don’t find those arguments at all convincing. Anyone who has actually read 1984 knows that Big Brother’s cameras were everywhere, in bedrooms and offices and bathrooms. Cameras on a public street corner are hardly the same thing. And there never was any privacy in such places, so how can it be invaded? I’ve seen reports that photo enforcement systems are inaccurate, sending tickets to innocent people. If that’s the case, it’s certainly a problem, but the solution is to fix the system so it works properly, not to dismantle it.
No, I’m not going to object to this. I’ll pay the fine and try to learn from the experience. I’d better, because another Safelight system has been installed at the corner of Rock Quarry Road and Cross Link, which I have to pass to get to Ruth and Ben’s high school. I’ll just have to be more careful at traffic lights. If I don’t, I’ll have no one to blame but myself.

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