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7/3/2015OPINION: Rubio Is Right -- Red-light cameras are a scam
A commentary by Richard Diamond about the significance of the guilty plea in the red light camera political corruption case.
Marco Rubio's driving habits have been in the spotlight ever since The New York Times attacked him over a handful of minor traffic infractions. The Florida senator downplayed his record behind the wheel by pointing out that red-light cameras are a "scam." PolitiFact chided the Republican presidential candidate for failing to acknowledge that cameras are perfectly legal in his state -- as if that matters.
Rubio got it exactly right. On June 18, the former chief executive of leading red-light camera firm pleaded guilty in a political corruption scam that had politicians embrace photo enforcement in return for cash. For nearly a decade Karen L. Finley was a leader at Redflex Traffic Systems, an Australian company that operates cameras in about 200 communities throughout the United States and Canada.
By her own admission, Finley doled out company funds to government officials in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, on the understanding that they'd dutifully say that automated ticketing machines are for "saving the children" and give official support to red-light contracts serviced by her firm. To prevent the public from recognizing this fiscal motivation, the money was laundered through third parties, including the Ohio Democratic Party, according to federal investigators.
It wasn't an isolated incident. Finley has already notified a federal judge in Chicago of her intention to plead guilty to lavishing $2 million on the Windy City official who handed Redflex a contract worth $124 million. Finley's top lieutenant says bribes were distributed across a dozen states from California to Florida.
Such facts aren't likely to shake the faith of automated justice's most stubborn defenders. They will cling to the notion that cameras can improve safety, regardless of the corrupt motivation of their operators. They'll even point to studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and government bodies claiming the devices work exactly as intended.
Here, too, we have new sleazy revelations. The city of Baltimore opened an investigation into the antics of speed camera operators after they were caught issuing thousands of bogus tickets to innocent motorists. Most famously, Baltimore's cameras cited a parked truck for exceeding the speed limit.
Investigators said the biggest apparent impropriety they uncovered was the city's hiring of former IIHS researcher Richard Retting to review the program "so it looks independent" despite the fact that they knew of his ties to the camera contractor. Retting was the chief author of nearly every early IIHS study that claimed red-light cameras are effective and is now cashing in by working for the industry his dubious research helped create.
As for speed cameras, the most comprehensive research comes from Europe, where the technology remains popular among politicians. The British government used to credit photo radar with reducing serious injury accidents by 30 percent, and it had the statistics to back up the claim. The government dropped its boasts after The British Medical Journal (BMJ), one of the world's premier research publications, found no reduction in the number of patients admitted to hospitals in road accidents after a comprehensive review of hospital admission records.
The statistics that bolster the use of photo ticketing are rigged. The "independent" experts who support the technology and the political bodies that approve their use are on the take. Marco Rubio is right. In every conceivable way, red-light cameras and speed cameras are a money-making scam.
This article originally appeared in USA Today.