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Voters Nix Robo-Tix

U.S. voters rejected four robo-cop proposals, making the tally 31 out of 34 over the past 23 yeares

2 min read

Voters Nix Robo-Tix
Illustration: iStockphoto

On Tuesday, voters in the United States rejected four local proposals to allow automated ticketing for traffic-law violations. The propositions were voted down in Cleveland and in Maple Heights, Ohio; in Sierra Vista, Arizona; and in Missouri, according to a report on Autoblog.

That brings the U.S. tally to 31 “No” votes out of 34 referendums held since 1991, according to a database maintained by TheNewspaper.com. But some places, for instance, New York City, have been using machines to issue traffic tickets for years, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The idea goes back to the early 20th century, when two cameras were first deployed to record, with a time stamp, when a car entered and exited a premeasured stretch of road. Because film cameras tended to be cumbersome, most early automatic traffic-law enforcement depended on radar, supplemented, beginning in the 1990s, by digital camera systems. Jenoptik, of Jena, Germany, now sells a system based on 3D laser scanners, which can distinguish cars from trucks, which often must comply with different traffic rules.

Opponents of automatic ticketing complain that the practice denies the accused due process while giving financially strapped governments an all-too-easy way to raise revenues. (Cleveland’s system had been raising nearly US $ 6 million a year, about 1 percent of the city’s budget.) Perhaps in response to such opposition, drafters of the laws have often opted not to issue tickets automatically for speed violations but only for things most voters agree are beyond the pale, like running a red light.

In the European Union the trend has been to ever more reliance on robotic traffic cops for both speed and red light violations. “In recent years, however, there has been an extension to other violations, e.g. tailgating, lane keeping, seat belt use or toll payment violations,” reads a EU publication from 2011. Since then, the number of traffic cameras, infrared detectors, and other sensors trained on the roads have only increased.

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