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Commentary Detail

Safer But Paranoid
Commentary by: Wm. Stage
Aired June 11, 2008

George Orwell's famous novel, "1984", written in 1948, depicts a paranoid society kept in line by a regime that seems to know every move a citizen can make. Sixty years later Big Brother is still watching us.

Enter the Traffic Violation Photo Enforcement Program, an innovation that like it or not will make model drivers of us all. Positioned cameras take sequential photos of any vehicle in the intersection when the traffic signal was red. The camera records the license plate of the offending vehicle whose owner receives by mail a citation and a fine.

A blow for public safety or government-sanctioned robbery?

Since the program began a year ago, St. Louis City alone has mailed more than 45,000 citations, averaging 125 tickets a day. For each $100 fine collected, about 2/3 goes to the City and the rest goes to American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based company that installs and monitors the cameras.

The driving public may grouse but what good does it do? Camera-generated tickets are here to stay, maybe. The program is being challenged. Arnold, Missouri is the target of a federal lawsuit which alleges, among other things, the city is committing mail fraud by extorting payment. Attorney Chet Pleban, who filed the lawsuit, says camera tickets are unconstitutional and will some day be scrapped.

Meanwhile, the cameras are at work, catching unwitting motorists at every turn. Some applaud this tool believing that something must be done about reckless driving. There will be growing pains with this, but in the end we’ll all be safer...safer, but like the characters of Orwell’s novel, paranoid.

(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Wm. Stage

Wm. Stage


A journalist and photographer since 1982, Wm. Stage has plumbed the life stories of thousands of people. He has taught photojournalism at Saint Louis University's School for Professional Studies [1990-96] and he is an alumnus of the Photojournalism Workshop, offered by University of Missouri - Columbia's School of Journalism and held in a different Missouri town every year since 1946. He is the author of six non-fiction books including Have A Weird Day: Reflections and Ruminations on the St. Louis Experience. He lives with his dog, Jack, in The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis.

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