For a couple of years now, Houston has had "red light cameras" that take pictures of cars running red lights. Based on the license plate number, the driver is then mailed a citation and expected to pay the fine. I don't know how prevalent or numerous these devices are in other cities (and I really don't feel like doing any research), but I find the concept fascinating.
Obviously, a lot of people don't favor them. I suppose they believe that if an actual police officer didn't catch them in the act, then they should be allowed to get away with it. That's a very interesting ethical position to take: if I wasn't caught, then it wasn't wrong, basically. I could go on for paragraphs on just this aspect alone, but I won't.
But traffic law, for the most part, is pretty cut and dried, black and white. The light was red; you entered the intersection; you get a ticket. So the use of computers and automated cameras makes a lot of sense here. I'm sure there are plenty who still fight the tickets, but they're fighting against solid evidence and can really only make appeals based on "just cause."
Believe it or not (surprising even to me), I really like this concept and think it should (and will) be expanded. I've often seen digital speed limit signs equipped with radar to show you how fast you're really going. They're always temporary, I guess just to remind drivers that the police do know what you're doing. But why couldn't these signs have cameras as well? It doesn't seem like it would be too difficult to set up a system for stop signs as well. I think this is an inventive use of modern technology. Fifty years ago, it would have been impossible, but now you could have an automated post measure your speed (radar), take your picture (digitally, no film), time and date stamp it (computer), and send it to a central police hub (wireless Internet). That's impressive.
Will this happen? I think so. In the next five years, probably not. Ten? Probably.
But this idea can be taken even further, which is what I really like thinking about. How many cars today are equipped with rear-view video cameras? Some even have little radar sensors to tell you when you are nearing an object. And these aren't super luxury or concept car features; these were on the Ford Focus I drove a few months ago.
So, why not have driver-controlled cameras to report the bad/illegal behavior of other drivers? How many times have you seen someone driving recklessly on the freeway, too fast, weaving in and out of cars, and wished that they got caught. "Why isn't there ever a cop when you need one?"
But if you could report him yourself? Just move a joystick and take a snap, which is instantly transmitted to the police, maybe even including your geo-tracked location. This is all possible now. Sure, there are some kinks to work out. You'd have to make sure it isn't too dangerous/distracting to take the picture. There would have to be officers whose job would be to sift the reports to separate the wheat from the chaff, but that wouldn't be too hard. If you get five reports from five different vehicles in the same area at the same time, I think you should look into it. I think it might even cut down on road rage, in a passive-aggressive way. Don't like the guy tailgating you? Just take a picture and report him. He pays a fine and you feel good about yourself. That's much better than slamming on your breaks and risking gunfire.
In small tribal communities, they don't have police. That doesn't mean they don't have crime or wrong-doers, but just that it isn't the job of one person to correct it. The community as a whole upholds the group ethic. If someone steals, rapes, or murders, everyone knows it. That person is most often shunned and/or kicked out of the community. As a community gets larger and wealthier, it can afford to have people whose job is more specific or abstract. Perhaps, as our society gets larger and communication gets so much easier, it will become more like the smaller communities. If we all police ourselves/each other for traffic violations, it frees the actual police to do the specialized work they are trained to do. If people knew that by cutting ahead in a long line of cars at an off-ramp they would get a dozen pictures sent and have to pay a fine, maybe they'd be more hesitant to do it.
It all sounds very Orwellian, and that fascinates me as well. The oppression in 1984 came from the government, of course, but it was enforced by the people. Big Brother wasn't so much the camera as the person looking through the lens.
Anyway, I think it's coming. Probably not in ten years, but in twenty? Thirty? Who knows.
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