Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Traffic Tickets and Taxes

I got an unfortunate piece of mail the other day. It was from the Denver photo traffic law enforcement division … or something like that. In the envelope was a citation for running a red light. The ticket surprised me, since I didn't remember running, or even almost running, a red light recently.

I checked the date of the infraction against my calendar, realizing that I ran this red light on the day when I pretty sick. In fact, at the time I committed the offense which warranted receiving a ticket, I was on my way to try to find an urgent care clinic.

So, my in-the-mail ticket had photos of me committing the infraction. It looked, from the photos, like I had stopped at a red light, and then executed a (perfectly legal) right turn on red. The letter pointed me to a web site where there would be more photos ~ so I checked. Still, all the photos seemed to indicate that I had stopped, checked traffic, and then turned. The website had a link to video ~ so I checked. Sure enough, the video indicated that I had approached the red light about 15 seconds after it turned red. The video indicated that I had not quite come to a full and complete stop. I had virtually stopped, and certainly I had stopped enough to see that my right turn on red was entirely safe. But yes, technically, I broke the law.

But here's the thing. I'm pretty sure that, if there was a police officer sitting at the light, s/he probably wouldn't have pulled me over. And if they did, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have given me a ticket. Perhaps, based on the actual driving, I would have received a warning, since my driving was not a danger to me or anyone else. Further, on that particular day I was obviously sick. In fact, the reason I was even driving around at that particular moment was to look for an urgent care clinic. I was dreadfully sick, and if I had been stopped by a police officer, I would have asked that person where to find the clinic.

I don't know if this is true, but I've heard that the budget for the Denver police force cut pretty severely. I wonder if the Denver police department is watching traffic cameras more closely. I'm sure it costs less and creates a healthier bottom line to have an officer watching cameras than it does to have that officer on the street. But it's easier to pay for one officer in a room than an officer in a car. However, that officer in front of a television monitor is much less effective at deterring crime than an officer on the street.

The thing is, I believe that the police force (and many other governmental agencies) doesn't have enough money because we as a population are reluctant to pay taxes. What we seem to forget is that the taxes we pay isn't money that simply evaporates from our personal bank accounts ~ our taxes fund our civilization. I wonder if there's a direct correlation ~ is it true that the less taxes we're willing to pay, the less civilized we become as a society?

Maybe so, maybe not ~ but I do believe that if we paid more in taxes, I would have been less likely to receive a traffic ticket. Plus, then we would have more police officers working on the street on crime that actually endangers other people.



  1. In Douglas County, I got an in-person ticket for not doing a complete stop at 7am coming out of our cul de sac - just a warning. No sickness, but no coffee. In this case, couldn't the police go somewhere other than the quiet neighborhood and look for real crimes with tax $? Then again, real crimes in Douglas County at 7am? It's almost like the camera, but I did get a warning.

  2. Matthew - As I've watched firsthand the proliferation of photo radar vans and photo cameras at intersections in the Denver area, there's something in me deep down inside that's been increasingly troubled. The easy "explanation" is to claim, "big brother", but I found the question you posed (the less taxes we pay the more uncivilized we become) to take it to a deeper level. But be of good cheer: my daughter, who lives in LA, had the exact same infraction as you (slowed down but didn't come to a "complete" stop at a right hand turn with NO ONE in sight - other than the video cameras, that is). Her ticket? Over $600. I was incensed. As I looked at the fine print, the ticket itself was about $105. The rest? "Assorted fees" (read: budget shortfall). And, oh yeah, I know where you are, Mr. Blue photo radar van, who parks in the LEFT/PASSING lane of northbound Santa Fe just north of Mississippi, taking photos of those who fail to negotiate going from 55 mph to 25 mph in a very short distance. Nice trap.

  3. I think it doesn't matter if you are sick, or if you almost stopped....if you ran the red light it's obvious that the law was broken, so they have all the arguments to give you a ticket...
    What you can do is to hire a lawyer and try to get out of this especially if you were at a clinic and they gave you something to attest your presence there...this is the only way you can avoid the penalty.

    1. As I note in the post, it certainly is obvious that I broke the law. What I guess I didn't make clear was the truth that I have no intention of trying to get out of the ticket. I broke the law, got caught, and have already willingly paid the fine. My point was less about the ticket, and more about the fact that we're reluctant to pay enough taxes in this country. I'll try to work on my writing, so that what I'm trying to say doesn't get lost in other details.