Goddess mug shot

The Goddess Speaks


Tuesday, January 8, 2002

Traffic cameras
not around when
you need ’em

On Christmas Day I had a simple decision to make: Should I stop for gas on the way home from my parents' house?

It's not an easy decision for someone with a wayward imagination. Whenever I read a news story, the storyteller in me starts inventing back stories that cause people to behave the way they do or to meet in ways divine or ill-fated. When auto accidents occur, I can't help wondering about the what ifs -- what if one person had lingered on the phone just five minutes before leaving home or office? -- that would have prevented those involved from meeting at a particular time and place.

But at about 10 p.m., with the streets near empty, I decided the lunatics were resting. I stopped, filled my tank and headed on my merry way. A mile later, I was at a stop light near my old alma mater, Waipahu High, when I looked in my rearview mirror and saw him coming. He looked like a young driver, thin with poufy hair, fidgeting around in his seat and coming at me, at three cars' distance, at 50 mph. It was obvious he wasn't going to stop, and at that speed and distance, could not if he tried.

I braced myself for the worst, stepping hard on the brake to prevent from being pushed into the car in front of me. I considered the possibility of going up in a giant fireball due to my newly filled gas tank, but the thought of dying by air bag was just too embarrassing.

About three seconds later, I wondered why he hadn't hit me yet. Oh yeah, objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. Then the jolt came. And just as I was thinking, "Hey, my seat belts really worked," the light turned green and that driver sped off. In that second, in the darkness, I did not get a look at his license plate or the car, and I wondered, where are those traffic cameras when you really need them? And would they really do any good if, as I suspect, that driver had no insurance? A back panel of my Miata shattered into pieces on the ground, but the bumper is largely intact. The tail lights were not even shattered, so still able to pass the annual car safety inspection, I felt no need to get the damage repaired, at the expense of my insurance company, and therefore other drivers.

Still, I wondered, if the street cameras could not protect a typical accident victim, what are they good for? Government officials speak of installing cameras to protect citizens, but that is shibai. To protect citizens is to take bad, irresponsible drivers off the streets, and from what I can see, all the new system does is send out bills. It does nothing to take bad drivers off the road or alter the behavior of others who have learned to "go with the flow."

The prospective of paying hundreds of dollars in fines slows drivers down only in places where they believe cameras are hidden. Driving from Honolulu to Kailua at night, people will cruise at 35 mph in Nuuanu, but once past an assumed gauntlet of cameras, they readjust to 55 to 65 (the posted rate is 45, probably dating to the Model T era when that must have been fast).

You might say that the community consensus regarding safe driving on the Pali, past Nuuanu, is 55 to 65 mph, and traffic flows relatively safely at that speed. This kind of commonsense law is what police officers take into consideration when they are doing the ticketing.

But things change. New laws are conceived to protect the weak and innocent from the very stupid and irresponsible, but in this case ensnare everyone, sort of like the way everyone in my Kailua neighborhood now has to contend with the addition of six speed bumps on one street to slow just two or three people who, on the occasional late Friday or Saturday night, race home at 100 mph.

Let's just call the camera ticketing what it is, a money-making venture for a state that doesn't seem to have a whole lot of other money-making options. No one can really argue about getting ticketed. You are either obeying the law or breaking it.

But I'm not buying the "it's for your own safety" excuse. If government really wanted to protect us, the police would be confiscating cars of those clocked once too often at 75 mph or more, those drunk at the wheel, those who drive without a license and those who drive without insurance.

The rest of us who take responsibility for such details can likely be counted on to also be responsible for our driving, cameras or not.

Nadine Kam is features editor.

The Goddess Speaks runs every Tuesday
and is a column by and about women, our strengths, weaknesses,
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