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Traffic cameras: saving lives or just generating revenue?

Traffic cameras have been controversial for several years now. Posted at intersections to catch motorists running red lights, some say they save lives and prevent serious auto accidents. Others argue they merely generate revenue by flagging drivers who ordinarily wouldn't be issued tickets. The practice is so polarizing that some cities are taking the cameras down altogether.

According to the Wall Street Journal, over 550 areas have installed the cameras since the early 1990s. Most major cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, have used the cameras. While the cameras have grown in popularity, officials in many areas, including Tennessee, are considering doing away with the devices.

Some believe the cameras are cost-effective and save lives because people slow down and drive more cautiously when they know cameras are present.

Others beg to differ, saying the cameras have succeeded in ticketing drivers and raising revenue, but have done little to actually reduce accidents, property damage and bodily injury. Los Angeles, Colorado Springs and Houston are among the cities that have recently deactivated the devices. Other areas, such as Albuquerque, are currently debating whether to do so.

One problem is that drivers feel blindsided when they receive a ticket in the mail. One expert says drivers tend to be more accepting of being ticketed if they are actually stopped by a police officer.

Another problem is that the system does not allow drivers to argue their case. Sometimes it can't be proved who is driving the vehicles in question.

If the cameras really save lives, though, should that matter? What do you think? Should Knoxville keep its cameras?

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Cities blink on traffic cameras," Nathan Koppel, Nov. 7, 2011

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