Instigator / Pro

Resolved: The US should abolish traffic cameras


The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

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After not so many votes...

It's a tie!
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Three days
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Two weeks
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Contender / Con

== Definitions ==
For the purpose of this debate, traffic cameras will be defined as any device used to catch drivers violating traffic laws and enabling the state to issue citation to the said driver (I.e. red light cameras and speeding cameras) without a sworn police officer present.

== Structure ==
1. Opening arguments
2. Rebuttals
3. Rebuttals
4. Closing

10,000 characters maximum.

Round 1
Thank you for accepting this debate.


1. Overview

Traffic cameras give police and municipalities the ability to remotely enforce traffic laws. The most common form of traffic cameras in the United States are red light cameras that are designed to catch those running a red light; and speed cameras which are designed to catch those who are speeding. {1} In this debate I will be arguing on both constitutional law and on empirical evidence.

2. Traffic cameras violate the United States Constitution

There are several amendments that traffic cameras violate. According to the US Constitution it is incumbent upon the state to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that you committed the traffic violation.

A. The Fifth Amendment

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

B. The Sixth Amendment

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

There are two constitutional issues in question. The 5th amendment guarantees the right to due process and the sixth amendment guarantees the right to confront the witness against him. It is obvious why traffic cameras violate the sixth amendment. Traffic cameras are inanimate objects that cannot be cross-examined. In People v. Khaled, the California Superior Court ruled (2):

We hold that the trial court erred in admitting the photographs and the accompanying declaration over the appellant's hearsay and confrontation clause objections. Absent the photographs and content in the declaration, there is insufficient evidence to support the violation. Accordingly we reverse the judgment.

The underlying facts in this case are fairly simple. No police officer witnessed the alleged traffic violation. Instead, a police officer testified about the general area depicted in a photograph taken from a camera installed at an intersection in Santa Ana. A particular private company contracts with the municipality to install, maintain, and store this digital photographic information. The officer testified these photographs are then periodically sent back to the police department for review as possible driving violations...the photographs contain hearsay evidence concerning the matters depicted in the photographs including the date, time, and other information. The person who entered that relevant information into the camera-computer system did not testify.
An Ohio court ruled that traffic light tickets violate due process and threw out multiple tickets (3):

The Fifth Amendment ensures (in part) that people are not deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of the law. The Ohio Constitution allows for a person facing penalties to defend themselves based on evidence, testimony and questioning of witnesses. In this specific case, the “witness” for a hearing would a be a representative from the city of Elmwood Place who would read a report provided by the company which owns the traffic cameras — who have a financial stake in the process.

Traffic cameras such as these presume guilt, and do not provide motorists with the opportunity of a fair hearing because a machine is unable to make a determination on why a traffic law was potentially violated. A police officer who has witnessed a traffic violation can, but a camera cannot. 
3. Cost-Benefit Analysis

A. Accidents

The primary argument in favor of traffic cameras is that they reduce accidents. The evidence, however, is mixed on this. The majority of evidence seems to show that red light cameras increase accidents and that they do not improve public safety (4). 

"Once drivers knew about the cameras, they appeared to accept a higher accident risk from slamming on their brakes at yellow lights to avoid an expensive traffic citation—thereby decreasing safety for themselves and other drivers," said Justin Gallagher, an assistant professor of economics at Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve.

In Houston, the installation of the cameras led to 18 percent more non-angle accidents, with an estimated 28 percent jump in these collisions in a combined Houston-Dallas data sample, researchers found.

"There is no reason to believe that there is a reduction in overall accidents thanks to red-light cameras," Gallagher said. "Our analysis does not support the case that the cameras improve public safety, which is one of the main justifications used by public officials and law enforcement."

John Moore Williams notes (5):

All in all, it seems like red light cameras are at worst dangerous, and at best only variably effective on an intersection-by-intersection basis.

B. Accuracy

Traffic cameras, especially speed cameras, have been shown to be highly inaccurate at times. When Baltimore (where I live) first installed speed cameras by schools they found that the majority of these tickets were given in error and the city and county were forced to shut them down (6). In once incident in New Orleans a parked car was given a ticket instead of the speeding cop and was given two additional tickets that were also in error (7). 

4. Corruption

Because most traffic cameras are run by for-profit companies and those companies get a portion of the ticket revenue traffic cameras encourage corruption. For example, traffic cameras have encouraged municipalities to reduce yellow light time which caused a huge increase in ticket revenue (8):

The 10 News Investigators discovered the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) quietly changed the state’s policy on yellow intervals in 2011, reducing the minimum below federal recommendations. The rule change was followed by engineers, both from FDOT and local municipalities, collaborating to shorten the length of yellow lights at key intersections, specifically those with red light cameras (RLCs).
While yellow light times were reduced by mere fractions of a second, research indicates a half-second reduction in the interval can double the number of RLC citations — and the revenue they create. The 10 News investigation stemmed from a December discovery of a dangerously short yellow light in Hernando County. After the story aired, the county promised to re-time all of its intersections, and the 10 News Investigators promised to dig into yellow light timing all across Tampa Bay.
Chicago has also been forced to return over 38 million dollars of ticket revenue due to such corruption (9).

5. Conclusion

Traffic cameras are an ineffective way to reduce accidents, violate the Constitution on multiple grounds, encourage corruption, and have been shown to be less than accurate. 

Please vote pro. Thank you. 

6. Sources

In a world where police officers regularly lie on innocent people[1][2], traffic cameras are one of the greatest inventions ever designed to assist the justice system and are crucial to giving people a fair and just hearing as well as outright saving lives. Because of this, I strongly reject the resolution and would instead propose that the US not only keep traffic cameras, but that the federal government incentivize states to DRASTICALLY INCREASE the amount of cameras they have, the level of quality they retain, the amount of footage they can maintain and the amount of public roadway they can film!

CON Contention #1: Traffic cameras are superior to eye-witness testimony.

Whenever someone wishes to contest a traffic ticket, they are offered with the opportunity to be heard before a court of law. In areas where there are no traffic cameras, the patrolling officer who handed out the ticket is typically called to testify.[3] The officer will generally testify based on what he/she mentioned in his/her report and you will then have the opportunity to cross-examine him/her. The problem is that the judge is generally going to side with officer no matter what[4], making it a very rigged process. And this is in spite of the well-known flaws with eyewitness identification testimony.[5] 

Traffic-cameras are superior because they can plainly detail the entire incident without relying on the words of a potentially dishonest/forgetful police officer.[6] A video is cold, unbiased and not subject to concerns like meeting a certain traffic ticket quota[7], trying to justify a racist pre-textual stop[8] or trying to justify a repeated effort to sexually harass young women.[9]. Traffic-cameras level the playing the field to where an average citizen can readily contest a traffic violation without having to worry about the institutional biases towards police officers in the judicial system.

CON Contention #2: Traffic cameras save lives!
Perhaps the true genius in the implementation of traffic cameras is that they deter activities that statistically cause car accidents. Questionable outlier research aside, the raw data speaks for itself:[10][11][12][13][14]

A report presented this week to the Governors Highway Safety Association projected that more than 21,000 deaths or serious injuries could be prevented with nationwide use of speed cameras. Researchers for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety examined a program put in place by Montgomery County in 2007 and compared its experience with that of Fairfax County, where speed cameras are not used. They found a 59 percent decrease in the likelihood of a motorist in Montgomery County exceeding the speed limit by 10 mph or more. And because speed is a factor in more than 50 percent of fatal crash reports, getting drivers to slow down translates into saved lives and fewer injuries.
Cameras are an effective and efficient means of changing behavior. Fewer people will speed if there is a likelihood of being ticketed. Exclusively using police officers for traffic enforcement is neither realistic nor desirable: not realistic, because of other demands on their time; not desirable, because cameras enforce the law without the biases that can accompany traffic stops.

Red-light cameras are making communities safer across the country. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety analyzed the impact of photo enforcement on intersection fatality rates in 99 large U.S. cities from 2004 to 2008. It found that red-light safety cameras reduced fatal crashes by 24 percent. The IIHS study said that had cameras been deployed in all major U.S. cities during that time period, a total of 815 deaths could have been prevented. In 2009 alone, 676 people were killed and 113,000 were injured in crashes involving red-light running, according to IIHS. Two thirds of those killed were pedestrians, bicyclists, passengers of the red-light runners, or occupants of other vehicles.
I evaluate whether speed enforcement cameras reduce the number and severity of traffic accidents by penalizing drivers for exceeding speed limits. Relying on micro data on accidents and speed cameras across Great Britain, I find that installing these devices significantly enhance road safety. Putting another 1,000 cameras could reduce up to 1130 collisions, 330 serious injuries, and save 190 lives annually, generating net benefits of around 21 million pounds. These effects are, however, highly localized around the camera and there are suggestive evidences of more crashes away from the camera, illustrating the possible limitations associated with fixed speed cameras. 
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety looked at 14 cities that ended their red-light camera programs between 2010 and 2014. Researchers compared the annual crash rates in those cities with those of 29 others in the same regions that continued using red-light cameras.
The numbers tell a sobering story. In those cities that turned off their cameras, the rate of fatal crashes involving a driver who sped through a red light was 30 percent higher per capita than if the cameras had remained functional, according to the research. The overall fatal crash rate at signalized intersections in those cities was likewise 16 percent higher per capita.
From the time they went into operation through 2014, red-light cameras across all 79 large U.S. cities included in the study saved nearly 1,300 lives, IIHS concluded.
Speed cameras can substantially reduce the likelihood of deadly collisions and result in long-term changes in driver behavior. If all U.S. communities had speed-camera programs like the one recently studied, some 21,000 deaths or serious injuries would have been prevented in 2013.
. . .
The study was based in Montgomery County, Md., a large community near Washington, D.C., where speed cameras were introduced in 2007 and used on residential streets with speed limits of 35 mph or less and in school zones. After seven years, cameras reduced the likelihood of a driver exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph by 59 percent, compared with similar roads in two nearby Virginia counties that did not have speed cameras, according to the study.

Due to PRO’s stipulations in the description, I am forbidden from engaging his counter-data at this time, but am look forward to dismantling it in my R2. In the mean time, what I will say is that an overwhelming number of sources indicate that speeding cameras deter people from speeding and red light cameras deter people from running through red lights. Illegal activities which are readily known to cause accidents.[15][16] Thus, there is no question that traffic cameras save lives.
No matter how you look at it, traffic cameras make our country a much better place to live in! A vote for CON is a vote for the judicial integrity and the safety of America!

Round 2
Thank you for your response. I am running low on time so I apologize that my argument isn't as well formed as I'd like it to be.


1. Points of Agreement

There are several points of agreement between myself and my opponent. We both agree that traffic laws are important and that they should be enforced. Con is absolutely correct that traffic stops are often racially biased and often disproportionately hurt the lower class. In my view the entire police force as it is now is rotten to the core. However as I mentioned in round 1, cameras often increase police corruption. Traffic lights are often installed by for-profit corporations that get a huge cut of the traffic revenue that is generated. Privatizing an important part of the police work makes things worse.

As I mentioned in round 1 one of the most important legal protection is the right to face your accuser in a court of law. When you go to traffic court at least you have the ability to fight it. Cameras amount to hearsay evidence which is inadmissible in court as The Law Dictionary notes (1):

One can try arguing that the photograph is hearsay and is therefore inadmissible under the Sixth Amendment. It is hearsay because you cannot cross examine the photograph or the camera. The Sixth Amendment gives defendants the right to confront their accuser.

Thus con's cure is far worse than the disease. 

2. Traffic Cameras Save Lives

This contention is going to be the bulk of the debate. There are two conflicting interest in play. First is the rights set forth by the constitution that allows us to confront our accuser vs traffic lights that sometimes do save lives. I presented evidence in round 1 that shows traffic cameras increasing accidents at some intersections. Unfortunately I do not have the time to go into detail on each of these studies. I will now present a counter plan that will take care of both interest. 

3. The Counter Plan

There are better ways to reducing accidents caused by red light running and speeding that are both constitutional and reasonable. 

A. Increase yellow light times

Increasing yellow light time has been shown to be vital to stopping accidents (2):

A before-after study is described and the resulting data used to quantify the effect of increasing the yellow interval on the frequency of red-light violations. Based on this research, it was concluded that: (1) an increase of 0.5 to 1.5 s in yellow duration (such that it does not exceed 5.5 s) will decrease the frequency of red-light-running by at least 50 percent; (2) drivers do adapt to the increase in yellow duration; however, this adaptation does not undo the benefit of an increase in yellow duration; and (3) increasing a yellow interval that is shorter than that obtained from a proposed recommended practice published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) is likely to yield the greatest return (in terms of a reduced number of red-light violations) relative to the cost of re-timing an interval in the field. 
Another report from the US House of Reps (3):

This report suggests there is something that can be done to address this hazard. It cites examples of problem intersections where yellow times have been raised by about 30 percent and the number of people entering on red fell dramatically. It cites, in addition, controlled scientific studies that confirm the hypothesis that longer yellows are better. The following reductions in red light entries are documented: Mesa, Arizona 73% Georgia 75% Virginia site 1 79% Virginia site 2 77% Virginia site 3 Problem “virtually eliminated” Maryland Problem “virtually eliminated” It is no coincidence that each of the “problem” intersections mentioned above happened to have yellow times that fell short by about 30 percent. Today’s formula for calculating yellow times yields yellow times that can in some cases be about 30 percent shorter than the older formula.

before red light cameras arrived in the United States, that’s exactly what our regulations instructed them to do. If too many people enter on red at an intersection, engineers were supposed to lengthen its yellow time. But in the year that red light cameras first started collecting millions in revenue on our shores, those entrusted with developing our traffic safety regulations dropped the requirement to fix signal timing, instructing engineers to “use enforcement” instead.

Transportation officials and engineers know that the yellow signal timing is essential to safety. The data showing this to be the case are found in their studies. Nonetheless, some have systematically and intentionally ignored the inescapable engineering fact that longer yellows would solve the so-called crisis caused by shortened yellows.
And another here (4):

Engineering solutions and an extra second of yellow duration made red light cameras a money loser in San Carlos, California.
B. Reduce the Speed Limit

This is an obvious solution that lowering the speed limit. The World Health Organization notes:

[C]ountries that have embraced a comprehensive approach to road safety, such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, have had the most success in reducing their rates of death and injury from automobile accidents. These countries have made it a high priority to reduce rates of speeding, and they have taken steps to improve the safety of their roads, vehicles, drivers, and all others who use roads, including pedestrians and motorcyclists.

For example, proactive countries have built their roads to include features that calm traffic, such as roundabouts. They have also established speed limits tailored to local road conditions, while stepping up enforcement to deter traffic violations. And they have begun to require that all new cars include life-saving technologies such as autonomous emergency braking.

Improving road safety is one of the biggest opportunities we have to save lives around the world. And the good news is that, starting with the solutions outlined above, we already know how to do it. 

4. Conclusion

Do we really want a world where privatized companies help to enforce traffic laws? All what traffic enforcement cameras do is encourage corruption between the police force and the private for-profit companies. The best way to reduce traffic deaths is to engineer the roads to calm traffic.

Vote pro!

5. Sources

I thank PRO for the response and for his cordial demeanor. Cheers to a good debate!
Re PRO Contention #1: Traffic cameras violate the United States Constitution

PRO spends a lot of his time insisting that traffic cameras violate the Constitution. In his first round, he says they violate the 5th Amendment right to due process and the 6th Amendment’s confrontation clause. PRO’s due process concerns are that traffic cameras presume guilt and thus do not provide an individual with the opportunity to have a fair hearing PRO’s confrontation clause concerns are inanimate objects and therefore cannot be cross-examined. PRO bases his argument on a California Superior Court ruling in People v. Khaled, (2010). Unfortunately for PRO, the California Court of Appeals has long overruled the holding he is relying upon based on its January 13, 2015 ruling in People v. Borzakian.[1][2].

Traffic Cameras do NOT violate the 5th Amendment

The problem with PRO’s 5th Amendment due process clause argument is that the actual traffic camera footage makes no presumptions whatsoever. It’s simply footage. It is what it is. If you want to contest the government’s conclusion’s regarding the footage (i.e. you were speeding), you are welcome to have a hearing on it. That’s what the defendants in Khaled and Borzakian did. If the camera footage does not show you breaking the law, you can go to court and get the ticket thrown out using the camera footage as proof of your innocence.

Traffic Cameras do NOT violate the 6th Amendment

The problem with PRO’s 6th Amendment confrontation clause argument is that it completely disregards the meaning of hearsay. To those who don’t practice law, hearings and trials adhere to what we call “The Rules of Evidence.” Each State has their own set of rules with minor differences here and there, but they all agree on what constitutes hearsay. Hearsay is an out-of-court statement submitted for the truth of the matter asserted.[3] The problem with out-of-court statements is that the person making those statements did not make them under oath and penalty of perjury and thus there is generally no way to assure that said statement is trustworthy. Photographs and video footage do not have this problem because they are not statements. You cannot cross-examine a photograph or a video tape because there are no statements to cross-examine.

The only evidentiary question regarding photographs and cameras is authentication. In order to get a photograph or a video admitted into evidence, you have to establish that it is what you say it is.[4] In the case of footage, how do we know the footage was collected on the date the government said it was collected? How do we know that your car was the car that ran through the red light, as government alleges? A witness must establish these things and that witness must be knowledgeable. In the case of Khaled, the police officer used to authenticate the traffic camera footage was testifying about electronic records he had no personal knowledge of. An objection against his testimony would therefore be appropriate. This is, however, not grounds to conclude traffic cameras are not constitutional, but instead grounds to conclude that the prosecuting attorney is incompetent for not calling a knowledgeable witness to testify.

PRO’s philosophy would create a dangerous precedent

Can you imagine what would happen in California had the Khaled opinion NOT been overruled? Can you imagine what would happen if more courts in other states adopted PRO’s notion that mere photographs and camera footage should be inadmissible? It would be complete chaos for our justice system. Imagine the case of prosecuting attorneys using the surveillance footage of a bank robber robbing the bank and killing hostages to prosecute said robber for armed robbery and felony murder. By PRO’s logic, that evidence is inadmissible hearsay since the footage cannot be cross-examined.  That is simply not how the rules of evidence works and the people of California should be thankful that their appellate court promptly overruled the precedentially suicidal opinion PRO is relying upon.

Re: PRO Contention #2: Traffic cameras increase accidents and are inaccurate

PRO tells us that traffic-cameras increase non-angle accidents and that they can be highly inaccurate at times. Specifically, he says they increase non-angle accidents because some study out in Houston found that there was an 18% increase in such accidents after traffic cameras were installed. He says they’re inaccurate because a majority of cameras in Baltimore were given in error when traffic cameras were first installed and that a traffic camera was even used to issue a speeding ticket against someone whose car was parked. Neither argument is persuasive however.

PRO’s study suggesting that traffic cameras increase accidents is a statistical outlier and relies on bad logic to reach its conclusion.

PRO provided us with a study conducted by Case Western Reserve University to conclude that traffic cameras increased non-angle car accidents.[5] Based on data it had examined in Houston, PRO’s study concluded that “Once drivers knew about the cameras, they appeared to accept a higher accident risk from slamming on their brakes at yellow lights to avoid an expensive traffic citation—thereby decreasing safety for themselves and other drivers.” Here, we see the non-sequitur fallacy at work. By the study’s own logic, the problem isn’t the traffic cameras themselves, but the fact that non-law abiding citizens don’t know about the traffic cameras and thus slam their brakes when caught off guard by their presence. To which I offer a straightforward solution: Simply post signs in the area alerting drivers that traffic cameras are nearby and that they will receive a ticket should they speed or run the red light. And for those of who use apps like google maps, an audio alert could be added to give the driver advanced notice. Problem solved.

PRO’s study further says “There is clear evidence that installing a camera reduces the number of vehicles running a red light” and that is all we need to know. Refer back to my cites 15 and 16 from my R1. Ergo, PRO’s study implicitly admits that traffic cameras save lives. Throw in all of my R1 sources on this topic and it’s very clear that PRO has offered us nothing more than an outlier against what is otherwise a wide consensus.

PRO’s bad-accuracy examples strengthen my case

PRO cited examples of traffic cameras issuing erroneous tickets. This can and does happen. Although technology is constantly improving, it is not without error. Fortunately, that’s the beauty of the US having a judicial system that allows people to contest these tickets. Lets look at the example of the gentleman getting a speeding ticket despite having his car parked. See PRO’s source on this. That gentleman promptly got his ticket thrown out after making the court aware of this mistake. Now imagine if instead of a traffic camera giving him this ticket, it was an otherwise crooked police officer. What do you think would have happened? Both this gentleman and the police officer would’ve gone to court, the police officer would have lied on the stand, the judge would’ve believed the police officer (see my R1 cite #4) and the gentleman would’ve been up a creak without a paddle. We’re far better off in the hands of a traffic camera making a mistake as opposed to a police officer. We can prove our innocence with the former, but generally have no recourse with the latter.

Re: PRO Contention #3: Traffic cameras open the door for corruption

PRO argues that traffic cameras have encouraged municipalities to do all kinds of shady things like decrease the yellow-light time in order to “catch more people” and increase ticket revenue as a result. PRO’s argument is a classic case of trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

PRO’s problem has nothing to do with abolishing traffic cameras

Lets assume PRO is correct and shortening yellow-light intervals is the problem. If that’s the case, why not pass legislation that keeps cities from doing this? By PRO’s logic, we would get the best of both worlds and cities wouldn’t be able to corruptly increase ticket-revenue regardless of contracting with private companies. There is nothing inherently wrong with cities contracting with private companies. Many modern municipalities would not be able to function without doing this.[6]. The problem is when these cities deliberately change the law for no reason other than to increase revenue. That IS corrupt and something that can be dealt with without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
CON Contention #1: Traffic cameras are superior to eye-witness testimony.

PRO doesn’t object to this contention and instead argues that camera footage is inadmissible hearsay. See above.

CON Contention #2: Traffic cameras save lives!

PRO presents a counter-plan to save people’s lives. He says we should increase yellow light times and reduce speed limits. Increasing yellow light times does not hinder my case, so I don’t have a problem with it. PRO’s burden will be to show why we can’t do both. As to his speed limit reduction proposal, (1) That too is not mutually exclusive with having traffic cameras and (2) It’s a terrible idea in light of how truly and uniquely terrible traffic is in the US.[7][8] Imagine living in a city like Houston, Texas and having grown used to it taking you 3 hours to get to work. Now imagine it now taking 6 hours due to PRO’s proposal to cut the speed limit. No Just no. Any solution that makes the traffic nightmare in the US even worse than it already is is just not a good solution.

And that’ll do it for now!


Round 3
I’m sorry to my opponent but I’m gonna have to forfeit this round. Too much school work and I picked a bad time to do this debate. Right in the middle of mid terms 
Voters, please pay no mind to the forfeit. I'll also waive the rules and permit PRO to rebut my arguments in his remaining round. 
Round 4
Thanks for the debate!  Vote CON!