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That’s Just SO 1984

Cameras record naughty red-light behavior.


That's just SO 1984: Of 159 scofflaws photographed running red lights in September at a troublesome Overland Park intersection, eleven were caught on film September 11, the day Osama Bin Laden's terrorists struck the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

Perhaps the attack created a sense of urgency in drivers rushing to reach their loved ones. Or perhaps the lead-foots were on their way to John Meiner's Market on Quivira Road to stockpile gasoline at $5.63 a gallon. Either way, it was the camera's busiest day that month.

The camera at 119th and Hawthorne Plaza captures malevolent motorists as they illegally move through the intersection. The photos will not be used to issue tickets; the city is merely conducting a yearlong study. Each month, camera company TransCore is sending Overland Park traffic-engineer Brian Shields photos and data from violations. The first month's numbers indicate that red-light cameras could turn moving violators into cash cows for Overland Park and TransCore, the Arizona contractor that's taking in $63,000 from the Kansas Department of Transportation for the study.

Other states' programs reportedly have reduced traffic infractions and auto accidents, but detractors as diverse as Kansas City civil-libertarian Dick Kurtenbach and congressional Republican Dick Armey fret that George Orwell may have been right about Big Brother. Critics also argue that traffic cameras, which photograph the car and license plate but not the driver, violate a basic tenet of American justice: The burden of proof shifts from the prosecution to automobile owners, who could be ticketed whether they're driving or not.

Cities can generate millions of dollars annually with snapshots of stop-light runners, with companies such as TransCore netting as much as 50 percent of the ticket revenues.

With forty violations a week in September, 119th could prove to be Easy Street for Overland Park and TransCore, but not nearly as lucrative as the intersection at 95th and Quivira. A camera installed there in October "will probably get forty to fifty people running the light per day," Shields says.

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