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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Over-enforcement of traffic laws ruins lives

I just find it an annoyance -- every few years I inadvertently go a bit too fast and I get pulled over.  Maybe once every 50,000 miles.  And recently, I've gotten two photo-enforcement tickets.  The result is an annoyance -- I have to pay some money -- I think the worst has been $150 or so, and my insurance rates go up, even though I've never had an accident and never filed a claim.  So it's annoying and it's unfair and it's inefficient.  If I'm speeding, it's typically very temporary and I'm not going abnormally faster than anyone else on the road.  There's no danger.  But somebody has to make money, and it's the every-more-prevalent urge to make money without actually MAKING SOMETHING or somehow making the world a better place.

I acknowledge that this is a tricky issue.  I actually think on the whole, the idea of having cops patrolling the highways isn't such a bad thing -- they can be there to help when there's an accident, and they can stop the truly dangerous drivers.  And yes, it's also important that the speed limits be enforced, at least to some extent (if you're going more than 15 mph over the speed limit, you're risking getting caught).  So even though I'm annoyed by what I see as over-enforcement, in the end I have to admit it's my own fault -- I just need to be more careful 100% of the time.  If the alternative is some kind of automatic enforcement -- like photo enforcement -- such that everybody gets a ticket when they go above a certain speed, I tend to prefer extra "chances" I get with human police.

But today's WashingtonPost article by Rodney Balko reminded me that once again, what for me might be an annoyance is for many people a devastating and life crushing defeat.   The article is extremely long and full of anecdotes, but the upshot is this:  poor people get pulled over a lot more than rich people,  I'm talking about what defense lawyers in Missouri call “poverty violations” -- driving with a suspended license, expired plates, expired registration, and a failure to provide proof of insurance -- all violations that tend to occur if you're poor and have to make hard choices about how to spend your money.  Anyway, the poor tend to rack up these violations, and then they can't afford the fines, and eventually warrants issue, and the poor are thrown in jail.  All because of a few traffic violations.

I don't have a solution.  I think some of these "poverty violations" are problems -- cars should have current registrations, people should have insurance etc.  But there's something wrong when people get thrown in jail over this stuff.

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