Day: April 7, 2007

Idiots behind the wheel

Well. Today’s idiot actually made Idiot Letter of the Day for a simple-minded and fallacious argument against the Minnesota Supreme Court’s upholding of the decision barring Minneapolis from using the photo-cop system.

The background, for those of you who aren’t aware, is that a couple of years ago Minneapolis installed red-light cameras at ten intersections in the city and started issuing citations based on license plate numbers of cars photographed running red lights. Of course, the tickets were sent to the registered owner of the car rather than the driver, because a camera is incapable of determining who the driver of the car was. The system was then shut off by a decision from a Hennepin County judge (which was upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals and now by the Minnesota Supreme Court) because state law states:

The driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of any official traffic-control device applicable thereto placed in accordance with the provisions of this chapter, unless otherwise directed by a traffic or police officer, subject to the exceptions granted the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle in this chapter. [emphasis added]

Today’s idiot wrote

Can someone please explain to me how it can be illegal to issue a ticket based on a PhotoCop picture yet it is perfectly legal to ticket someone whose car is parked illegally? If PhotoCop tickets are unconstitutional because you can’t prove who was driving the car, how can a parking ticket be constitutional? You can’t tell who parked the car.

For starters, the reason the photo-cop system was overturned was because the municipal statute was in conflict with state law which specifies that drivers, not vehicle owners, are responsible for obeying traffic signals. It was not overturned on constitutional grounds. Therefore, the letter writer is an idiot.

Secondly, if the writer is suggesting that photo-cop should be valid because parking tickets are valid (not explicitly stated by the writer, but I suspect that’s the point, rather than arguing that parking tickets should also be invalid) it’s necessary to point out that two wrongs don’t make a right. If we have to accept that parking tickets are issued to the wrong person but are acceptable because there’s no reasonable way to issue them to the person who left the car, it is not the case with red-light runners. We have a time-tested way of dealing with drivers who break the law: they get pulled over. If we don’t want to increase taxes to pay for more cops, then tough. It doesn’t mean that we shift the burden of proof away from the state.

Further, if we actually want to talk about constitutional issues, it doesn’t take a lot of thinking to realize that there’s a difference between a car sitting by itself where it shouldn’t be and a car being driven through a red light with a driver behind the wheel.

In the latter case, the driver is clearly responsible for the action of the car; the owner has nothing to do with it. In the former case however, there’s no problem until the driver is no longer present. If the driver is in the car, it’s not parked. (If there’s a no stopping rule in effect, the driver would be cited, not the car’s owner.) If a car is parked illegally, it logically means there’s no driver. Therefore, there’s no one who can reasonably be held responsible other than the owner and therefore the letter writer is still an idiot.