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Stopping wrongs on red

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Column by Jim Flynn

Sometimes we’re moved to write a column which is likely to infuriate a few readers and aggravate others. Opinion writing can be a tricky business.

Letters to editors about the gotcha cameras at certain intersections in Dunnellon have generated an issue with legs. In other words it won’t go away. And it shouldn’t. It’s an example of local democracy in action.

Dunnellon’s cameras are intended to capture sliding-stop right turns at red lights. Here’s a sampling of citizen objections: Yellow lights are too short. Fines are too high. A police officer should see the infraction. Cameras are inappropriate for small towns. The statute is confused. There should be right-turn lanes. My car is guilty; a neighbor was driving it. It’s a violation of privacy. Red light cameras can cause paranoia (a delusion of being persecuted).

Driver paranoia is healthy. We try to practice it every time we’re behind the wheel. We assume that every vehicle on the road is out to get us. It’s called defensive driving.

When entering the main thoroughfare from our neighborhood we frequently encounter vehicles sliding slowly through a red light from our right, as we try to proceed straight ahead on green. Rolling stops at red lights are an epidemic.

We’re in favor of any discussion which may make our roads safer. It’s a rare edition of our daily papers which doesn’t report a road death – twenty-five hundred last year in Florida. State officials applauded the improvement over twenty-nine hundred the prior year, but it’s still a lot of folks who aren’t with us any more.

How many accidents are preventable? Probably most. Momentary inattention beats out mechanical malfunction a hundred to one, sometimes caused by substance abuse, but more often by stupidity.

Our new age of twenty-four hour chit-chat while driving has multiplied the moments of inattention. It’s amazing how many folks are talking on their phones while backing out of their driveways and all the way to anywhere. We wonder whether they suffer from separation anxiety disorder, a distress which has enriched social networks, twitter, and telephone companies.

Getting back to the Dunnellon brouhaha, most complaints generated by the peeping cameras are solvable by reasonable administrative action. However, attitudes which insist cameras are sneaky are irresponsible and deserve to be ignored. Defending a little law-bending is indifference to public safety.

In addition to internet snooping and social networks, our lives are under constant surveillance by cameras in shopping plazas, stores, banks, many public places and intersections in many states. The conveniences of a high-tech world are accompanied by the likelihood of getting caught at embarrassing moments.

Some states still have annual town meetings, at which citizens can air their opinions on town issues and how well or badly the town fathers are performing. Dunnellon’s open meeting on May 11 to hear citizen concerns about cameras is that kind of old-fashioned democracy and the right tonic for the controversy.

There was a time when local government was the heart and soul of the nation. We complain about the over-reaching intrusions of Washington and Tallahassee, but sometimes aren’t supportive when local government tries to do the right thing. We hope the Dunnellon town fathers stick to their guns in support of public safety.