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Seeing Red in Ringgold: Speed Cameras, Conservative Leaders, and Angry Citizens
Speed Cameras Come to Ringgold, GA
One of the most curious aspects of politics in the south is that local elected officials and their supporters often champion ideas and actions that are diametrically opposed to what they claim to stand for.
In Ringgold, Georgia, leaders parade this dissonance with alarming regularity. The officials there are all proud conservatives. We know this because they told us. And conservative republican voters dominate every election in northwest Georgia. It’s the reddest part of the country. This fact is even a selling point to attract businesses and citizens looking to leave locales dominated by the opposite political persuasion.
Yet, the dissonance is stark and unending despite the claimed beliefs and voting behaviors. Economic liberty and property rights were rejected in 2021 as onerous zoning ordinance changes were embraced. Then they lost their minds when a small business owner flirted with the possibility of getting his businesses de-annexed last year. Supporters of the “conservative” elected officials rallied around them in each instance.
And now, the leaders of this charming southern town have done it again. Recently, speed cameras were installed and activated in the school zone along Tennessee St near Ringgold Middle School. Speed camera deployment in Georgia school zones has increased sharply since 2021.
When the Ringgold speed cameras were announced, the primary argument in favor was student and public safety. It’s for the children, always. To back up the claim that safety concerns justify the cameras, the press release revealed that “speed studies were conducted during school hours for a five-day period to see how many vehicles were speeding through the school zones. Over a 5-day period, we had 1,562 speeding vehicles.”
Detailed information from the speed study was not mentioned in the press release. It would be helpful to know the breakout for vehicle speeds. Were most speeders under 40 mph or within a range closer to the speed limit, or were people speeding at breakneck speeds? The information provided by just saying X vehicles speeding is all but useless for determining how to address a safety situation.
More importantly, though, Ringgold leaders did not mention that the study was conducted by the same company that would supply the speed camera system now in place. Does this matter? I think it must.
For the sake of argument, let's assume that it doesn't matter and that there is a safety concern and speed is an issue in the school zone, as has been claimed. After all, citizens who voiced concerns about speeding in the area should be trusted. The question then becomes what to do about it.
True to form, Ringgold's leadership went for a sledgehammer approach first and did not look back. The principle of limited government was surely absent in their thinking.
Automated speed enforcement cameras were the sledgehammer of choice. Free of charge, a private company provides the city government with a speed detection and camera system and handles all aspects of citation and collection. The owner of any vehicle exceeding the speed limit by 11 mph receives a letter informing them of the civil violation and requiring payment. In contracts like this elsewhere, the company keeps approximately a third of the fees paid under these types of agreements, and the rest is paid to the government(s). If this seems like an end-run to fleece citizens of more money without the political uproar from raising taxes, that is because it is.
Even worse, it does not even solve the problem. In reality, speed cameras mislead people into thinking the problem is solved while simply coercing citizens with the threat of financial penalties. Citizens will still speed, some will pay, and others won't, but Ringgold will not end the problem of speeding on this street with this approach.
What Might An Alternative Approach Look Like?
The real solution to drivers speeding is to look at the street design and engineering. People will drive fast if the street is designed in a way that allows higher speeds. If streets are designed differently, drivers will behave differently. Imagine yourself driving like it’s a normal day. You might be talking to a passenger in the vehicle or thinking about where to go for vacation this year. Imagine the street you are driving on looks like one of the streets in the picture below. Both streets have a posted speed limit of 20 MPH. Which street are you more likely to speed on? This illustrates the principle that the design of the street environment matters far more than the posted speed limit or any coercive compliance devices.
A wide variety of engineering solutions could have been used in Ringgold instead of speed cameras, such as speed bumps, tree planting, landscaping, and alternative crosswalks/intersections designs. However, none of those options are revenue-producing for the city. I highly recommend watching an excellent keynote address by Chuck Marohn, a civil engineer who explains street and road design in a straightforward way and explains a better approach to transportation problems.
Why Oppose Speed Cameras
Speed cameras offer leaders with a control slant a holy grail of insidious benefits: taking citizens' property (through fines) without due process and conditioning the population to accept future infringements upon liberty, privacy, and property. And make no mistake, those assaults are an unavoidable part of a free society.
For evidence, look no further than Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. He is the patron saint for speed cameras and surveillance these days. Mayor Pete has been pushing speed cameras since the passage of the infrastructure bill. The vision he has for the United States is a surveillance state with cameras lining every street and highway. Then, most traffic enforcement would be automated, with software monitoring traffic violations and issuing citations immediately after they occur.
Speed cameras are the canary in the coal mine of a future heavy with chains. Sadly, many people on the left and right are blind to the fact.
In comments online about the Ringgold issue, we can see why speed cameras are the key to wider camera and surveillance deployment. The comments have been mostly those of vociferous support. If this strikes you as odd, given the dystopian and tyrannical road these cameras set us on, there is one phrase to remember: It’s for the children.
Few phrases in the English language have done more harm than that piece of drivel.
The cameras are for the children, they claim. They say that this is for safety. If this was about safety, bright flashing lights and huge signs would be placed ahead of the speed cameras, giving drivers maximum and repeated warnings. To ensure that no one could claim they were unaware of the cameras or the school zone, the cameras would be lime green and topped with signal lights that activated when vehicles approached. If this was about safety, the government would have first looked for and tried to use less intrusive and less coercive measures to enforce compliance.
It is important to point out that the local officials who helped implement speed cameras were not doing so for nefarious reasons. There were valid complaints about speeding and safety. And I cannot imagine anyone at the local level in rural Georgia consciously doing anything to aid in the creation of a ubiquitous surveillance and automated enforcement network like what Biden and Buttigieg are working toward.
Additionally, local law enforcement is underfunded. But I hope local leaders don't just use speed cameras to generate revenue. In the end, the city probably considered revenue generation as a secondary factor. Their goal was probably to respond to citizens and make the streets safer as quickly and easily as possible. Speed cameras are aggressively sold to fit that bill, and the extra money is a shiny bonus for a city or county.
Should elected officials and leaders in local government have considered the issue more deeply? Should they have engaged in a more open dialogue with the public about the good and bad of speed cameras and growing government surveillance in general? Absolutely! But we should not impute malicious or nefarious motives upon people whose intentions were good but short-sighted and lacking information.
The real test is whether officials double down after learning more about the issue. As I have said here, here, and here, citizens need to give politicians and leaders some credit if they admit they were wrong. It’s something near extinct in politics today. We should encourage it and reward leaders who are unafraid of taking responsibility or speaking candidly with citizens. Expecting no faults is just asking to be deceived.
Nevertheless, politicians remain politicians. Some good, some bad. I've always thought one day, politicians should record a rendition of "We Are The World." That could be their anthem, and I imagine that it plays in their heads all the time when they defend whatever affronts to liberty or schemes to circumvent the Constitution are popular on any given day. Whenever and wherever bad policy is proposed, regardless of the class, income, party, race, or gender of the person proposing it, there is one universal truth that binds all together: it's for the children. That’s the claim at least.
What About The Citations?
Several years ago, a Tennessee State Representative made a video in which he told constituents to burn their violation letters. While that may have been fine for Tennessee, I think Georgians should have a different response. Let me preface this by saying I am not an attorney, and nothing here should be taken as legal advice.
Since the cameras only capture the license plate of the vehicle allegedly speeding, there must be an inference made that the owner of the vehicle was the driver of the vehicle when it was allegedly speeding. The law provides two options for rebutting such an inference.
GA Code § 40-14-18
Such an inference may be rebutted if the owner of the vehicle:
(A) Testifies under oath in open court or submits to the court a sworn notarized statement that he or she was not the operator of the vehicle at the time of the alleged violation;
(B) Presents to the court a certified copy of a police report showing that the vehicle had been reported to the police as stolen prior to the time of the alleged violation.
The government has no way of refuting an affidavit that states that the owner of the cited vehicle was not the driver of the vehicle when it was allegedly speeding. If it did happen to have some sort of evidence to dispute such an affidavit, it would be more intriguing than the speed cameras themselves. So, I suggest every citizen who receives a violation letter follow the steps on the back to contest and schedule an in-person hearing before a judge in open court. And, as a bonus, invite your fellow citizens to attend and show solidarity.
In just five days over the study period, over 1500 vehicles were recorded in violation. Therefore, it's not unrealistic to expect 400-500 violations a week now that the cameras are active. If every single person cited follows the suggestion above, the government will face a deluge of hearings. I think that's exactly what we need: a re-acquaintance with local governments making these decisions in the first place.
Several thousand additional hearings with several thousand angry citizens would keep the wheels of justice greased up nicely and running smoothly in Ringgold.
Want to know more about speed cameras in Georgia? Jessica Szilagyi of The Georgia Virtue does God’s work in the journalistic sense. Her reporting on this issue is second to none.
And on the issue more broadly
Finally, the advances in technology aren’t all bad, and we should be optimistic. Technology can help fight the bad uses of technology. For instance, I asked the new ChatGPT artificial intelligence service to draft an affidavit to contest a speed camera violation in Georgia. This is the result:
I, [Your Name], swear and affirm under penalty of perjury that I am the registered owner of the vehicle described in the citation issued pursuant to GA Code § 40-14-18. However, I was not the operator of the vehicle at the time of the alleged violation and I have no knowledge or information as to who was operating the vehicle.
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