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The automated cameras monitor compliance with traffic rules and use radar to check motorists’ speed. The cameras snap photos of those who break the rules. The photos, which include images of license plates, and citations are then mailed to the cars’ registered owners. State and local governments around the country have battled over the use of such cameras, with proponents of the automated system slowly winning out. Red-light cameras are now common sights in many cities.
Last year, former Clinton Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt began testing the photo radar cameras at the federal level when he had two installed on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia. The National Park Service proposed a rule last year that would allow photo radar units to be activated on park roads within the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Once finalized, however, the rule could be extended to cover any of the 5,000 miles of park roads throughout the country. Such a rule would also set a precedent for other federal and local jurisdictions to follow.
Considered a commuter route by many local residents, the George Washington Memorial Parkway runs along the Potomac River and connects historic sites from Mount Vernon to the Great Falls of the Potomac. Should the test cameras be used to enforce traffic laws on the parkway, as many as 30,000 motorists a day could receive a ticket in the mail, according to Armey.
“Activating these cameras would clearly generate significant ticket revenue,” he wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Gail Norton, urging rejection of the proposed rule. “The Park Service, without congressional approval, is planning to turn this into a revenue-raising system that issues tickets to motorists.”
The Park Service installed the test cameras despite Virginia Gov. James Gilmore’s vocal opposition to the use of such traffic surveillance systems in his state. Armey cited a letter Gilmore wrote to him last year.
“While there is clearly the necessity to assure public safety through effective enforcement of traffic laws, the use of cameras operating without human judgment reduces our system of justice to trial by machinery without the presumption of innocence,” wrote Gilmore.
But the Park Service says its proposed rule “allows the owner, if he or she was not driving the vehicle when the offense occurred, to mail in a statement of denial, whereupon the citation will be dismissed.”
Upon receipt of the mailed citation, the vehicle owner may pay the fine, submit a certificate of innocence or affidavit or appear in court for a hearing. If the vehicle owner decides to go to court, the proposed rule allows for the photograph to be admitted as evidence, under certain conditions, and creates a rebuttable presumption that the cited registered owner was the driver of the vehicle at the time of the violation.
“The owner may rebut this presumption by mailing a certificate of innocence or an affidavit enclosed with the citation within 30 days of the date that the citation was mailed stating that he/she was not the driver of the car,” writes the Park Service. “If the certificate or affidavit is not received within the 30-day period, the cited owner appears in court at the time and place designated on the citation. There, the registered owner testifies under oath that he or she was not the operator of the vehicle at the time of the violation.”
Nevertheless, Armey calls use of the photo radar equipment a “spy camera program” and echoed the concerns of many state and local “camera cop” critics.
“I am concerned that this may be seen as a step toward a Big Brother surveillance state, where the government monitors the comings and goings of its citizens,” he wrote, encouraging Norton to “take the steps needed to protect the privacy of the millions of Americans who use and depend on park roads.”