No, Blocking Traffic Is Not Protected by the First Amendment

“freedom of expression is crucial and central to the American project. It’s also not a force field by which people are shielded from other rules. If I want to get people’s attention by, say, driving 120 miles an hour while sporting a Palestinian flag, I cannot tell the officer who pulls me over for reckless driving that I’m simply exercising my free speech rights. The First Amendment does not give carte blanche to violate the law.”

https://reason.com/2024/01/26/no-blocking-traffic-is-not-protected-by-the-first-amendment/

Chicago’s More Aggressive Speed Cameras Issued 2.8 Million Tickets Last Year

“After rejiggering its speed cameras to fine any car caught traveling as little as 6 mph over the posted speed limit, the city of Chicago collected record-breaking levels of revenue last year.

Chicago’s army of 160 speed cameras issued more than 2.81 million tickets last year and collected $89 million in revenue from motorists, according to data from the Chicago Department of Finance published this week by the Illinois Policy Institute, a free market think tank. That’s more tickets than there are residents of the city, and translates to one ticket issued every 11 seconds during the entire year.

Those numbers shatter the city’s previous speed camera ticket and revenue totals, likely due to the fact that Mayor Lori Lightfoot in March 2021 ordered the cameras to start targeting slower drivers. Previously, the speed cameras had been programmed to issue tickets and $100 fines to drivers going more than 10 mph over the speed limit. Those fines remain in place, but the city’s cameras now also issue $35 fines to drivers going between 6 and 10 mph over the speed limit.

Those $35 tickets accounted for more than two-thirds of the tickets issued by Chicago’s cameras during 2021, according to the Department of Finance data.

Lightfoot and other advocates of the speed cameras argue that they make Chicago’s streets safer by discouraging high-speed driving, but the Illinois Policy Institute points out that more people died in car accidents in the city during 2021 than in 2020 or 2019.

“The safety argument seems weak in light of the various studies and increase in accident deaths, especially when the cameras are generating so much money for a city with massive pension debt and spending it can’t seem to control,” writes Patrick Andriesen, a staff writer at the institute. “Speed cameras might be more accurately called cash cams.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the poorest parts of Chicago are where most of the city’s cameras are located and, as a result, are hardest hit by the fines. Andriesen points out that nearly half the tickets issued to drivers in low-income neighborhoods were not paid on time; with late fees, those $35 tickets for barely speeding become $85 tickets.”

Armed Agents of the State Shouldn’t Be Enforcing Traffic Laws

“Cops pull over 20 million motorists a year—by far the most common form of police interactions with the American people. Those encounters occasionally end violently and tragically. Consider the cases of Darrius Stewart, Samuel DuBose, Philando Castile, and Maurice Gordon, all of whom were shot during routine traffic stops. Gordon was killed by a New Jersey state trooper just last month.

Those traffic stops often evolve into drug searches, which carry serious Fourth Amendment concerns. They also disproportionately impact black and Hispanic people. (Blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for drug offenses and 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug possession, though whites use drugs at comparable rates.) Those with fewer means are more likely to be fined, arrested, and shuffled through the legal system, notwithstanding the fact that they’re less able to afford getting trapped in that cycle.

In Colorado and Washington, where marijuana has been legalized, search rates at traffic stops have dramatically declined, a testament to how often those arbitrary searches are tied to drug laws that have no impact on traffic safety.”

“traffic safety doesn’t necessarily need to be enforced by the police. “Don’t use a hammer if you don’t need to pound a nail,” writes economist Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution. “The responsibility for handing out speeding tickets and citations should be handled by an unarmed agency. Put the safety patrol in bright yellow cars and have them carry a bit of extra gasoline and jumper cables to help stranded motorists as part of their job—make road safety nice.”

It’s a worthy idea. But it’ll be tough to get state and local governments to accept it. Police departments, many of them furnished with weapons fit for a battlefield, often act as revenue raisers for the cities in which they serve.

“A Police Executive Research Forum report on St. Louis law enforcement found that local governments within the county were using police to ‘plug revenue gaps’ by running up the number of traffic citations, which coincided with many low-level arrests,” writes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. “As one St. Louis County resident told the report’s authors: ‘It’s no secret that a lot of these municipal police officers are only supposed to be revenue drivers for their cities.'””

“We could minimize such encounters just by having fewer laws. “Things like the war on drugs, they’ve given police officers multiple reasons to be present in [minority] communities,” Reason’s Zuri Davis recently told the Washington Examiner’s Siraj Hashmi. That “gives rise to a lot more interaction—and negative interaction.” If we want fewer innocent people to die at police officers’ hands, we need to cut back on the encounters that keep spiralling into such deaths.”