Innocent or guilty, you’re guilty


“Alternate side of the street parking is suspended, but you still have to feed the meters.”

This is a regular New York City radio announcement that probably needs some translation for the rest of the country. Because many New York streets are narrow, the city has alternate side of the street parking during certain hours in order to allow sanitation trucks in to do their job. But during holidays and other occasions, such as snowstorms, New Yorkers can ignore the street signs that dictate which side is OK and which not.

Just because the city has given you dispensation to park whichever side you want, don’t be lulled into thinking that you can ignore paying for metered parking. Why the distinction? If you go back to the beginning of parking meters, you’ll find that it was in Oklahoma City that they were first installed. The idea was that if you made people pay for parking on the street, there would be a turnover of cars, thereby providing spaces for more cars over the course of the day. It wasn’t meant to be a money generator for the city. But a revenue source it is and the original impetus behind installing them has long been forgotten.

In these parlous times, yet another backdoor tax is being imposed on motorists, this time via red light cameras. In my less than five-mile trip to Hofstra from my home I pass six intersections that have these high-tech cameras, which are connected to the traffic lights and photograph cars that run red lights. The cameras, it is claimed, make these dangerous intersections safer by giving drivers pause when they decide to go faster when the light turns yellow. Supposedly the lights are installed to make the intersections safer. Fender benders may increase as drivers slam on their brakes so they won’t be caught in the intersection before the light turns red. More minor accidents in exchange for fewer serious ones is a reasonable trade-off.

But it is a charade because safety isn’t the real reason for the red light camera any more than parking meters are there to create turn-over at the curb.

More insidious still is the practice of charging an administrative fee of $15 even if a traffic ticket is dismissed and a $30 penalty is you don’t pay on the same day. Let me say it again: You pay for a traffic ticket even if your case is dismissed or you are found not guilty. This is a foolproof system for the county. It doesn’t matter how bogus the ticket may be; it doesn’t matter that every ticket issued is thrown out or that the defendant is found not guilty. The government still collects either fifteen or thirty dollars. This essentially does away with the concept of guilt or innocence. You get a traffic ticket—guilty, pay up; not guilty, pay up.

Westbury’s Village Justice Thomas Liotti received a traffic ticket that was dismissed. He is now challenging the tacked on administrative fee. I don’t know about the legality of the case, but I can say without reservation that the system is inherently unethical.

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3 thoughts on “Innocent or guilty, you’re guilty

  1. You are right about the real reason for such enthusiastic adherence to the law (financial support of the district issuing the traffic violation).

    I got a ticket for failure to fully stop at a stop sign in Old Westbury. I suppose I deserved it, although I did stop momentarily-I just didn’t stop long enough, and it was quite clear that the intersection was safe to enter. However, in addition to the ticket from the Old Westbury Police, I had to pay a whopping fine to New York State, about as large as the local ticket itself. That’s the first time I had that experience. Why should New York State get a cut?

  2. Just as you say, there are several studies showing that accident rates actually go UP at these intersections because those who know it is under surveillance jam on their breaks and cause rear collisions. I did not know about those dirty details about paying even if the charge is dismissed. The entire system of revenue collection via absurd and misleading rules in NY is unethical indeed. My car was towed last year after a snowstorm because it was blocking an entrance that I couldn’t see because the snow was obscuring it. When I called up the NYPD they told me they couldn’t tell me where the car was because they had it towed by a private company (that they did not have the name of!) And yet, there is a rule that if you don’t “Find” your car within 2 weeks, they can sell it on auction for city revenue. !!!!!!!!!!!!!

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