Friday, August 20, 2010

Traffic Ticket

I recently got a traffic ticket for going 50 in a 35 mph zone.  I was transitioning to a 45 mph zone, but the officer showed no mercy.  This is my third traffic ticket in less than a year and the previous 2 points on my record resulted in my insurance going up (I am still trying to get the courts to recognize traffic school for my first ticket). 

I decided to fight this 3rd ticket after consulting with friends and researching on the Internet.  I went to city hall and got a copy of the traffic survey for this road.  Local speed limits are determined by observing traffic, and then using the 85th percentile to set the limit.  The speed limit can be adjusted due to special circumstances (high accident rates, etc.)  The address of the survey was within 50 ft of the address on the citation.   I happen to be traveling at the 85th percentile (50 mph) but the traffic survey lowered the speed due to an "unsafe" intersection a mile up the road.

This ticket will cost me about $1350 (a $300 ticket and a $350 rise in my insurance rates per year for 3 years, until the tickets get off my record).

This has made me think about the our legislative, legal, enforcement system.  Here are my thoughts:

  1. The State Legislature.  It seems that a badge of courage for our state congressmen and senators is to sponsor legislation and have it pass.  The goal is improving our society, but it still results in more laws.  One such law is that Californian's are required to have auto insurance.  This creates the first problem by giving insurers an advantage.
  2. Law Enforcement.  The badge of courage for Law Enforcement is "being tough on crime".  That means more tickets, arrests, etc.  The goal is a safe society, but it still results in more citizens being accused of crimes.
  3. Prosecutors - From District Attorneys on down, the badge of courage is convictions - the percentage of accused criminals that are found or plead guilty.
More laws = more criminals. 
Better enforcement = even more criminals. 
Better prosecution = yet more criminals.

With this formula, is it surprising that our prisons are overflowing?

This may seem like a silly jump.  From traffic ticket to overcrowded prisons.  Somehow I'll come up with the extra $1350.  There are plenty of people, however, who this would be a burden.  Some of them might not be able to find legal ways to cope.  Thus starts the slippery slope to criminal behavior.

In his book "A Time To Fight", Senator Jim Webb tells of his experience visiting the Japanese prison system, which is designed to "re-socialize, reform, rehabilitate" offenders [1].  They incarcerate a much smaller percentage of the population and for shorter periods than in the United States.  The Japanese have had this system for about a century.

When Senator Webb asked how they started this system, they said they learned it from Europe and America.  Japan had a major prison reform [2] around the time that our politicians started "fixing" our prison system [3].  In fairness, Japan is a smaller county with a more homogenized culture, which may make it easier to implement their system than it would be in the United States.  That doesn't mean that I can't question our current formula.

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