It is the metaphor for government today. You drive along Interstate 294. An overhead metal archway holds a series of lights. As you drive underneath, the lights flash.
Each flash takes a toll from your I-PASS account and puts it into the coffers of the government. Your money disappears with no human hand removing it. Talk about Big Brother.
Of course, the automated toll system are not the only one of its kind in the modern world. There are also the speed ticket zappers and the red light zappers. The principle is the same. No judge. No jury. Your money vanishes, or the ticket simply arrives in the mail. Please remit. None of this "you're innocent until proven guilty.'' Just send it in.
The electronic devices make the hanging judges of the Old West seem like pikers. We wonder what the conviction rate is — 80 percent? 90 percent? Surely most people just shrug and send in their check or money order.
A story by the Associated Press revealed there are bills pending in the Illinois Legislature that would end red light cameras. One bill would be statewide. Another bill is crafted so only Chicago's lights would be affected.
If you go on the city of Chicago website, the city offers up the boilerplate that this is all designed to make roads safer. At the same time, the AP reported Chicago's automatic red light ticketing system brings in $500 million per year. We guess that while they probably do make the roads safer, the $500 million is the real reason for the system.
There always will be corners where extra enforcement is needed. Police departments are stretched thin. Perhaps you can justify such cameras (with appropriate warning signs) in school zones to protect kids.
But they ought to be banned — or at least regulated — where the clear intent is less about safety than it is about fleecing the driving public.
Set up criteria. If there is a dangerous intersection noted for wrecks, slow everybody down by warning them.
There also is the driving reality that such cameras do not always inspire the best driving practices. As the light turns yellow and you're fearing a ticket, the tendency might be to hit the accelerator.
Unplugging many of the cameras will bring no tears in this corner. Like many things in Illinois, it morphed from a good idea to a way to drain the taxpayers. Some can stay, but many should go.