“I feel violated,” he says. “And my violator has no soul.”
Here is what brought John to this place: In Washington, the default speed limit is 25 miles an hour, meaning that any time the city decides it wants to rustle up some extra cash — or perhaps just because it has prostate problems and is feeling grumpy — it simply has to set up a speed camera on a street on which no sane person would go as slow as 25 miles an hour. One example would be the wide stretch of Michigan Avenue NE on which John was popped. Another would be the six-lane highway that is M Street SE, on which I was recently zinged multiple times on successive days, for $125 each, until the snail mail started catching up with the tickets and I discovered I had a serious problem.
This sounds a lot like municipal extortion, doesn’t it?
I do not use the term “extortion” lightly, but, being a responsible journalist, I am going to give the city a chance to defend its system. So here is an official response from the mayor of Washington: “You shut up about this or we will break your thumbs.”
Possibly you are thinking that even though a machine-driven system is cold and unyielding, once you get into court and actual human people take over, things become much more reasonable.
At this moment, John and I are being addressed by a hearing examiner who is reading robotically from a computer screen. She is telling us that, unlike a person — say, a police officer — a speed camera is presumed to be inviolate and infallible as long as its accuracy has been certified by a radar technician. You may not challenge it, she said: You will get off only if you can establish that you personally were not driving the car because, say, it was stolen. (By this logic, if the camera said you were traveling at twice the speed of sound, you’d have to dummy up and pay the fine.) I feel John shudder beside me.