A Modest Proposal: Vigilante Traffic Enforcement

It is impossible to drive anywhere anymore. Partly, this is because our roads are in disrepair and partly because so many people seem to consider traffic laws as nothing more than suggestions.

It's hard to tell whether these people never learned the rules or simply choose to ignore them. Not that it matters. When was the last time you saw a cop trying to enforce any traffic law other than the speed limit?

Even that is increasingly being delegated to speed cameras -- mechanical scarecrows that, while they may generate substantial income, have next to no effect on speeders. It's almost comical to see the way drivers fly down the street until traffic cameras are in sight then hit the brakes and crawl the next 50 feet until they are safely out of camera range and then stomp on the gas again like they have just been released from the starting gate at the Indianapolis 500.

These attempts to demonstrate an enforcement effort where there really is none are arbitrary, random and as useless as they are ineffective. It is time to find another way. I suggest it is time to consider bringing back the vigilantes.

Vigilantes are civilians who enforce the law when legal agencies are thought to be inadequate. They have their roots in the old West when citizens took matters into their own hands if there was no law or the nearest sheriff was too far away.

Compared to those risky and dangerous commitments to justice, vigilante traffic enforcement in a digital age should be a breeze. Anyone who drives in a metropolitan area with any regularity encounters at least two traffic violations a minute: cars left in traffic lanes -- often when the curb is clear and within easy reach -- while the driver drops off their laundry, runs into Starbucks, or stops for a quick tattoo, backing traffic up for blocks; people turning across traffic on busy highways, breezing through red lights with complete disregard for on-coming cars, passing on the shoulders, turning where no turns are permitted, texting, talking, grooming, and eating while driving... you know what I mean. You see them every day.

These things happen with such frequency they are beyond the police's capacity to control -- were they inclined to try. On the other hand, an army of vigilantes given a financial incentive and armed with digital cameras could have a significant and immediate impact.

As the government often reminded us, pictures don't lie. A citizen's time-dated image should be just as enforceable as the government's. For a piece of the action, an army of civic-minded souls could be easily enlisted in the effort.

It would give bored drivers and idle passengers something to do as their car inches through town or sits on the highway and provide a positive way for those who obey the law to express their frustration with those who don't. All they would have to do is download the images they capture to a secure site for enforcement.

It would provide the public an incentive to learn traffic laws so that they can be enforced, if not obeyed, relief for over-worked police officers, a supplemental source of income for civic-minded citizens, and create a new business model if the incentive is high enough. It doesn't take much imagination to see entrepreneurs hiring cameramen to stake out every major intersection in every metropolitan area in the country.

It would also provide source of much needed revenue for local governments, hundreds of self-funding white-collar jobs for employees engaged to process citations, and a perhaps even a model for the Feds. If this policy were adopted nationally, it would probably provide enough income to erase the national debt.