June 23, 2011 in Opinion

Editorial: Laws must be updated to match technology

 

There is something about the mentality of the American motorist that regards traffic laws like the rules of a sport, meant to balance the odds and give scofflaws an even chance against cops.

Don’t waste your breath explaining that radar guns and red-light cameras help police protect us from being killed by speeders and red light runners. The darn gadgets just aren’t fair.

The use of automated cameras to document red light violations at selected intersections has been under particular fire of late, from state initiative specialist Tim Eyman, among others. Now a Superior Court judge in Spokane has determined that the system is invalid – at least for three citations that were appealed to him.

You could practically hear the cheers for Judge Jerome Leveque’s ruling, like when the visiting team’s touchdown is called back over a holding infraction.

Not to worry, maintains Spokane City Attorney Howard Delaney. He’s asked Leveque to review the decision. Otherwise, he believes, it will be overturned. And besides, he thinks other ticketed motorists will decide going to court is too much trouble over a $124 fine.

Once the courts have taken hold of an issue like this, however, it’s best to treat it seriously and resolve, rather than outmaneuver, any legal uncertainties.

In this case, the judge has put his finger on what we would consider a technicality. Lawyers often bristle at that term lest it be misapplied to procedures that legitimately protect civil rights. This isn’t one of those cases. This is an instance of the law lagging behind technology.

Leveque did not find fault with the photographic evidence at the heart of the photographic process. Rather, the fatal flaw was that the signature of the Spokane police officer who reviewed that evidence and then authorized the ticket was placed on the citation electronically in another state. The judge said the law requires the signature to be affixed in Washington.

For now, city officials are working on ways to revise the procedure and satisfy Leveque’s concern. But if the law contains an antiquated restriction, it’s certain to pose further problems in other circumstances.

After all, in this age, hundreds of millions of dollars in commercial transactions take place over the Internet every day, thanks to the equivalent of electronic signatures. Growing millions of federal taxpayers file their annual returns with the Internal Revenue Service on the strength of electronic signatures. While traveling in Europe last week, President Barack Obama used an autopen to sign legislation extending the Patriot Act.

Fighting this ruling in court would be costly and time-consuming, and it wouldn’t assure a long-term fix. Revamping the signature procedure might solve the city’s immediate problem but not the ones around the bend.

Adapting to outmoded laws isn’t a final answer; they need to be updated. Leveque’s interpretation of the existing statute has identified a candidate for the Legislature’s close consideration.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.


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