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posted: 6/20/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: The value of discretion in traffic control

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  • Aurora police show how a light transmittance meter can be used to measure whether a vehicle's tinted windows meet state standards.

      Aurora police show how a light transmittance meter can be used to measure whether a vehicle's tinted windows meet state standards.
    Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Set aside for a moment the question of whether Aurora needs to crack down on vehicles in town with heavily tinted windows. The safety of police officers, not to mention other drivers, has long justified the establishment of standards for being able to see into as well as out of cars and trucks on city streets. The real question is not if Aurora should be cracking down but how. And when examined, it can help provide perspective on a wide range of justifiable but harshly used technological tools for controlling traffic and drivers.

Daily Herald staff writer Marie Wilson described in a story Sunday how Aurora police, using a new technology that measures light transmissions, wrote 291 citations for tinted windows through May of this year compared to just two last year during the same period. Two hundred ninety-one. To two.

If the issue in Aurora previously was a lack of confidence by police that their tinted-window tickets would hold up in court, the new technology appears nothing short of a godsend. The city would seem to have been practically overrun with tinted-window scofflaws.

Other suburbs like Elgin, Lisle, Schaumburg and Vernon Hills haven't seen such huge jumps in ticket writing, even though they too have adopted the light-measuring technology.

To its credit, Aurora -- perhaps surprised itself by the vast number of violations discovered through formal traffic checks -- plans events to help drivers determine, without fear of a ticket, whether the tint on their vehicle windows exceeds the state standards. The city can afford such magnanimity. It pocketed a portion of nearly $35,000 collected from those 291 tinted-window fines.

But the crackdown and the vast discrepancy in violations still beg a question that merits asking with every technological advance that makes traffic monitoring easier and more accurate. Why write the tickets at all?

Clearly, Aurora has entered a new phase in both its ability and its desire to monitor this hazard. What would have been so bad about alerting the public to its newfound capabilities and determination by issuing warning tickets and then coming down harder on drivers who fail to comply or who get caught a second time?

A similar approach to ticket writing would likely have a strong deterrent effect without the concurrent public outcry for impatient drivers making hasty right turns on red or distracted speeders captured by traffic-monitoring cameras.

The issue isn't whether authorities should have access to these technologies. They should. Traffic safety is not a game to see how many drivers can skirt the rules. Improved technologies make enforcing the rules more accurate and improve safety for everyone. But when the tools appear to be used more for revenue generation than protection, it undermines confidence and support. In the long run, a little more discretion during their introduction would make things better for everyone.

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