Spy cams worth try in city

So you are sitting, idling in your car at the traffic light at Park and North Main streets in Attleboro, hoping you can get down the hill to the gas station before the price on the digital sign goes up another penny, when the light turns green.

But you can’t move forward because a motorist coming up County Street picks that moment to hang a hard left turn onto North Main in spite of an abundance of street level and overhead signage that says – in no uncertain terms – “No Left Turn.” It says it in English, it says it with an arrow with a red circle with a slash through it – the international symbol for “no” – and in fact it says it every way but with a traffic cop holding up his palm.

And that’s the problem, you say to yourself as you stand on your brake pedal and hope your groceries don’t slide off the front seat. “There’s never a cop around when you need one,” you mutter.

But there could be. At least an electronic one.

Attleboro City Councilor Richard Conti would like to install the unblinking eye of the traffic camera on some of the most chaotic downtown locations in a project that could serve two purposes: Bringing traffic scofflaws to heel and thereby reducing the risk of serious accidents in the downtown area and upping ticket revenue.

Conti is proposing that the city ask the state, which has the authority to control the cameras, to install the devices at the intersections of North and South Main streets with County and Park Streets and at the intersection of Park Street and Railroad Avenue, where westbound drivers are also prohibited from making a left turn, a prohibition that is also regularly violated.

Conti points out that traffic cams are used successfully in some parts of Massachusetts as well as around the country.

However, they are not universally seen as a boon. Evidence provided by the cameras has survived court challenges in some jurisdictions, but not others.

They are still seen by some as automated agents of the nanny state and an unwarranted – and expensive – intrusion into people’s private lives. The American Civil Liberties Union has argued they are subject to “mission creep,” progressing from watching for speeders to surveillance for other crimes.

Some communities have taken down the cameras because of the perception that they frighten visitors – and customers – away from the areas where they are installed.

But considering the number of violations at the sites Conti wants covered, and their potential for harm, isn’t it at least worth asking the state to consider such a project?

We’d say it is, if only to give a heedless motorist a moment’s pause before he makes that left turn.

Sheila Oliver