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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Photo Ticketing Vehicles: An Appropriate Tool for Traffic Violation.

I believe that assigning traffic violations to the owner of the vehicle that is involved in the traffic violation is not only a Pareto improvement, but is justifiable according to the current ownership of the roads.

First the simple argument: Pareto improvement. Who hasn’t been waiting at a green light for the opposing left turn vehicles to clear the intersection? And if speed limits are obeyed it is a rarity. The problem is that the current system of ticketing must be done by police officers who witness the offending actions. It would be far less costly to install a system of cameras to document traffic violations than it would be for the police. This would also lead to less traffic violations, and there by, less congestion. For anyone who has been trapped at an intersection (Woodmen & Academy for example) because of traffic violations know all too well of this problem.

The main point I rely upon is that roads are not a public good, nor are roads a private good like hamburgers; thus I believe that roads are club good in nature. The important fact here is that rights to the road don’t exist (at least not as we have defined right), but privileges to use the road system granted by the owner. I’m loathe to even infer that government is its own separate entity (and that is not my contention here), but government (actually a collection of separate government divisions) has come to the position of manager of the club good that is our road network. While some may argue that our current road system is not of a club nature, and that the roads are actually available for use at no charge I think it is odd that if these road truly are of open access why it should be that all vehicles must be licensed.

A vehicle is licensed under certain restrictions, one of which is—while more implicitly stated—is that the owner is responsible for the same use of the vehicle. In fact many states make this more explicit by requiring owners to have insurance covering the operation of their vehicles. For an owner of a vehicle to not be held liable for the operation of any damage that occurred by their vehicle the owner must prove that they we not the one operating the vehicle at the time the damage occurred. While liability is typically talked of in terms of the driver’s liability the fact remains that the rules of the club hold liability at the feet of the owners, or to put it another way the driver is the default person of liability.

In an accident this distinction is of little relevance as the identity of the driver isn’t in dispute (or at least the owner’s status as driver isn’t). From the standpoint of photo ticketing the identity of the driver is difficult (if not impossible) to determine. Yet as the rules of the club go, it is not up to government to prove who was behind the wheel, but for the owner to prove that they weren’t. This is sensible from a Coasean perspective as well. When some one borrows another’s vehicle it is essentially a contract, although be it a rather poorly defined one. Thus, so long as use of the club’s facilities is contingent upon licensed vehicles the use of photo ticketing systems is justified. If this gives incentive for people to be more knowledgeable about how they contract with others then so much the better.


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