Smile, Bandit! You’re on Candid Traffic Camera! - Articles

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Posted by: William Haltom on Aug 19, 2011

Journal Issue Date: Jun 2011

Journal Name: June 2011 - Vol. 47, No. 6

I’m not a photogenic man. As the old line goes, I have a face made for radio, or in this case, a journal column accompanied simply with a by-line and no photo. (Yes, I realize there is a photo alongside this column. But as you can clearly see, that’s not me in the photograph; it’s George Clooney in a seersucker suit!)

And so I don’t often have my picture taken, and when I do, I prefer it be done by a really good photographer who can do magic with light, shadows and angles. In other words, I want a photographer who can make me look like George Clooney in a seersucker suit, although I admit this takes not only photographic talent but also a great deal of Photoshopping.

But recently my photograph was taken while I was driving through a busy Memphis intersection. I did not smile or pose for the camera. I did not even know my picture was being taken at the time. And even if I had known, I would not have stopped to smile or take my hands off the steering wheel to do the sweetheart pose.

I didn’t have time to grin or posture. I was running late for a meeting, so I just sped through the intersection.

A couple of weeks later I received in the mail a photograph of me and my car compliments of the Memphis Police Department. Actually the photograph was not complimentary at all. It came with a traffic ticket in the amount of 30 bucks. Pretty expensive for a single black-and-white wallet-sized picture of the back of my head, the rear bumper of my car, and my license plate.

My first reaction was, “Wow! The Memphis Police must have totally ended murders, armed robberies, drug trafficking, and carjacking! They have now become the Memphis Police paparazzi, taking pictures of random Memphis motorists as we drive through intersections.”

But as it turned out, my photo was not taken by a traffic cop, a commercial photographer, or even a representative of the Olan Mills Company. It was taken by a machine, specifically the traffic light that was hanging over the intersection I was driving through.

That’s right. My photo was taken by the same red light I was running, and unless I pay the accompanying traffic ticket, my picture will soon be Exhibit A in the case of City of Memphis v. Trevor Bayne Haltom.

In the words of Sherriff Buford T. Justice, what we have here is a complete lack of respect for photography!

Well, apparently I’m not the only Tennessee motorist who is having his picture taken these days by candid red-light cameras. All across the Volunteer State, motorists are being shot, so to speak, as they drive through busy intersections.

Some 20 Tennessee cities now have red-light traffic cameras that are focusing, literally, on motorists who interpret a yellow light as a signal to speed up before the dang thing changes.

But in the face of all this red-light shutterbuggery, several members of the Tennessee legislature are saying, “Stop! Slow down!”… Well, actually they are saying, “Go! Speed up!”

About 30 Tennessee lawmakers are supporting legislation to ban red-light traffic cameras.

But city lawmakers are fighting back. They claim that red-light traffic cameras not only make our streets safer, they raise badly needed revenue for municipalities.

Tennessee may soon have a new state motto: “No state income tax, but lots of expensive photographs!”

Well, I’m counting on the Tennessee legislators to come through for me and my car. If they are going to put me out of business with tort reform, at least they can do something about my traffic tickets.

But I’m not optimistic. Memphis City Councilman and former Mayor Myron Lowery has recently proposed that the red-light cameras in River City be equipped with radar guns so that the cameras can catch us not only when we run a red-light, but also when we are speeding, probably at the same time.

I “shutter” at the very thought of this.

I have no idea what a photograph of a speeding car looks like. But I’m afraid that the Memphis Police Department may send me one real soon along with another photograph of me jay walking while I’m reading an overdue library book.

I’m just thankful that Sherriff Buford T. Justice did not have one of those fancy traffic cameras back when the Bandit, Sally Field and Jerry Reed were speeding that truck load of Coors beer eastbound and down.


Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.