Austin Motor Vehicle Accidents and the Role of Surveillance Cameras
Many traffic accidents occur at intersections. That has been the case for years, probably dating back to the days of the Model T.
In Texas and elsewhere around the country, however, the question is whether high-tech cameras have a role to play in reducing the number of motor vehicle accidents at intersections. In Austin, cameras on traffic signals are becoming more common, particularly in high risk crime areas.
Austin Bicycle Accident / Truck Collision
Could surveillance cameras shed light on how particular accidents happened? This question comes about after Haifa Abubaker, a 19-year-old University of Texas student, lost a leg after a cement truck hit her as she rode her bicycle through the intersection of Dean Keeton and Guadalupe Streets in Austin last June.
Abubaker was rescued by an Eagle Scout and military veteran whose name is Patrick Clemens. When he saw the truck hit her, he immediately came to her aid and used his belt of an improvised tourniquet to stop the bleeding in her leg
Clemens was in a nearby Jack in the Box, servicing a soda machine, at the time of the accident. He later told the press that he felt called to help by an internal voice inside himself.
After Clemens helped her into an ambulance, Abubaker was taken to a hospital, where her right leg was amputated below the knee.
The accident involving Abubaker was captured by surveillance video at the intersection. Nasser Abubaker, the owner of a restaurant located at the intersection, said the video would be helpful to anyone investigating the accident.
Surveillance cameras are ostensibly good public safety measures, but officials are ambivalent about the financial commitment needed for constant recording, and potential civil liberties challenges.
In speaking to KVUE News, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell explained that city officials would have to figure out how much the capital investment would be, and then structure specific rules on how they may be used. He favored recording cameras in high crime areas, but not throughout the city.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo has advocated for cameras in high crime areas as well. But he would like to see proof of their value in promoting safety before having them all over the city. Jim Harrington, who heads the Texas Civil Rights Project, explained that he can see the civilian benefit to traffic cameras which also record as long as they are placed in public areas, but with strict stipulations.
Civil Rights Issue
Civil liberties groups have traditionally spoken out against the widespread use of cameras. The reason has to do with the “reasonable expectation of privacy” standard articulated by the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Katz, the seminal case on Fourth Amendment protections against illegal searches and seizure.
Essentially, a person travelling through public streets has no reasonable expectation that his or her actions will be shielded from the view of public cameras. Yet most people believe that public surveillance is a disconcerting form of government monitoring.
Public Safety Concerns
Nevertheless, all parties agree to some extent that public safety should be the emphasis of any surveillance program. After all, questions still abound regarding how exactly Haifa Abubaker was injured.
There are no immediate plans to implement recording cameras throughout Austin. As the issue is discussed, the need to reduce accidents at intersections should be of fundamental importance.
There is no question, however, that investigating cases like Haifa Abubaker’s can be facilitated through the use of video evidence. If there are any questions about the accuracy of the police report, for example, the video surveillance evidence can help shed light on what really happened.