By on February 22, 2007

red-light-large222.jpgIf patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, then death is the only refuge of a camera-craving road safety campaigner. As far as these well-meaning advocates are concerned, if a single roadside surveillance device saves a single life, then it’s fully justified. Never mind scientific distinctions between “speeding” and “inappropriate speed.” Never mind government studies that place red light running near the very bottom of the list of accident causation. Never mind concerns about the erosion of personal privacy. One life trumps all.

In fact, when it comes to red light cameras, it’s 850 lives. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates 850 people were killed by motorists running red lights. The number looks– is– horrific, but it’s slightly less than two percent of all 2006 U.S. traffic fatalities. Throwing resources at this area of road safety seems, at best, counterintuitive.

Of course, red light cameras are one area where the money spent is dwarfed by the money the system generates for its operators– both civil AND commercial. It’s a paradigm that helped convince some 250 U.S. communities to install red light cameras, with California and Texas leading the way.

Campaigners are delighted. Richard Retting, senior transportation safety engineer for the Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) claims “the jury is in”: red light cameras save lives. But the IIHS’ recent and highly touted red light study followed a two-step approach. First, researchers extended the yellow light cycle. THEN they added red light cameras.

The study claims that violations dropped by 36% after the yellow light change, followed by a 96% reduction in the remaining violations. Yes, but– the IIHS failed to provide any data whatsoever on actual accidents.

And no wonder. In the last six years, Washington, D.C.’s red light cameras caught over 500k violators, generating some $32m in fines. The Washington Post unearthed the resulting safety stats. 

“The number of crashes at locations with cameras more than doubled, from 365 collisions in 1998 to 755 last year. Injury and fatal crashes climbed 81 percent, from 144 such wrecks to 262. Broadside crashes, also known as right-angle or T-bone collisions, rose 30 percent, from 81 to 106 during that time frame.” 

If road safety campaigners are going to manipulate data and then say it doesn’t matter because a single life may be saved, opponents should be free to discuss the camera’s impact on personal freedom without recourse to scientific fact. Because with each camera install, no matter how “good” the case for a particular system may be, we lose a bit of our freedom.

Make no mistake: red light cameras and fixed speed cameras raise important constitutional questions. Does the presumption of innocence that forms the backbone of our judicial system extend to electronic surveillance? How can it be argued that a camera monitoring the speed and/or position of every car that passes does NOT violate that tenet?

A Georgia car owner who swears they weren’t driving when their car was caught by a red light camera can sign an affidavit to that effect, and avoid the fine. But they must also name the person who ran the light. What happened to their right to remain silent?

The Constitution of the United States specifically prohibits the government from conducting “indiscriminate search and seizure.” What could be more indiscriminate than a red light camera watching every single car that passes?

How about a live video camera that monitors the speed of every single car that passes? Or one that can instantly read and identify every license plate, connected to a network of such devices?

Ask the people of Great Britain. The government is adding hundreds of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to their roadway system– complementing the tens of thousands of surveillance cameras installed in virtually every municipality in the entire country. Great Britain is now the most surveilled country on the face of planet earth– and their road safety is decreasing.

Now that the English are finally rebelling against the “safety camera” system, the government is sure to change tack and switch to video speed cameras. They can then claim the cameras are an important aid to anti-terrorism. But it can also be argued that red light, fixed speed, surveillance and ANPR cameras are a slippery slope to government tyranny.

Years ago, I was setting up computers for a training session for local police detectives. We talked about the burgeoning on-line world, replete with stalkers and all the rest of what’s truly bad about the ‘Net. As I was about to leave, I naively remarked to one detective: “Well, I don’t do anything wrong, so I’ve nothing to hide.” His reply woke me from my innocent mental slumber: “Don’t be so quick to give up your freedoms.”

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94 Comments on “Freedom for Sale In the Red Light District...”


  • avatar
    gforce2002

    Excellent editorial, Glenn.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Although the life-saving benefits of such systems are nebulous at best, the revenue that they generate (after a short “payback period”) is guaranteed. I’m pretty sure that’s how the company markets these things.

  • avatar

    “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” No one seems sure about who actually wrote the above quote, but never the less, it still holds true today.

  • avatar
    DonLuc

    As a recipient of a red-light violation ticket in Georgia, I can say that if they are making $70 dollars off of every ticket given out, they are banking hard off this one. It wasn't even a red-light violation in your typical flying-across-the intersection sense. It seems designed to catch stragglers lurking in the middle of the intersection who are attempting to clear out and make a left turn before traffic begins coming the other way. I was sent a neat little letter with 3 digital image frames of my car in the middle of the intersection at different time-points after the light turned red. The letter also explains on the back, that if the fine is paid, then no infraction will go on your driving record. I think this is even further proof, they just want you to pay your $70 bucks and not risk tarnishing your perfect driving record. I paid mine because I was guilty of said crime, and now if that light turns yellow, I never try to squeeze through, I'm stopping–I learned my lesson, maybe saved a few lives…

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    It’s always been about revenue generation. These devices are the greatest things a municipality can have in their possession since it grants them the ability to make money without making the unpopular choice of raising property taxes. It’s a win-win situation, except the loser ends up being the hapless driver.

  • avatar

    The second that these things show up anywhere near me in Ohio, I will devote a serious amount of time and effort towards removing these tin plated terror devices, as well as any politician who decided they would be a good idea (but doing so legally, not like by purchasing a shotgun and going to town on them). I may have to wait until a bunch of drivers get nailed by these parsimonious, pocket-raping "safety dinguses," to get enough support, but I'm sure there will eventually be a way to get rid of these things once and for all.

  • avatar
    nutbags

    Can anyone see him…..Big Brother is watching. All of the systems are in place for them to monitor our every movement. This is no conspiracy theory it is reality. Autos with black boxes, EZ Pass, GPS, speed cameras, etc. it is all there and real. It is only a matter of time because remember driving is a privilege not a right. And as stated above – it is to save a life!
    Excellent editorial about something we take for granted; our personal freedoms.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Sorry to be the devil’s advocate here. But where I come from, running a red light is considered to be a serious and dangerous offence. Personally, I like to drive over a junction quickly without having to fear that some idiot on his cell phone will hit me from the side.

    I don’t see the connection to the topic of speeding. If we were talking about anti-speeding radar, then I’d be on your side. Driving fast can be virtuous; where is the virtue of running a red light?

    If you are saying that issuing a ticket for running a red light should be constrained by fairness, legal proof and proportionality, then I am OK with that. On this side of the pond, your ticket is accompanied by a photo of your licence plate and of your face. (I have a collection…) Anybody wishing to check the maintenence record of the particular machine can get it.

    The police should be forced to persue violations with proportionate and fair methods. Driving is a privilege; people who drive recklessly shouldn’t whine about tickets.

  • avatar
    philbailey

    Let’s hope Al Gore (and other misguided Democrats) don’t read this article, or they’ll be on it like a lion on a wilderbeest.
    Phony Tonys’ “revenue in exchange for holiness” policy is becoming a theme for all socialist governments.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Washington shortened the yellow light times and revenue went way up. Average time was about 1.2 seconds compared to 2.6 seconds nationally. Best to stay out of D.C.

    Most people nabbed by red light cameras were at the tail end of the light. The proponents of this want you to believe the light is red for 10 seconds and the offender drives blindly through it, causing death and mayham.

    Remember, it’s for the children.

    A better solution is timed lights on major roads. Setting lights to be in sync with 30 mph traffic works wonders

  • avatar
    ash78

    I had to have a “yellow light theory” conversation with my 7-y-o niece as we drove around the other day.

    I explained that the hard part of driving was called judgment, or the ability to make the right decision based on circumstances. If I’m traveling downhill on a wet road and there’s little traffic, the safest decision is to usually run the yellow, even if it turns red en route. Lots of traffic and low speed, stop. This decision is different every single time, so thank goodness we don’t have red light cams here (yet).

    When judgment is perceived to suffer (or fail) on a large scale, the authorities can make a seemingly strong case on absolutisms alone–hence speed laws, red light cameras, etc. This also reduces burden of proof on both sides…by placing it completely on the offender, since the authorities have an empirical photo. And the fine is just small enough that it’s not worth fighting. Very disingenuous.

  • avatar
    amclint

    It’s not that everybody here is mad because we run red lights all the time and don’t want tickets. It’s the fact that the government has decided to monitor us without our consent. How would you feel about cameras in your house? Can you honestly say that you go throughout every single day without breaking some law? There are thousands of laws, people break them all the time without even knowing they are doing it.

    I have no doubt that we’ll continue to be increasingly monitored although I have no clue how far it will go. The issue is that it becomes unpopular to argue against something like this when they say they are doing it to save lives. I’m all for saving lives, but if we save them to live a life with less freedoms than before then I think we’re failing them somewhat.

  • avatar
    New2LA

    In theory, a red light camera sounds like a good idea. However, theory doesn’t pan out with these things.

    Many municipalities, in conjunction with the burgeoning red light camera companies, manipulate the light cycles in order to support their cameras ‘effectiveness’ (which are often installed free of charge, of course). By reducing the yellow light time, the number of violators goes up….along with the number of accidents.

    But, since driving is a privilege and not a Constitutional right, the government can monitor our driving habits if it really wants to. As a careful speeder, I don’t like that much, but I recognize that if they feel someone is a mobile menace, they can take away their driving privileges without much effort. This can (and should) be a good thing.

    The real problem is the same real problem faced by almost all prohibitive laws….lack of enforcement. Lots of accidents are caused by repeat offenders; so why not just focus our attention on keeping idiots off the road instead of all these gadgets and big brother enforcement techniques?

    I know, preaching to the crowd…

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    “Back in the day” it used to be small towns extending their city limits to cover high speed roads nearby and having the local cops sitting along the road (after hiding a 35 mph speed limit sign behind a tree or bush along the road) in order to nab out-of-staters. They were called “speed traps”.

    Now, it’s the same kind of revenue generation done with high-tech, and no danger of having a cop shot by a disgruntled crazy person. They just do it via mail.

    At least still in Michigan, such chicanery is still illegal. Technically, it is probably unconstitutional to ‘arrest’ people by mail all over the nation, but we’ve gone well past the point where anyone pays more than cursory attention to that old parchment for much of anything any more.

    As for stopping at yellow lights? Well, the tailgaters have become so pandemic that you literally risk being driven into by the 3 people following you, because they intended to go through on “orange” (yellow+red).

    So every stop is potentially life-threatening and a judgement call. That’s why it pays to stay alert and watch what goes on around you, etc.

  • avatar
    Cowbell

    GS650G, I always thought the lights in DC seemed short. 1.2 seconds is rediculous, but I believe it. Considering a good human reaction time is .8 seconds, it would explain how driving though DC a few weeks ago I blatantly ran a red light in which I thought I would have had plenty of time.

    I’m amazed that changing the timing of lights only reduced violations by 36%. According to the Washington Post, changing the wellow time from 4 seconds to 5.5 seconds on a 45mph section of route 50 in Virginia reduced violations (and camera issued tickets) by 90%.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Up in the DC-Balto area, I’ve heard they have “aggressive driving” (or street racing) cameras that monitor rapid lane changes and other irrelevant metrics.

    My dad got a “warning” with a photo indicating that he had changed lanes too quickly, or something to that effect…even though the road was clear and he wasn’t weaving around any traffic (just playing around in his then-new R32).

    So I hope you don’t need to take any emergency evasive action, the camera might think you’re racing.

  • avatar
    Antone

    Remove all traffic cameras, all traffic lights and sidewalks in urban areas.

    Problem solved.

  • avatar

    OK, I can’t help myself. I’ve just been reading: Bad Thoughts: A Guide to Clear Thinking by Jamie Whyte. Great book BTW.

    I agree with the general thrust of your argument, but if I understood the book correctly, you’re broken some of the rules :-)

    Never mind concerns about the erosion of personal privacy. One life trumps all.

    You haven’t sustained this basic argument; i.e. that red light cameras infringe liberty and personal privacy. How? If true, then isn’t the License Plate the real culprit? If a traffic officer sees you run a red light and notes your LP number, has the officer infringed your liberty and personal privacy? Not sure. Don’t think so. Or are you objecting to LPs?

    A Georgia car owner who swears they weren’t driving when their car was caught by a red light camera can sign an affidavit to that effect, and avoid the fine. But they must also name the person who ran the light. What happened to their right to remain silent?

    Is the affidavit the only alternative to the fine? If there is a normal right of appeal then that’s where the right to not incriminate yourself would apply. If there’s no right of appeal (I don’t know), then that would be your liberty issue. If there is, the fine or affidavit are just “options”. Of course it may be impractical or near impossible to appeal, but that is the fault of the judicial system. Does an expensive and overly complex legal system infringe your liberty? Absolutely. But that’s another argument.

    Ask the people of Great Britain. Their entire highway network is covered with an automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) system.

    OK, you’ve asked. Not true. Boogeyman argument. They have car mounted ANPR systems for crime investigations – although this seems to be a new thing – helped recently to catch the Ipswich serial killer by tracking vehicles entering the red-light district.

    Fixed ANPR is also the mechanism by which the London Congestion Charge (CC) is administered. Whatever your opinion of the CC, the ANPR system is an efficient technology. Privacy is an issue if details of your movements are stored and used for other purposes – there are and should be laws protecting your privacy in that regard (whether or not they’re effective is another argument). The ANPR is not at fault.

    There are also a lot of fixed ANPR speed cameras, but “..entire highway network is covered with an automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) system..” suggests something far more sinister. You might be thinking of the new GPS-based pay-as-you-go road charging blackbox thingy. That’ll do it. They’re still talking about that :-)

    “Don’t be so quick to give up your freedoms.”

    Absolutely, but I’m not sure that red-light cameras take away your freedom. Bad policing? Probably. Don’t catch dangerous driving? Probably. Criminalizes mistakes and normal safe driving? Almost certainly. Takes away your freedom? No more than any other law.

    Cheers

    Malcolm

  • avatar
    GS650G

    There was a study published that showed the lights in DC were manipulated to be shorter. The excuse was it was necessary to speed up traffic. They claimed the shorter yellows meant shorter reds and traffic moved faster.

    And if you believe that one I’ve got a bridge for sale.

    Where I live they have video cameras and lights. At night when the lights for the cameras go off you know they are watching. They have to use a video camera and an officer must review the feed live, no insta-ticket cameras.

    Re: driving is a privledge

    Personal mobility by way of machine would have been addressed in the Constitution had cars been around in 1776. There is no doubt free men would have demanded the right to be secure in their Chevys. I wonder how it would have affected the licensing and violation rules. As it stands now there are at least 50 choices you can make for where to get licensed and drive, pick one you like. hawaii took down their cameras after the people rebeled, they saw the light over there.

  • avatar
    ammom_rouy

    Tampa – I am pretty sure the quote is from Ben Franklin.

    The real problem with Big Brother was that the monitoring was IN your house. That’s where monitoring should stop. If you’re outside, you’re in public and you’re subject to monitoring.

    I think most people here would agree that in general a certain amount of speeding is NOT necessarily dangerous, but red light running IS dangerous (even if you have to b/c it’s downhill and wet and yadda, yadda, yadda – circles back to speeding, but you were going too fast for the conditions which made you judge it better to run the yellow/red than try to stop).

    That being said, the wrong incentives are being used with the red light cameras. Plenty is discussed above, but another thing is that my understanding is the red light camera companies get a cut of the tickets too. Hello?!?!

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Around here, running red lights is endemic and I whole-heartedly support the introduction of cameras or auto-cops.

    The roads are a societal improvement permitted under the Constitution as something that will “promote the general welfare.” Driving on these roads is not a right but a privilege. Presuming that people will abide by the rules and play nice is a perfectly reasonable societal decision and taking shortcuts to ensure it seems eminently reasonable to me.

    If you value your freedom above the ability to get around quickly and effectively, you’re free give up the improvements provided by society and walk. Get permission from all the landowners in your path first.

    SexCPotatoes, your comments crack me up. To achieve your objective, you’ll be looking for the cooperation of people who have been nabbed by the auto-cops. Good luck with that. In my experience, the people running the lights are jerks and counting on the cooperation of jerks for anything is not a winning strategy.

  • avatar
    boatschool

    suohtil, I’ve been reading your correspondence with HitGuy and am, frankly, amazed.

    To say that (current) management of the 2.5 (especially GM) have only recently inherited these long-standing problems is just incorrect. Go look at Rick Wagoner’s offoicial GM bio. He’s been at the center of making or ratifying bad decisions for at two decades !!!

    With regard to the 2.5 being deserving of getting ‘a little help’ from the government, the 2.5 have yet to show that whatever help they might get won’t be squandered by the same flawed “management” decision-making that has put them into this jackpot. I keep hearing about these so-called “legacy” costs as if one morning the 2.5 just opened up a their doors and someone deposited these costs on their doorstep. My question to you with regard to “legacy” costs is “Who created the legacy ?”

    The root cause at the 2.5 has been (for decades now) and continues to be “management”, or more precisely, the lack thereof.

  • avatar

    After living in the UK for 16 years, during the rise of the cash generating machine known as the "safety camera," I can say without equivocation that I'd rather take my chances on the roads than cede the government the "right" (not privilege) to monitor my activities on that kind of monumental scale. The child psychologist Piaget observed that if a capability exists, humans have a natural tendency to use it. If the government holds all the data on all its citizens movements, I for one am not prepared to simply trust that a law restricting its use will be honored. I understand the need for road safety. I understand the need to protect our country against terrorist attack, or pedophiles or any number of threats. But the United States was formed using a single guiding principle: the government is the greatest threat to an individual's life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. (Hence "checks and balances," the right to bear arms, freedom from indiscriminate search and seizure, etc.) In the pursuit of the greater good, we should not expose ourselves to a larger evil.

  • avatar
    noley

    When the light turns yellow, the first thing I do is check my rearview mirror to see how close the guy behind me is. If he/she is too close I will often blow through the yellow, not wanting to count on them not stopping in time. (I don’t blow red lights, though.) But far too often, they and sometimes the car behind them, run the red light I have avoided. A little paranoia is a good thing, and it gives a whole new meaning to “defensive driving.”

    But much as I dislike any type of government sponsored surveillance, red light cams –over time– do make a certain amount of sense, since running red lights is all too common in many places. The chance of getting caught “should” reduce the number of people who blow the reds.

    Would that make a difference? Well, it might have for two friends who were injured and their cars totalled by a red light runner. While a camera is not going to prevent it from happening, it has the potential to reduce the number of people running lights. Sure, it’s a scam for the camera companies and the city/town, but maybe some good can come out of it.

    What is bad is that it sets a precedent for more cams in more places. The last thing I want is British-style speed cams, others checking to see if I signaled before turning, was using a cell phone, wearing a seatbelt, you fill in the blank. That is the bigger danger from red light cams.

    Just remember, it is a government agency of some type setting up any of these cams, so it’s OK to be paranoid.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Robert Farago wrote, “But the United States was formed using a single guiding principle: the government is the greatest threat to an individual’s life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. (Hence “checks and balances,” the right to bear arms, freedom from indiscriminate search and seizure, etc.)”

    Not quite. The Founders believed that unrestrained and unaccountable government, for example, a tyrant as governmnent, was a very bad thing. Consequently, they created a system with accountability and checks and balances to form “a more perfect” form of government.

    Even at a time when a huge chunk of the population had near self-sufficiency as farmers, they recognized a need for cooperation and a unified national government with some significant powers. More powers and authority than the Articles of Confederation had provided.

  • avatar
    NICKNICK

    ammom_rouy: so you think surveillance is OK as long as it’s not in your house? i can guarantee that you will live to regret that thought/ eat those words. constant surveillance would maybe be OK if so many of the laws weren’t so stupid. It’s OK for a 4’11” soccer mom who can’t see over the steering wheel to pilot a 6000lb leviathan at 64mph while talking on the cell phone and handing off a juice box, but it’s illegal for me to safely drive 66mph.

    the problem is that fighting these things with anything other than a shotgun or spraypaint is that you cannot argue with a safety crusader because they do not respond well to logic. truly saving lives at red lights is easy–6 second yellow lights and four seconds from the red light until the other direction turns green. probalo solvado.

    i’d love to corner a safety crusader and get a response to the real data that shows their cameras have caused rear-end collisions to double.

  • avatar

    Martin Schwoerer:
    (And a few others.)

    This editorial is certainly not advocating that people should run red lights. It’s much more about the loss of individual liberties. [Edit: And, it’s about “safety” vs. making money.]

    The thesis is that drip, by drip, by drip, more freedom is lost–and those drips tend to add up. Today it’s red light cameras. Tomorrow, who knows?

    On this side of the pond, we fought a revolution to gain our freedom, and did so with an entirely new frame of government. We consider it sporting to question the reasons behind many government-imposed edicts.

    In the forming of our Constitution, one of the main points at issue was how much power to allow the central government. Such debate continues to this day, and not only regarding the Federal level.

    In the U.S., there’s a special relationship between the government and its people: When government wishes to impose it’s will upon us, we the people strongly reserve the right to question, debate, and fight back, if you will.

    [Edit:] As someone who was born and raised in one of the original 13 Colonies (Connecticut), I fully expect to uphold such traditions.

    We Americans have a truly unique interpretation of what the spirit of liberty is all about.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    I for one wish for much higher levels of enforcement of traffic rules, at least here in Northern California. Accidents at intersections happen very frequently. Yes, most do not result in fatalities, but is that the only measure worthy of note?

    The authors notion seems to be that since traffic light violation cameras are only credited with saving hundreds of lives a year then the justification for using them is discredited makes no sense.

    Yes, part of the motivation of the enforcers is to bring in more fine revenue, just as the motivation of this website is to make a living by selling advertising.

    Personally I would be thrilled if California were more like Germany in it’s enforcement of traffic rules. I look forward to the day when I can send my daughter out on the roads with less concern about the agressive and foolish drivers she will have to deal with.

  • avatar

    noley: What is bad is that it sets a precedent for more cams in more places.

    Exactly.
    – – –
    GS650G: Personal mobility by way of machine would have been addressed in the Constitution had cars been around in 1776. There is no doubt free men would have demanded the right to be secure in their Chevys.

    Yes. Cars were not forseen in 1791. :-)

    “Amendment IV – Search and Seizure. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    Interesting piece. Years ago Patrick Bedard wrote in C&D a piece alleging manipulation of yellow light times to raise revenue. As I recall, he indicated that driver compliance to red lights went up (in Arizona, I think) after cameras were installed resulting in lower fee revenue from fines. Yet guaranteed minimum revenues were due to the contracted camera companies. So that the municipalities did not have to make up the difference out of their general tax funds, Bedard says that the cities/counties shortened the duration of yellow lights to create more violations.

    I have not read another credible confirmation of Bedard’s allegation. Glenn, in your investigation of this, did you run across any evidence of this kind of governmental malfeasance?

  • avatar

    jthorner:

    Did you miss the bit where the article revealed data suggesting that red light cameras INCREASE accidents?

    Until that issue’s resolved, it’s NUTS to put ’em in. I mean, in the guise of saving lives, let’s increase accidents?

  • avatar
    shaker

    It seems that governments that choose to enforce red lights this way should provide “full disclosure” of yellow light duration, and be required to stick to it, subject to law. That way, signage could be erected to inform out-of-towners of the yellow duration, possibly reducing the number of near-rear-enders (sic).

  • avatar
    goldplated_j

    I’ve got news for all of you

    Contrary to popular belief more than half of the money for camera tickets does not go toward the government. It goes toward paying big business, such as Redflex, and Affiliated Computer Services, we are talking of hundeds of millions, not going back to pay for roads, or salaries of cops, but instead its padding some billionaire’s pockets, that i don’t like.

    here is the article from Car and Driver a few months back

    There is no reason for the camera’s except to get more money out of the little guys, and further the gap of wealth. It’s been proven that they’re not in place for safety as crashes have increased. If I knew there was a camera at a light I’m sure going to stop for the redlight to prevent fines and points on the license, but what about the guy behind me that was following too close. Now i’m in a serious accident. Maybe even pushed into an intersection. Now im in a hospital, safety my ass. Safety is not letting a camera decide for you with fear of a ticket.

    Screw Cameras.

  • avatar

    William C Montgomery: …in your investigation of this, did you run across any evidence of this kind of governmental malfeasance?

    Only by way of ancedotal evidence: As some say here (“they shortened the yellow”), and I’ve read that on other forums.

    I recall one person posting how he how nearly slams on the brakes at intersections, risking that someone will rear-end his car, due, he says, to the shortened yellow light duration. However, I’ve no hard evidence published by any “authoritative” body to present on this.

    If they do shorten the yellows to increase fine-based income, I doubt it’s published anywhere. [I guess the only way *for me* to prove it would be] to time the duration of yellow lights now, and if these cameras show up in great numbers here in CT , I could then bring a stopwatch to an intersection. ;-)

  • avatar
    M1EK

    Throwing resources at this area of road safety seems, at best, counterintuitive.

    Couldn’t disagree more. Unless people fiddle with the yellows, red light running is not justifiable by anything but a life-and-death emergency. This isn’t of the same class as exceeding underposted speed limits.

  • avatar

    M1EK: Be rational man! If 850 out of 44k die at intersections, it's not Job One. Glenn Swanson: At the risk of feeding TTAC readers' OCD, that sounds like a terrific experiment. Can you please go to your nearest traffic light, time the duration of yellow and sign in here with your location and the yellow light time? Much obliged.

  • avatar
    Eric_Stepans

    I agree that there are serious constitutional questions and efficacy concerns about red light cameras and similar technologies.

    On the other hand, I have noticed a massive increase in red light running over the past 10-15 years. Not
    only do more drivers run the red, but they’re doing it
    later and later after the red comes on.

    Do TTACers have good suggestions for discouraging red light running without resorting to automated cameras?

    I”m going to ponder that one myself…

  • avatar
    goldplated_j

    I think NICKNICK had the best and easiest, cost effective (minus fine revenues) solution:

    “the problem is that fighting these things with anything other than a shotgun or spraypaint is that you cannot argue with a safety crusader because they do not respond well to logic. truly saving lives at red lights is easy–6 second yellow lights and four seconds from the red light until the other direction turns green. probalo solvado.”

  • avatar
    LeeAlmighty

    After reading the aricle it seems there is some confusion on how these cameras work. perhaps in the USA they use a different method.

    In Europe (Germany) the Camera’s use in ground sensors, and or laser/radar to detect speeding vehicles and red light runs, and when the system gets tripped it takes a picture, or sequence of pictures. so its not watching every car that drives by, its only sees the ones that drive by too quickly. or cross over the stop line. also, you can request to see the actual picture the camera took, complete with your recorded speed in the corner.

    Red light cameras fire two shots, once when you cross over the stop line, then another a second or two later, to see if you actually ran it or not. Yellows don’t count, a yellow light is generally long enough let you stop safely, if you cant stop safely, they are long enough to get you over the stop line and through the intersection before it snaps your picture.

    they dont record every second of everyday, the ammount of data, and time required to sift through all the video is absolutely mind boggling.

    do they try to intrap you, by luring you to run the light, i dont think so, if you run a red light, you should pay a fine, its that simple.

    yellows are often long enough to actually stop, its that moron in front that thinks he/she has to stop on yellow, that slams on his/her brakes, that causes a wreck(s).

    having lived in europe most of my life its funny to see Americans react to this kind of thing. over there it is a fact of life

  • avatar
    fellswoop

    The amount of video/camera surveilance in the U.K. is just plain scary. Big brother is in the hiz-nowse over there.

    I’m in agreement that trading in beloved anonymity in exchange for a surveilance state “with eyes everywhere” in order to focus on reducing 2% of car fatalaties is a BAD IDEA.

    In Massachusetts, how about pulling beyond-insultingly-useless cops at construction details (with their backs to traffic, chatting with the back-hoe guy) and sticking them at intersections?

    In general for the USA, and sorry if this sounds ridiculous, but I’ve frequently fantasized about some kind of national campaign to increase Driver’s Ed standards. Look at the unbathed mouthbreathers that are teaching our kids how to drive (ya right) and notice how unbelievably low the standards are. No emphasis on the simple things, like turning your lights on when it starts to get dark/rainy, using turn signals, situational awareness, etc etc etc.

    Is it any wonder, really, why the general level of driver quality is as poor as it is on our roads when we obviously don’t give even half a crap about training new drivers?

  • avatar

    I realize I risk stating a very unpopular thing here, but why do we allow the saving of any life trump principles that our forebears fought and died for?

    Human life is not the pinnacle of value. The greater good is.

    We have grown so comfortable, and perceive ourselves as practically immune from death. We’ll do anything to avoid it, in any form. We are doing our best, collectively, to create a world where we can exist, without thought or judgement and just move through life in complete safety. This is absurd.

    Death is in fact an integral part of life. All life ends at some point. The preservation of any one life is NOT worth surrendering freedom, judgement, and individual responsibility.

    Besides, the cameras will do NOTHING to prevent a death, they’ll merely record it in fine detail, so we can all watch it later on some Fox channel show “The Most Shocking Intersections” or somesuch.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    ash78

    There is a huge difference between neglectfully running through a light that is COMPLETELY red and trying to make it through during the change. However, I agree with the above poster that with adequate delay in the other light turning green, we should allow people to get through the intersection.

    1. There are certain left turns where you might end up stuck in the intersection. My view is that your FIRST safety directive is to clear the intersection, even if it means running the red (before the cross-traffic green). A cop might forgive this action, but a camera will not.

    2. Even without tampering to shorten yellow lights, I think the law should dictate that as long as you clear the first white line and ENTER the intersection before the red, you should be in the clear. With the 2-3 second delay in the cross green, this is not a safety issue at all. My problem is that the cameras expect you to completely clear the entire intersection before red. That means you have to instantaneously guess the length of the yellow and react.

    On another topic, most of the speed cams I’ve dealt with in the UK have been in towns, so I can’t completely disagree with their role as pedestrian protection. If you can’t handle keeping it under 30mph around tight, blind turns with sidewalks/pavements on both sides of the roads, then you’re too impatient. Most of these small town centers are pretty small (by US standards) and only take a couple minutes to pass through, most of the time.

    What I find ironic about the UK is that you also have the “pre-green” flashing yellow that we don’t have in the US. It basically says “you are free to go if there are no pedestrians” and allows the driver to get a jump on that cross-traffic buffer time we take for granted in the US.

    Or just f*cking install roundabouts everywhere in America. That’s my solution. :D

  • avatar

    Oh Fellswoop, you are right on target with regards to driver training.

    My son is 16 and I’ve been trying to fill in the massive gaps that his school-provided driver’s ed left in his training. What is worse is the testing done by the state! I swear the written test is little more than a MADD brochure. 75% of the questions on the written test here involve DUI laws. Whiskey. Tango Foxtrot?!

    The driving test itself was little more than a lap around the block and a parallel park in a spot large enough to dock an aircraft carrier.

    THAT is the reason our drivers are so poor.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    Ed S.

    “When the light turns yellow, the first thing I do is check my rearview mirror to see how close the guy behind me is. If he/she is too close I will often blow through the yellow, not wanting to count on them not stopping in time. ”

    My procedure is: Yellow light – begin to brake; check rear-view to verify that follower has begun to brake; adjust as necessary. It rare that a follower will miss the yellow light all together. If he misses you beginning to brake then only the small speed differential will damage your vehicle. If you are aware of his [lack] of action then you can minimize the consequences.

    As for the duration of yellow lights, c1999 my county installed a trial about 12 red light camera systems. It came to the attention of the local/state deciders that a longer yellow could also help prevent fatalities at intersections. All yellows were reset to 5 seconds. Since that time I have found it VERY easy to stop in time or proceed through the ENTIRE intersection in the span of the yellow light. Fairfax County has terrible traffic and I rarely witness people sneaking through red lights. It just not necessary with the long yellow. I presume the reduction in accidents and/or fatalities was significant since the county allowed the initial contract with the private redlight contractor to sunset.

    Virginia just announced they will be starting a red light camera program. I welcome the cameras since the revenue will help fund more roads…and I know I won’t get any tickets.

    NOTE: I hoon with the best of them. When I’m not stuck in bumper to bumper traffic I run to redline every shift. I just don’t find it necessary to run red lights.

  • avatar
    Ed S.

    Just to amplify my friend LeeAlmighty’s description of how the system works: there are two ground loops placed in the first 10 feet after the line in an intersection. They are used to detect a car entering the intersection and to measure speed. They are only used on the main travel lanes, not the turn lanes. The system is smart enough to detect cars that overshoot the line while stopping.

    Also note these cameras are still-frame digital cameras, not video cameras. The system I’ve seen used in my area produces images identical to the one posted at the beginning of this Editorial. They are also placed in a similar manor as depicted in that image. These cameras are placed behind the offending vehicle and do not capture an image of the driver. This is the reason why you are not assigned points for a violation, not because it is an incentive to “just pay the fine.”

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    Oh, no! Not the stopwatch!

    If manipulation is occurring, sooner or later a big-mouthed city councilman or a disgruntled DPS “engineer” will spill the beans to an investigative reporter who will be glad to tell the world.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    Eric_Stephans: Do TTACers have good suggestions for discouraging red light running without resorting to automated cameras?

    SUGGESTION #1: Crossing gates that swing down with flashing red lights like at a RR crossing. Surely that would save more lives than lights alone or adding cameras and fines. Unfortunately, it cost money rather than makes it.

    SUGGESTION #2: Force auto manufacturers to build bumper cars that bounce off each other at any speed, protecting the occupants in uterus-like comfort.

    SUGGESTION #3: Darwinism. Survival of the Fittest will sort out the morons that chronically run red lights.

    Maybe I’m just not very good at this game…

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    For those who believe red light or speed cams to be “unconstitutional”, I’m curious, which part of the Constitution is being violated here?

    The Supreme Court has held, several times, in fact, that you do not have any “reasonable expectation of privacy” in regards to things you do in public. So, in fact, a red-light camera or a speed camera cannot be a violation of your right to privacy because once you go out into public, you have no such right. You may not like that fact, but there it is. If the camera is doing the same thing that a policeman standing on the corner could do, then it’s perfectly legal. That a camera can do it more consistently and for a longer period of time is irrelevant from a legal standpoint.

    My second point would be that these cameras, at least in the US, are not put up by some nameless, faceless government entity, they’re put there by agents of your elected representatives, i.e. the city and state governments. So if you don’t like them, lobby to have them taken down. Support politicians who will remove them. Hell, run for office yourself on a platform of “if I’m elected the first thing I’ll do is take out the traffic cameras.”

    And if you’re too busy to get involved, then just suck it up, because you’re getting the government you deserve.

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    fellswoop: I’ve frequently fantasized about some kind of national campaign to increase Driver’s Ed standards.

    Uh… that’s not what I fantisize about.

  • avatar
    Luther

    They can then claim the cameras are an important aid to anti-terrorism.

    This is true since we are all terrorists in the legal criminal-class’s minds. It wont be long before leaving your home will be a felony. The Vogons want desperately to make us all felons to stop us from voting and disarm us. Is Jay-walking a felony above the Mason-Dixon line yet? It will be when the cameras are in place. When they catch you on camera smiling at a pretty woman, the NOW hags will have you thrown in jail for life because you were thinking about raping her… All kinds of wonderful tyrannies can be thought up using public surveillance cameras. The Vogons are having wet-dreams with this no doubt. Do you really believe that the Dept. of Homeland Security was created to protect us from murdering middle-east sociopaths?

    you cannot argue with a safety crusader because they do not respond well to logic.

    Safety Nazis are in a purpetual state of fear because they lack the facility of reason. Someone who lacks reason can be scared by anything the Gov’t/news media tells them to be scared of… Even the weather, eggs, Repulsicans, corporations, and global warming.

    Remember, it’s for the children.

    You lack the proper dramatic affect (aka whine) with this… The proper weak-people tone: Its for the Chiilllll-drennn.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    Glenn, you wrote:

    The Constitution of the United States specifically prohibits the government from conducting “indiscriminate search and seizure.”

    Wrong. It prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. They can discriminate as much as they want as long as they are not unreasonable.

  • avatar

    Ed S.: Virginia just announced they will be starting a red light camera program.

    Little wonder…

    Redflex is one company pushing these camera systems.

    From the article “goldplated_j” noted above:
    Car and Driver (July 2006)

    In its report to stockholders, Redflex said it increased its sales staff — it added five “lobbyists.”

    Guess hiring those lobbyists is beginning to pay off.

    More from the above article by Patrick Bedard:
    Redflex is telling its investors there’s really big money ahead. The red-light-camera business is now only two percent of where it will be, it says. The potential market is 70,000 systems in “3000-plus” U.S. cities. It sees potential annual revenues of $1 billion to $3 billion.

    Those revenues will come from just where (or whom), exactly?

    Finally, an auditor went into Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and looked into the camera shenanigans. They found accidents at “camera sites worsened at a rate greater than in the rest of the city” (despite police claims to the contrary).

    More to the heart of the matter, they also found the cameras generated “317,385 tickets worth $17,661,636 (Canadian dollars) in fines while allowing the police to cut 46 officers from traffic patrol. ”

    If people running red lights are such an important problem in that city, then replacing police with cameras must make the citizens of Winnipeg feel so much safer; or is just that they feel poorer, due all of the camera fines they pay?

  • avatar
    William C Montgomery

    Martin Albright, 100% agreed. The police/government. have the full right and duty to enforce the laws for public safety and to maintain civil order.

    But it is perfectly justifiable to oppose the use of “safety cameras” on the basis that it creates unsafe conditions, as Glenn’s article documents, or that it is a corrupt money making racket that benefits only the companies that make the cameras and corrupt politicians.

  • avatar
    BostonTeaParty

    The editorials are getting much better, well done TTAC, nice one Glenn

    In the UK we’ve had to put up with the money generating effects of speed cameras, many are not used at accident black spots as you would think, they are just another stealth tax that also increase accidents when people realise that they are there by aggressive braking etc. The rules changed, some were removed, others had bright yellow panels put on the back to highlight them even more, so rendering them useless. A few got turned into tall fireworks. A nice idea but not implemented correctly.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    This is a good and sensible discussion among smart and civilized people — another reason to enjoy TTAC.

    As a German whos country was freed from totalitarian rule by the Allies, I appreciate the “freedom above all” argument when it comes from Americans. I would humbly submit that in the current day and age, it seems freedom and human rights are being attacked by government in other ways that make junction cameras appear trivial in comparison.

    On a lighter note, here is
    SUGGESTION #4: get rid of most traffic lights; roundabouts are almost always superior and self-regulating, if constructed correctly. (Man, I hope I didn’t open a new Pandara’s box with this).

  • avatar

    gforce2002: Excellent editorial, Glenn.

    BostonTeaParty: The editorials are getting much better, well done TTAC, nice one Glenn

    Thank you, gentlemen, I appreciate your comments. :-)
    (And any others I may have missed mentioning here.)

    BTW: My thanks go to TTAC; specifically to Robert Farago and Frank Williams, for the opportunity to be heard here.

    And, my thanks to all of the commenters for their intelligent input on this subject.

    Martin Schwoerer: This is a good and sensible discussion among smart and civilized people — another reason to enjoy TTAC.

    Martin, I could not agree more. :-)

    Rock on, TTAC!
    -Glenn Swanson

    P.S. Perhaps someone should author a piece about roundabouts vs. other types of traffic control methods.
    Another could be about the state of Drivers Ed. in the U.S.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    DonLuc:

    I don’t know about Georgia, but here in California, you are allowed to enter an intersection on a yellow light and then complete your turn. IT’s like in basketball, once you establish your position (enter the intersection) it’s your’s. I am required to take a driver safety course as part of my job. So far, they have always been taught by a retired Highway Patrol Officer. This was one of the points that was made at the first one. Just because the light is green doesn’t mean that you have the right to go. In the case where somebody is attempting to clear the intersection that they entered before the light turned red, if you hit them , even though your light was green, you are 100% absolutely at fault. Additionally, you should always check both directions for obvious red light runners before proceeding. Many times I have entered an intersection on a green light, but have not been able to complete the turn until the light turned red. It seems that your ticket is completely bogus, and I would fight any such ticket if I received one.

  • avatar
    NICKNICK

    chuckgoolsbee:
    February 22nd, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    “Human life is not the pinnacle of value. The greater good is.”

    Unfortunately, the “greater good” is often the rationale cited for why a quarter of my paycheck goes to support professional couch potatoes. My favorite neosocialist (buddy from high school) just loves government programs. I call it wealth redistribution–he counters with “opportunity” redistribution. In addition, he cheats on his taxes worse than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s fine as long as it’s someone else’s “opportunity” that gets collected by the IRS.

    grrrrr.

    Sorry for getting off topic, but the thought of more government surveillance and interference to increase their wealth at the expense of mine, all done in the name of “the greater good” just doesn’t sit well with me.

    I think that we should let all the communists and socialists have one of the fifty states (say, california) and let them champion each other’s problems and not mine for a change.

  • avatar
    fellswoop

    Regarding “roundabouts” or rotaries versus stoplights…

    Without better driver education, these are just recipies for gridlock.

    In Massachusetts there are many of these, and it inevitably ends up being a clusterf**k. Nobody uses their directionals, nobody knows when to yield to whom (people IN the rotary end up stopping, people don’t wait to get in and just cut people off, people on the inside cut off others horribly while exiting.)

    It just doesn’t work, and never will without my “fantasy” world of real/prolonged/challenging driver education curriculums.

    This editorial is about how people can’t even figure out how to behave in “the light is RED” situations(1), let alone where they have to merge/yield.

    (1)Why the hell isn’t there legislation about yellow light timing? Some of them around here are ridiculously, dangerously short. This seems like a mega-scam ripe for consumer advocacy. What is more cost effective? Changing the timing of existing equpment, or installing a police state?

  • avatar
    fellswoop

    Video of MA state trooper explaining rotary dos and don’ts.

    http://www.boston.com/news/local/startsandstops/blog/

    Notice the MARKED statie getting cut off in the rotary. Yessir, that’s dumb driving in action!

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    But it is perfectly justifiable to oppose the use of “safety cameras” on the basis that it creates unsafe conditions, as Glenn’s article documents, or that it is a corrupt money making racket that benefits only the companies that make the cameras and corrupt politicians.

    And I agree with you. However, it’s important to note that these are political considerations and not legal ones. From a legal standpoint there’s nothing particularly egregious about red light or speed cameras, since they’re only doing what a police officer could do if he was standing there.

    And of course, because they are political considerations, they’ll require a political, not a legal, response.

  • avatar
    Luther

    If one cant figure out how to use a roundabout after 22 seconds of thought, then they should not even be driving. The people that dont yield when entering a roundabout are just panicky people who are just generally a danger to themselves and everyone else. Driver training will not help panicky people… Maybe a shrink is thier best bet to aleviate their neurosis. These are the types of drivers that drive better with a couple of drinks in them. The big difference between American drivers and Europeans in general is that Europeans are calm and dont panic at a drop of a pin.

  • avatar
    NickR

    I support the use of red light cameras, as running red lights has caused not an insignificant number of fatalities. Speeding camers is a revenue grab, pure and simple. If they want to use them, put them on secondary roads in school zones. Not on a highway where virtually every vehicle is doing 25 km/h over the limit.

    My main objection to this is that these punitive measures are seen as a panacea for traffic safety, not drivers education. Case in point. I would say that less then half the drivers in Toronto do the right thing when they see an emergency vehicle behind them. Usually, they just stop dead, wherever they happen to be.

    And probably the single most significant contributors to accidents, as their occurring in the first place, is failing to merge with adequate speed. I don’t know how many times I have seen people had down a ramp with a full head of steam, only to slow to an almost halt before merging, causing cars to swerve and veer in every direction. Not once have I seen someone punished for this.

  • avatar
    Luther

    If the camera is doing the same thing that a policeman standing on the corner could do, then it’s perfectly legal.

    It use to be that your accuser had to be a fellow human… Guess that little freedom is gone now…. Whats next… Being accused by a robot I guess. How can you cross-examine a camera (or any inanimate object) in court?

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    I loved the video about the “traffic rotary” (known as roundabout in the UK).

    I’ve lived in the UK for a total of 9 years and visit regularly, also have a UK driving licence, which expires the day before my 70th birthday (no retest until then). The thing is, the UK license is so difficult to get, fully 56% of first time testees FAIL, and 70% of repeaters FAIL.

    Generally speaking, you can tell – because results count. UK drivers, on the whole, are far less idiotic than American.

    I think roundabouts are a brilliant idea – they are not “traffic calming” devices as per the Mass. state trooper – on the contrary, it has been proved that roundabouts can double the flow of traffic across a town compared to lights, thus you can accomodate more traffic with fewer lanes, leaving room for more homes, businesses, trees, grass….

    Unfortunately, it is my humble opinion that until we Americans can train drivers as well as the British or Germans do, there is no point in putting roundabouts in because for roundabouts, you need competent drivers.

    Not drivers who are so STUPID about the road rules that they cut-up a marked police car as in the video. Not drivers who tailgate (presumably) because one is going the speed limit (and the fact that there is nothing but traffic in front of one’s self also going the limit does not seem to enter their pea-brains). Not drivers who insist on driving straight out in front of one from side-roads with stop signs. I could go on….

    But I’m pretty certain the average TTAC reader is above average IQ and gets my points, already.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Glenn,
    My last two trips over there, I made a point to rent a car (vs. train/taxi) because it’s just so pleasant to drive there. I’ve never in my life encountered so many drivers en masse who “get it.” Less aggression, less pointless one-upmanship, and far more courtesy in general than you find here in the US.

    Even though the roads are slower and less direct than they are here, the traffic flows (outside of cities) are like poetry.

  • avatar
    BostonTeaParty

    Glenn,
    When my family came out to the states we couldnt believe how easy the testing process is to get a licence.
    we also couldnt believe the people using the roundabouts in michigan, a real selfish, dangerous act of not obeying traffic laws. but not much different to the general driving conditions here

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    in philly, it was noted that on intersections that have cameras have a increase in rear end colisions, from people stopping suddenly to avoid the red light, and gettin slammed from behind.

    todays lesson: dont tailgate

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    It use to be that your accuser had to be a fellow human… Guess that little freedom is gone now…. Whats next… Being accused by a robot I guess. How can you cross-examine a camera (or any inanimate object) in court?

    Your accuser is a human being: The operator of the camera, or the person who interprets the photo. And you’re perfectly free to cross examine that person in court. Some sample questions might be along the lines of :

    How long has this camera been in place?
    How often is it calibrated or checked?
    What records can you produce that show how the camera was set up?
    What triggers the camera to take a picture?
    What are the qualifications of the person who interprets the photos? etc etc.

    Of course, most people would rather pay the $50 fine than take a day off to go to court, but just because the option of contesting the charge is cumbersome or inconvenient doesn’t mean that it’s not there. After all, you’d face the same dilemma if your ticket was written by a real, live policeman. And it would probably be easier to beat the camera than the cop, since the cop could simply say “he advanced into the intersection after the light turned red” and it would be his word against yours. But against the camera, if you could cast doubt onto how the camera was set up, calibrated, triggered, etc, then that could be enough to get you off the hook.

  • avatar
    Luther

    My last two trips over there, I made a point to rent a car (vs. train/taxi) because it’s just so pleasant to drive there. I’ve never in my life encountered so many drivers en masse who “get it.” Less aggression, less pointless one-upmanship, and far more courtesy in general than you find here in the US.

    Heck, Id rather drive in Italy than the US. I lived in Paris a couple of years and although the traffic volume was maddening, I never felt my life was in danger like I do here. The “pointless one-upsmanship” is a sign of neurosis.

  • avatar
    Maxwelton

    I think that we should let all the communists and socialists have one of the fifty states (say, california) and let them champion each other’s problems and not mine for a change.

    What does this have to do with anything discussed here? “LOL libruls!!!!1111!!” (fap fap fap)

    I don’t have an issue with red light cameras viewed from an objective standpoint. However, with their being money involved (big business, not pinko commie bed-wetting strawmen), inevitable that a certain percentage of drivers at any one intersection will HAVE to run reds to guarantee the payout to the business fat cats.

    It’s like getting a ticket when driving through a small town. They get a disproportionate amount of their funding via their ticket revenue…there’s no way a certain number of people every day aren’t getting a ticket. Visit many suburban municipalities on the first few days of the month and you’ll find motorcycle officers stationed near intersections, looking for expired tabs–easy money. How long until the cameras are good enough to spot out of date stickers?

  • avatar
    trosselle

    I have a great idea yhat might make a lot of people happy. Let’s take all the red light and speed cameras off the streets in US cities and put them on the US Mexico border. We could then nab every illegial immigrent crossing the border and fine them $70 for breaking the law.

    We could make this even better by hireing a Mexican company to track down and collect the fines keeping $35 per illegial for their efforts. Make it $50 they keep if they return the illegial back to Mexico.

    It is some times very hard for me to understand the priorities of law enforcement in this country. Since you can generate billions of dollars in fines by people running red lights you put a high priority on it. Since there is no money to be made in stopping illegial immigration do nothing.

  • avatar
    mdanda

    Many lights are run simply because the timing mechanism is primitive and frustrating and has SIGNIFICANT room for technological advancement.

    The government must take responsibility for developing smarter lights that more efficiently route traffic and optimize flow.

    The government should not be allowed to increase the enforcement of traffic laws without a commensurate increase in the quality of traffic system itself.

  • avatar
    kestrel

    If you want to argue that red light cameras are unsafe and thereby be abolished, I’m cool with it. By and large, I think it’s a mixed bag, probably some instances where lives are saved, other instances where rear ending became more common. But they aren’t an infringement on your freedom, because you have no rights in that area to begin with.

    For starters, there is no constitutional right to drive. It’s a privilege given to people who supposedly have proper physical qualifications by the government that incidentally, owns and maintains most of the roads we drive on. Legal theory, ie the Supreme Court, has long upheld that there is no expectation of privacy on the open road. The only place where where privacy universally can be expected is in your residence. Lastly, the charges brought on by the camera still need to by filed by the DA’s office, so you are still being charged by a human entity. Also, arguably, if you can’t charge someone based on camera evidence, than somebody shoplifting, for instance, couldn’t be charged that way either. So, as much as a lot of you don’t like this, it’s not an invasion of privacy because you had none to begin with.

  • avatar
    Luther

    Also, arguably, if you can’t charge someone based on camera evidence, than somebody shoplifting, for instance, couldn’t be charged that way either.

    The camera is a tool not a human-eye-witness. The shop clerk has to apprehend the suspected shoplifter and witness the stolen item on him and then the shop clerk is a human witness/accuser in court that can be cross-examined. The camera tape may or may not be entered as evidence.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    If red light violation only causes 300 or so death per year in the US, assuming that only 10% of those red light running causes death, then only 3000 red light running causes accident.

    So, why do people think that buying a big car/suv saves life? to avoid 300 / millions chances of getting killed by another red light running SUV?

    I think they should enforce H / V / Z / W rated tires and high performance street pads with G rating friction, to save another 300 lives per year.

  • avatar

    trosselle: have a great idea yhat might make a lot of people happy. Let’s take all the red light and speed cameras off the streets in US cities and put them on the US Mexico border. We could then nab every illegal immigrant crossing the border and fine them $70 for breaking the law.

    Love it!

  • avatar

    Those who want to stop red light cameras before they strangle the roads should join the National Motorists Association (www.motorists.com). This is a political advocacy group which also helps people fight tickets. Membership is around $30/year.

  • avatar
    kestrel

    Luther:
    The camera is a tool not a human-eye-witness. The shop clerk has to apprehend the suspected shoplifter and witness the stolen item on him and then the shop clerk is a human witness/accuser in court that can be cross-examined. The camera tape may or may not be entered as evidence.
    Totally incorrect. Your accuser is the state, not the victim, in a criminal case. Exact same principle with traffic infractions. The state is charging you with running a red light. The state is your accuser, the evidence is the red light camera. There is no infringement of constitutional protection here.

  • avatar

    kestrel: There is no infringement of constitutional protection here.

    Point taken.

    However, it’s yet one more way/place we are being monitored.

    When, or where, do we draw the line? When we’re told to turn out the lights and go to bed by 10 P.M. for the sake of “national security?”

    An admittedly overstated example, but my point remains: There’s something lost with each camera install–not to mention the issue of the money-making scheme behind it.

  • avatar

    Very good, thanks for the link Glenn

    Amy.

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    Maybe the government should consider improvements in traffic flow and road design. In my area, traffic “improvements” consist of adding additional traffic signals anytime a new Wal-mart, strip mall or housing development is constructed. This only adds to frustration and congestion. When new roads are built, they connect to exhisting highways that have been inadequate since the 80’s. I live near the infamous I-78 in PA that was closed for 24 hours due to an ice storm. I could only imagine how those standed travelers felt.

  • avatar
    Adrian Imonti

    Excellent commentary, Glenn. Nicely done.

    Martin Albright: For those who believe red light or speed cams to be “unconstitutional”, I’m curious, which part of the Constitution is being violated here?

    For one, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects defendants from self-incrimination. About the only way to avoid being held liable for a camera ticket is to accuse someone else, otherwise it is presumed that the registered owner is liable. (This is true even if the registered owner is clearly not driving the vehicle, and therefore can’t be identified in the photo.) This guilty-until-proven innocent procedure flies in the face of normal procedure, when the burden is on the prosecutor to establish the identity of the offender.

    For another, the Sixth Amendment provides defendants with the right to face one’s accusers. In camera ticket trials, good luck trying to get the company that installed, operates and maintains the cameras to appear in court, or the person(s) who allegedly established your identity.

    Aside from some blatant Constitutional issues, the real problem is that the profit motive trumps justice. The intended purpose of law is to protect life (including safety), liberty and property; fines are supposed to meted out for the purpose of deterrence and to provide a punishment fitting of the crime. The ultimate theory is that the punishment should inspire citizens to commit fewer violations.

    The camera tickets are clearly different, particularly in the cases when operated by private contractors. In these cases, the state and the enforcement company only make a profit if drivers violate the law with relative frequency.

    Their incentives are therefore completely reversed from the goals of justice — instead of being motivated to create fewer violators, the profits from the fines encourage them to create violators, and to increase the frequency of violations. Hence, the games being played with yellow-light timing, installing cameras at low-risk intersections, and so on. The justice system won’t provide justice if the real goal of the enforcers is to increase their revenues.

    philbailey: Let’s hope Al Gore (and other misguided Democrats) don’t read this article, or they’ll be on it like a lion on a wilderbeest.

    There is no liberal/conservative-Democratic/Republican divide on this issue. One of the greatest offenders in manipulating the light timing was the city of San Diego, a military town with a long run of Republicans running city government. Red state or blue state, everyone’s heart bleeds green.

  • avatar
    Luther

    Totally incorrect. Your accuser is the state, not the victim, in a criminal case. Exact same principle with traffic infractions. The state is charging you with running a red light. The state is your accuser, the evidence is the red light camera. There is no infringement of constitutional protection here.

    I understand what is happening… I question the idea that there is no eye-witness. Dont get me wrong, I dont like thieves, fraudsters, or red light runners but the faceless monolith called the state needs to be held accountable by individual human witness subjected to cross-examination. A cop with a radar gun uses the radar as a tool to pull you over and personally accuse you (acting as an agent for the state). In court, you face your accuser (the cop shows up) and question his ways and means. You also can question the accuracy of his radar and question his aim. A few months ago I got pulled over for speeding doing 50 in a 55 zone. The cop accused me of traveling at 75 MPH. I informed him that I was not even doing the speed limit and he paused and admitted that it might not have been me he clocked and let me go… Honorable agent of the state…Odd…Rare.

    With the passage of the Patriot Act…well…The parasite-classes can do whatever they want now anyway. We deserve the Gov’t that we put up with.

  • avatar
    gogogodzilla

    Well, I figure that eventually, someone will brake for a red light, regardless of circumstance (due to not wanting to break the law about running a red light, of course)… and get into a rear-end collision.

    Then would come the lawsuits declaring that the city officials who permitted the red light cameras at fault… as red-light cameras remove the option of running the red light in when circumstances dictate.

    Then would come the large payouts… and bad press.

    And eventually, the press and loss of revenue would do wonders in making others think twice about the temptation of red-light cameras.

    But it’ll take someone willing to risk an accident to make it come to fruition.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    Adrian: You wrote:

    For one, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects defendants from self-incrimination. About the only way to avoid being held liable for a camera ticket is to accuse someone else, otherwise it is presumed that the registered owner is liable. (This is true even if the registered owner is clearly not driving the vehicle, and therefore can’t be identified in the photo.) This guilty-until-proven innocent procedure flies in the face of normal procedure, when the burden is on the prosecutor to establish the identity of the offender.

    Nope. There’s no 5th amendment issue here. The state has accused you, using the camera picture as evidence. You are free to challenge the evidence in court. As I said above, the fact that challenging the ticket in court may not be cost effective to you (taking a day off work and losing $200 vs. paying the $50 ticket) is irrelevant from a legal standpoint because you are being offered a chance to challenge your accuser.

    Furthermore, in the case of a camera ticket you can use a defense that is not available if the ticket was written by a cop who pulled you over: You can say “it wasn’t me” or “it wasn’t my car.” Of course, you’ll have to overcome the evidence they have (which will be the photo) but if the photo is fuzzy or indistinct, that may work in your favor.

    For another, the Sixth Amendment provides defendants with the right to face one’s accusers. In camera ticket trials, good luck trying to get the company that installed, operates and maintains the cameras to appear in court, or the person(s) who allegedly established your identity.

    Wrong, Wrong, Wrong. The state is the accuser. The picture is evidence and you are free to challenge that evidence in court. So you subpoena the camera operator (here in CO the speed cams are operated by a live person) or the person who sets/calibrates the cameras, and if they don’t show up, the case is tossed, because the burden of proof is on the state, not on you.

    This is a bad outcome? It’s the same as if a cop wrote you a ticket and then failed to show up in court. Case dismissed.

    Aside from some blatant Constitutional issues, the real problem is that the profit motive trumps justice. The intended purpose of law is to protect life (including safety), liberty and property; fines are supposed to meted out for the purpose of deterrence and to provide a punishment fitting of the crime. The ultimate theory is that the punishment should inspire citizens to commit fewer violations.

    Well, all of that is true (except for the “blatant Constitutional issues” part – there are no Constitutional issues blatant, latent or otherwise) but from a legal standpoint it’s also irrelevant because those are political, and not legal, questions. If the legislature, or the city council, decides to direct the police to use traffic cameras, they can do that and if you don’t like it, you can vote those worthies out of office.

    The camera tickets are clearly different, particularly in the cases when operated by private contractors. In these cases, the state and the enforcement company only make a profit if drivers violate the law with relative frequency.

    Again, political question, not a legal question. Therefore, no legal solution.

    Their incentives are therefore completely reversed from the goals of justice — instead of being motivated to create fewer violators, the profits from the fines encourage them to create violators, and to increase the frequency of violations. Hence, the games being played with yellow-light timing, installing cameras at low-risk intersections, and so on. The justice system won’t provide justice if the real goal of the enforcers is to increase their revenues.

    Whether their motivations are pure or sinister, politicians can only do what we, the people, allow them to do. So if you’re that worked up about it, then find some like-minded fellow citizens and get the law changed, or run a candidate for office.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    Gogogodzilla:

    (BTW, Great screen name! I’m a BOC fan from way back!)

    You wrote:

    Well, I figure that eventually, someone will brake for a red light, regardless of circumstance (due to not wanting to break the law about running a red light, of course)… and get into a rear-end collision.

    Then would come the lawsuits declaring that the city officials who permitted the red light cameras at fault… as red-light cameras remove the option of running the red light in when circumstances dictate.

    Then would come the large payouts… and bad press.

    Have you ever heard of any government official or entity being held liable because of a law they passed? Of course not, because if they could be held liable, then laws would never be passed. Think about it, if this was possible, then the state legislature could be sued for raising the speed limit by the family members of someone who was killed in a high speed accident on the freeway.

    The doctrines of Sovereign Immunity and Qualified Immunity protect cities and states quite nicely from this kind of lawsuit. Even if a law is declared unconstitutional, the most a court would do is order the state not to enforce the law – they would never award money damages to a plaintiff who claimed to have been harmed by the law.

    Edit: I suppose I should note that there are circumstances where a city or state entity can be sued and money damages awarded (Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California comes to mind) but that would be based on the actions of a state employee , not on the basis of a law that was passed by the legislature.

  • avatar

    Uhh … sorry, they have your consent. We elected teh idiots that think it’s a good idea.

  • avatar
    TechBob

    It is funny how Pavlov-ian the “they’re taking away our freedoms!” cry is from certain political vantage points. Hearing Gore’s name invoked just confirms the observation. I think the use of “actual traffic deaths” as a measure of traffic camera effectiveness is a misdirection. The number of collisions might be a better measure, but I can’t imagine these stats could be recorded accurately enough to use. Yellow light timing may be a valid point, but without actual stats – it’s just another red herring. And what’s with the oft-cited statement that ‘actually stopping for red lights will create more rear-end collisions’? Oh, please.

    I don’t care about political side of the argument and I’m skeptical about how the statistics were used in the editorial to support the thesis. What I do care about is driving on the road with idiots who feel entitled to blow through red lights and ignore the rules of kinetic energy on the freeways. (Think you can stop your SUV from 75 in 20 feet? Dial “1-900-PHY-SICS”!)

    In Houston, you do NOT “go” when the light turns green – you wait and see how many cars are going to run the light. One intersection that was on my daily commute could be relied on for 2 to 3 cars flying through after the light changed – EVERY morning.

    You don’t stop suddenly for yellow lights – that’s a guaranteed rear-ender. When the light changes, the first thing you do here is check your mirror. I’ve had people drive around me and run the light AFTER I’ve stopped – many times.

    Maybe it’s just me, but the level of aggressive driving and inappropriate speeding has escalated to the point where driving in the city is no longer a pleasure. The red-light cameras in Houston were a last resort – things were (and still are) so bad, there’s no way you could put enough traffic enforcement out to counter it.

    The thought of “aggressive driving cameras” makes me nervous, but what is the alternative when the freeways are like free-fire zones? Forget “smooth flow of traffic” here – 20+ mph above limits, tailgating and CONSTANT pointless lane changes are the rule.

    As long as we treat driving as a “right” instead of a privilege, and as long as we refuse to enforce actual driving training standards – we are stuck with “after the fact” attempts to control the driving habits of idiots. There’s no good solution here, but something needs to be done. Maybe Prozac in the water supply …?

  • avatar
    Luther

    In Houston, you do NOT “go” when the light turns green – you wait and see how many cars are going to run the light.

    Always. Everywhere. Another reason for traffic circles, to slow traffic down instead of fools flooring it thru a “orange light” risking a t-bone accident. Driver training will not stop aggressive/me-first-always driving. It is a psychological problem not a problem with ignorance of traffic procedures.

    Maybe Prozac in the water supply …?

    That or throwing the TV in the trash where it belongs.
    Maybe relax drunk driving laws so these people can calm themselves… That ones going to be flamed.

  • avatar
    Hillbilly

    Up until a few years ago we here in Eastern Kentucky had to share the roads with some rather heavy vehicles. Coal is a big industry here and a lot of it is transported by truck.

    Before weight restriction laws were enforced it was not uncommon for a coal truck to weigh over 200,000 lbs. That’s right, over 100 tons. As you can imagine it is very hard, if not impossible, to bring that much weight to a stop. Trucks routinely ran +60 mph on the local four lane highways. Many ended up running intersection red lights.

    In a effort to provide the public with a sliver of safety the KYDOT would install warning lights some distance, maybe and 1/8 to a 1/4 mile (I’m guessing), prior to an intersection. The lights were designed to advise the truck driver of the status of the intersection lights. They are off when the intersection displays a green light for the driver’s lane/direction. Prior to the intersection lights beginning their cycle towards red, the warning lights will begin to flash (yellow and only yellow). This was to provide the truck driver with sufficient time to bring the big rig to a legal stop.

    Since that time vehicle weight restrictions are heavily enforced. Most all coal truck weights are now legal. Even so the KYDOT have left the warning lights in place as the public has gotten familiar with them.

    They are wonderful. They give ample notice of the coming red light. You can get off the gas and just coast to the intersection barely using the brakes, if at all.

    On the other hand. if they begin flashing the moment you get to them you can “step on it” a bit and clear the intersection prior to the red because their timing assumes the vehicle is doing the posted speed limit.

  • avatar
    fishiftstick

    1. Here in Toronto, you get a ticket from a red light camera only if you enter the intersection on red. I’m sorry, but that happens only by gross inattention or gross hoonage. Either way, you are endangering not only your own life but also those of other drivers.

    2. Public roads are public places. You could argue that your car isn’t a public place, but if the camera can see in, you hardly have an expectation of privacy.

    3. Freedom is limited by the rights of others; your freedom to move your hand is limited by the proximity of my nose. It doesn’t take a statistician to understand the consequences of entering an intersection against the flow of traffic. Exactly why do think you have the right to do that?

    4. If you were talking about speed cameras, I’d mostly agree. Red lights are different. If fatalities are rare, it’s because they are rare generally. How rare are accidents causing injury and property damage? And how do you make the logical leap from a single life to 850?

    5. The 5th Amendment to the US Constitution protects people from being required to incriminate themselves, not from being required to rat on their pals.

  • avatar
    Rodney M.

    Well, I’ll sound off here and I hope to not be offensive. Have any of you ever been to other countries and been completely scared out of your wits by their driving? I will go on record and say that if you have ever been to a developing country from Latin/Central/South America, Asia, Africa and parts of Europe you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’ve travelled to and worked in every continent on the planet (minus Antarctica) and have witnessed the driving habits of dozens of different countries. I’ve driven in countries where traffic continued to flow through an intersection LONG after the red light flashed. I’m not talking about stragglers – I’m talking about the whole line of traffic. Or they begin to drive through the intersection before the light has turned green. I’ve seen the direction of a one way street change 180 degrees. I’m amazed by the poor driving in many countries. Not in all. I’m not saying that the US has a monopoly on safe driving habits. I’ve felt completely safe in Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Australia and many other places.

    As long as the US is the destination of choice for many immigrants (both legal and otherwise) from so many developing countries, then we will continue to see driving safety issues escalate. You only need to observe the driving habits of that culture to determine the influence they will have on our society unless they are educated on the habits/expectations of the law of our land. Extending yellow lights and the time between red and green lights of perpendicular traffic will not solve the problem. People will just have even more time to run the light. Also, if a person has six seconds of yellow light, think of how much speed they can accumulate by flooring it during that time. I’m not trying to single out any particular nationality or even suggest that they ARE the problem. I’ve certainly observed plenty of good ole boys, business men and inattentive soccer moms blatantly running red lights. But I can’t help noticing the correlation of 1) the rising poor driving habits in the US with 2) the poor driving habits of many developing nations and 3) the rising number of immigrants from said developing nations into the US.

    My observations are not meant to spark any hate mongering against any foreign person/nationality. I personally think that immigration into the US is vital to it’s success. And I welcome them. The US is and has ALWAYS been a nation of immigrants (both legal and illegal). One of the challenges for our nation since it’s inception has been learning to deal with the cultural differences that occur when so much diversity is thrown into the mix together at one time. Cities such as NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami and many others have been living with these cultural challenges for decades/centuries. I personally think this (driving habits) is one of those cultural clashes that our generation must learn to deal with.

    How many of the red light offenders are first generation immigrants? I have no idea. I seriously doubt they are the majority. But I do believe they’ve contributed to the problem, especially in diverse communities.

    Anyone care to discuss?

  • avatar
    salokj

    I’ve not read all of the comments, but I wonder something. This may stop some people from running red lights, but is it really the people who are generally causing fatalities? What I mean is (and I’m just imagining) here, is that most of the tickets issued for red light infractions are the people who roll through 2 seconds after the light has changed…not the ones who come barreling through because their stupid, or drunk, or both at 55 after the light is very red. IF you’re going to run a light like that, I don’t think that a camera or a cop or anything is going to stop you from killing the innocent driver who’s going the other way.

    I live in France where the new best thing is the speed camera…well new for the last 5 or 6 years. It is an object of fascist state control. There is no way [basically] to not get a ticket. If your car gets “flashed” you’re basically screwed, or you’ve gotta rat on someone else. But this takes into no account the speed of traffic, the conditions, the time of day, anything – even the calibration of the camera…how do we know that it really works? For city and surface street driving they “give” you a 5 kph break (55 become 50), highways are 6 or 7kph. That means that your speedo really better mean 135 when you’re on the highway.
    The best part, and the proof for me that this is a money making opportunity: When you get a ticket (yeah, I know from experience) you can pay within 45 days at one rate (~ -25% reduction), from 45-90 days at the ‘standard’ rate, or the default rate (like 5x more than the standard rate) after 90 days. You can plea non coupable, but you have to prepay the standard rate. If the government finds that you are guilty (most of the time) you have to pay the standard rate…Basically you can shut up and take your punishment or get screwed even harder. Apparentyly they are also really looking forward to those ANPR cameras…they had a story on the news a few weeks back about how well they work in Britain. liberté, fraternité, égalité my ass.

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