Busted! Redflex's Redlight Camera Semi-Snuff Film

Nicholas Cincinat
by Nicholas Cincinat

Redflex is the Australian company that runs many if not most of America’s red-light camera programs. Although I’m not a city resident, I attended two Redflex Q&A sessions in Canton, OH over the past two nights. About twenty people attended the first meeting. Around sixty showed up at the final of four meetings—once people caught wind of what was at stake. All of the meetings included city council members, city safety director Thomas Nesbitt and Hizzoner the Mayor, William Healy. Redflex’s Executive Vice President Aaron Rosenberg began the first meeting with the video above. The clip was shown without warning. Hello and boom: a graphic and violent accident of the type Redflex’s cameras are supposed to prevent. No emotional blackmail there, then.

Rosenberg claimed the accident happened in Dayton, OH (it’s also featured on the company’s website). According to Rosenberg, the Chrysler PT Cruiser blows through the red in the curb lane doing 33 in a 35. This after the light had been red for 28.4 seconds.

As I slowly overcame the high-school-drivers’-ed-style shock of seeing a quick clip of carnage, I became increasingly angry and appalled. Why is it OK for a company selling safety equipment to use such blatant shock tactics to rally taxpayers to their for-profit cause? With aspiring teen drivers, you can understand the value of “tough love.” But while good profits may come from scare tactics, good governance does not.

Whose meeting is this anyway? By allowing Redflex to start the evening in this cynical, manipulative manner, Canton was revealing the truth: the fix was in. And then I started to dissect the accident. . . .

We were shown the brief clip of footage. Nothing more. No information on the cross-street speed limit. The Subaru was going plenty fast, but who knows if he was speeding?

The hapless pedestrian was strolling along across the street AFTER the cross-street light had changed to green. Doesn’t at least a small part of the blame rest on his decision to cross that street against signage? Cities and towns put up those Walk/Don’t Walk signals for a reason.

Also, did the pedestrian have a reasonable amount of time to cross?

I remember an article about an elderly woman getting ticketed for blocking traffic in a crosswalk. A TV crew investigated and found that a group of high school students couldn’t make it across the intersection before the light turned green at a dead run.

Furthermore, what exactly did Redflex’s camera do to prevent this accident? Ipso facto, nothing. Supposedly, Redflex’s systems reduce this kind of T-bone crash rate. But there’s no independent data on this for one simple reason: it’s not true.

In fact, red-light cameras are notorious for causing rear end collisions. While a spectacular crash like the one shown is particularly horrific, a large[r] number of rear-end collisions would lead to a large[r] numbers of whiplash cases. It’s a chronic injury that can literally ruin lives.

Last but not least, even if no T-boning accident had occurred, it looks like the SUV could have struck and maybe even killed the pedestrian.

To know the truth about this “instructive” incident, I would like to see the actual accident report and hear an analysis from a safety expert whose salary doesn’t depend on a red-light camera contract.

As those of you familiar with my screen name (SexCpotatoes) might imagine, I gave the city’s suits and the Redflex EVP a hard time, asking plenty of pointed questions. When pressed about Houston and Denver’s increased accident rate after red-light camera installation, Rosenberg responded “That was not our company.”

I asked city traffic engineer Dan Moeglin why his department hadn’t implemented any other safety measures: number boards that count down to red, synchronizing more traffic lights through town, or extending the yellow times. “I have all the traffic info about yellow light timing and such right here, I can go over them with you if you want, but these numbers give even me a headache.”

He also said that “yellow light duration is set by a formula taking into account speed limit, and width of the roadway.”

I briefly touched on the lawsuit against Redflex regarding the radar equipment they’d imported and distributed in violation of federal law. “That was an issue with a sticker not being properly placed or affixed,” Rosenberg demurred.

So a company devoted to catching motorists who must follow the letter of the law down to the last tenth of a second justifies breaking the law, perjuring themselves and falsifying certification documents as a clerical error. Nice.

I’m starting a petition to get the red-light camera issue placed on the ballot for the next general election. I leave it up to you, TTAC’s Best and Brightest, to decide whether using this crash footage to sell camera systems to greedy cities is morally reprehensible. Meanwhile, if you want to know why Canton is even entertaining this idea, I suggest you ignore the video and, as always, follow the money.

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  • Pirate Pirate on Feb 14, 2009

    Dynamic88: robertplattbell: Ah, the plot thickens. So now we don't want to punish those who break the law? Priceless, and an interesting debate tactic...too bad it's sooo third grade. Since it's apparently escaped your attention, and one might question whether or not it was deliberate....this isn't about a bunch of 'car magazine' retards trying to stop traffic laws from being enforced. The problem here is that the governmental bodies in charge of enforcing those same laws are tweaking the lights in order to generate more income.....all in the name of 'safety'. I am sick of idiots running red lights. However, this is more of a failure of those same governmental bodies you are cheerleading for, in that they allow almost any idiot to get a driver's license....failing to train a driver properly is where your precious government has dropped the ball. However, seeing that municipalities get a LOT of help from auto insurance companies, in the form of radar/laser radar equipment, so they generate more income for the state....the fact is, is that stupid drivers are more profitable for state and local governments than smart drivers are, and also profitable for insurance companies, who have determined that stupid drivers make them more money also....so it makes perfect sense for insurance companies to donate money-generating equipment to police and sheriff's departments nationwide...it's the perfect investment. So, lo and behold, these same stupid drivers, which were improperly tested by state and local government are now causing injuries and fatalities everywhere, including....intersections. So now, that same state and local government, who did such a great job in making sure the drivers they licensed were competent enough to pilot a 4000-pound missile, is now doing the equivalent of 'cooking the books' to ensure they make even more money off of the stupid drivers that they so graciously bestowed/tossed/hurled drivers licenses upon. Since you are both obviously either cops, or in the employ of state or local government, you aren't going to admit that by not lengthening the yellows like they should be doing, state and local governments are ENDANGERING the SMART drivers out there, by having such ridiculously quick yellow lights. And we are supposed to trust this same government to do the right thing, when they fail on so many other levels? What does the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, a smart blonde, and honest government all have in common? All have been proven to be theoretically impossible. Thank you, please drive through.

  • Gerald Gerald on Feb 23, 2009

    A few cities on the San Francisco Peninsula have been sold Redflex systems. My town is just installing one, paying $360,000 over 5 years despite claims by city council members our city is in bad financial condition. They claim "it's about safety, not money." though they are sold the system with the claim the city will "profit" from installing such a system. Meanwhile, below is the story of a nearby town where a judge tossed out the first few months of tickets, finding the system, despite Redflex having lots of experience, was improperly "tuned" to insure they'd catch people in the intersection on a red light. ************************************************** California: Short Yellow Forces Ticket Refund in San Carlos Short yellow time in San Carlos, California forces refund of $156,591 worth of red light camera tickets. The city of San Carlos, California was caught last week trapping drivers at an intersection with a yellow time so short that it violated federal and state law. As a result, 411 tickets worth $156,591 will be refunded or canceled, and San Carlos will pay back the cost of any traffic school that a motorist may have taken to avoid license points. The problem was noticed after the city's first and only automated ticketing machine was activated at Brittan Avenue and Industrial Road on November 25. A handful of motorists began to complain to the police that the yellow signal lasted as little as 2.9 seconds, in violation of the federal three-second minimum. The department took corrective action on January 29. "It was set incorrectly -- we were told it was set for 4.0 (seconds)," San Carlos Police Commander Rich Cinfio told TheNewspaper. "We reset the signal to 3.2." California Department of Transportation's guidelines insist that the yellow time for an intersection like Brittan and Industrial which has a posted 30 MPH speed limit must be no less than 3.2 seconds. Although the difference of less than a third of a second may appear insignificant, it can have a dramatic impact on the number of citations issued by a red light camera. This can be seen in the contract clauses that the private companies operating cameras have created to forbid cities from increasing the duration of a yellow signal (PDF File view example from Mesa, Arizona, 100k PDF). Going beyond the bare minimum, on the other hand, can have a decisive impact on improving safety. A Texas Transportation Institute study confirmed that when the yellow light timing was increased one second above the minimum amount recommended by the ITE formula, accidents dropped 40 percent (view study). When asked if the city would consider setting the yellow timing back to the 4.0 seconds it expected, a police spokesman sharply rejected the suggestion, even though the longer duration is not prohibited by any contract provision. "We're comfortable with 3.2 seconds," Cinfio said. San Carlos and the Australian vendor Redflex Traffic Systems specifically selected the intersection of Brittan and Industrial because it met the most important test. "Staff estimates it will realize net revenue from any intersection approach wherein the camera captures an average of six violations per day," an October 22, 2007 city memo stated. The captured violation rate, which includes photographs where the driver or license plate is unclear, far exceeded the rate of six per day. The issued citation rate of seven per day also exceeded expectations. Now the city does not want to lose goodwill over the mistake. On its own initiative, the department moved to contact those who may have paid a citation at the intersection and to clear all improper violations from the books. "We want to make sure they're made whole," Cinfio said. "Good people do make mistakes. Honesty in government is placed at a premium in San Carlos."

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