By on March 28, 2011

A Grand Jury in Napa, California last month issued a report calling for reform and refunds in the city’s red light camera program. The jurors uncovered yellow light timing discrepancies and an unusual dependence upon right-turn tickets to generate revenue at the most productive intersection. The Australian vendor Redflex Traffic Systems began issuing tickets in May 2009, and citations at four intersections now cost $475 each. So far, 9278 tickets worth $4 million have been mailed — 3789 of which were sent to vehicle owners that turned right on red.

The program’s top intersection, Highway 29 and Highway 121, gives out 78 percent of its tickets for turning right on red. The location has never had an right-turn accident problem. From 2004 to 2008, the intersection experienced 77 accidents, only one of which was related to a right turn — a non-injury collision where a speeding car hit a fixed object, not another vehicle or pedestrian. The jurors questioned the emphasis on right-turn ticketing, which Redflex requires in its contract.

“Based on this accident history, the automated red light enforcement of right turn stops has limited direct benefit of reducing accidents,” the report stated.

Jurors also noted that Caltrans ignored its own stated policies by allowing red light camera enforcement at the intersection without first performing a study to examine engineering alternatives. The jurors found this resulted in drivers being shortchanged by the signal timing at this 60 MPH approach. When the camera was first installed, drivers had a 5.4 second yellow after a circular green signal, but after a protected green arrow the yellow dropped to just 3.2 seconds. On May 13, 2010 Caltrans engineers increased the 3.2 second yellow to 3.8 seconds. This had a big impact.

“Following the change in yellow interval time and enforcement procedures, the average number of right turn citations dropped significantly,” the report noted. “To verify that the change in citations was not a result of effectiveness of the automated red light enforcement system’s ability to modify driver behavior, the grand jury also evaluated the right turn citations at the First/Jefferson intersection. The grand jury found that the number of right turn citations remained relatively steady over the first eight months of operation at this intersection.”

New state regulations are expected to prohibit having two different yellow times on the same signal, so Napa at some point quietly implemented an informal procedure giving a 1.6 second “grace period” to the shorter yellow phase where tickets would not be issued. The grand jury criticized the interpretation of the law that Caltrans used to justify the shorter yellow.

“Had Caltrans applied the approach speed as the criteria for setting the SH 29/12/121 signal, the southbound right turn yellow change interval would have been set at 5.4 seconds for all signal phases,” the report stated.

The jurors asked the county to seek clarification from the attorney general about the proper interpretation of the statute. Jurors noted that accidents have decreased since cameras were installed, but that may not be as a result of the photo enforcement program.

“The data more clearly shows that the incidents of injury accidents have been on a steady decline since 2007 with the highest level of decline occurring between 2007 and 2008 prior to the installation of the automated red light enforcement system,” the report stated.

The report recommended refunds to the estimated 1000 vehicle owners ticketed under the old signal timing practice. A copy of the report is available in a 1.7mb PDF file at the source link below.

PDF File Final Report on Automated Red Light Enforcement (Napa County, California Grand Jury, 2/25/2011)


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4 Comments on “California: Grand Jury Slams Right Turn Tickets...”

  • avatar

    Makes perfect sense.  Same here in Canada where most people who show up to court for red light camera tickets are contesting right turns.  Tickets cost about 350 bucks per bite.
    This lack of integrity using public safety (and in most cases endangering public safety) to make money spells the end of what ever that is left of the hard earned trust that used to exist between public services (police, bylaws, etc) and the public they serve.

  • avatar

    Yeah, they’ll get a refund, but what about the lost wages in going to court and fighting this and the insurance surcharges?  There’s no mention of this.  Redflex corporate slags and the city officials that approved this need to pay back those charges out of their pockets, then be tarred and feathered.  If city officials knew they would be personally liable for refunds should their attempt to fill the city coffers be overturned, they’d be much less eager to sign those contracts.

  • avatar

    Ah corruption and graft here in the land of the free.  I’m glad there is due process of law that actually worked to combat this, but I’m not so optimistic about the war.
    Redflex and their ilk have strong motivation and deep pockets to keep installing their wealth suckers, pay lawyers, and keep up the bribes.  I don’t know that grassroots campaigns have the money and drive to keep up.
    Red light ticketing would need to be made unprofitable through either:
    1. legislation – we’ve seen some of this, but there are always going to be corrupt locales that would go for it (cheaper than paying a guy with a radar gun).
    2. public outrage – i.e. people protesting or organizing massive vandalism campaigns – not going to happen until people begin to starve at which point there be be bigger things to worry about.
    I see automated speed traps and red light cameras popping up everywhere in the Seattle metro.  Most people just shrug it off.  The pot of gold is too large, and somebody (probably govt) is going to find a way to get it.

  • avatar

    I’ve lived in California over fifty years and have watched it transition from a thriving middle class industrial high technology wonder into a third world fast food non-english speaking graffitti covered toilet! Our wonderful “Leaders” have chased business out and with the absence of business so goes the middle class. We now have the ultra rich Hollywood crowd, old money(Huge land owners) and the new class replacement from ALL countries south of our border most of which use the system to drain the last little bit of blood from the dying almost corpse. This isn’t racist it’s just TRUE!! State and local governments use things like the right turn camera violation to squeeze any remaining money out of anyone who has any left unless you’re one of the new “Underclass” who are exempt from paying for anything. Get ready because this same new “Underclass” will be coming to your town if they’re not already. Enjoy!!

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