Cities Put Revenue Over Driver Safety

from the looking-out-for-us dept

Several studies have shown that red light cameras, designed to catch people who run red lights, are in fact dangerous themselves. Drivers approaching yellow lights instinctively slam on their brakes when they see a camera (just to be on the safe side), which then leads to more accidents. Of course, this hasn’t stopped cities from installing them, particularly since they represent a lucrative source of revenue. In fact, the pursuit of more revenue has led some places to shorten the length of yellow lights to increase the chances of someone getting caught running a red. Disturbingly, this practice looks like it might be somewhat common. In Lubbock, Texas, it was found that most of the intersections where the city was planning on installing cameras had shorter yellow lights than safety guidelines suggested. And this doesn’t appear to be a coincidence. The city engineer actually told the city council that he would not increase the length of yellow lights, so as not to eat into the city’s ticket revenue. There’s really no other way to view this than to say that the city doesn’t mind if more people die in accidents, as long as its ticket revenue stays high.

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Comments on “Cities Put Revenue Over Driver Safety”

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CJay says:

Let's Watch the Hyperbole

OK, may lead to more accidents… but FATAL accidents? If it’s slamming on the breaks to stop at a yellow, it’s likely a fender bender at best… so we’ve got the insurance companies making money, the local repair shops making money… maybe you go to your doctor for some whiplash and now we’ve got doctors and medical insurance making money… really it’s a local economy boost all around.

econ says:

Re: Let's Watch the Hyperbole

Ok so forgetting the fact that you slept through your econ class, or maybe your just an idiot. This is the broken window matter what, joe blow driver is out that money. And history has shown us, the best place for consumer’s money to be, is with the consumer. We know how to spend it best, and frankly, I would rather spend that money on camera’s or something else, other than a redlight ticket, that perhaps was a short yellow light. Either need to do some Econ reading before you say its a boost to the local economy

Bill says:

Re: Let's Watch the Hyperbole

Are you smoking crack?????? Good for the whole economy no way. I had one of your fender benders at 20MPH and ended up having 2 disks removed from my neck to get the feeling back into my hands. I was laid up for 3 months. Let’s forget about the injuries and talk about insurance rates going up. When the companies pay more – we pay more!!!!

Overcast says:

Yeah, from what I’ve heard in the VAST majority of cases, if they are able to write a lot of tickets at a particular intersection, it’s usually because the timing on the lights isn’t right. Too short of a yellow light, etc..

Of course, don’t let safety or honesty stand in the way of government funds… oh no..

True enough Mike – if one could get proof of that, I suspect you could indeed sue successfully.

Casper says:

Of Course

It’s the whole concept behind a speed trap. People forget that a city is in fact incorporated and looking to make revenue. Where I live, I talk to a lot of people that no longer consider speeding tickets a punishment, but rather a random tax. The red light cameras are just a lazy addition to the money making mentality of the city.

When will they figure out that the goal of “public safety” should be public safety rather then generation of revenue? In the case of these cameras, they are actually contributing to the problem.

John says:

Yah... and?

Creating opportunities for the law to pounce on the common citizen for mundane violations like running a stop light, traffic sign, or speeding probably date back to the first highway. If law enforcement focused more on the less lucrative problems – such as drugs and crimes our cities and streets might be safer. But instead, money talks.

I’m one of the few who refuse to agree with the notion just because your in a ‘public’ place you have no expectation of privacy – this in my opinion is ridiculous and simple wrong. While you obviously do not have as much privacy as you would, say in your house, I think you do have the right not to be photographed, videotaped, or otherwise subject to surveillance without giving your permission (or a court order/warrant to gather such material). I’m finishing up law school – so yes I know the legal and constitutional implications and the word “privacy” doesn’t appear in the const., but I’m tired of being told and people thinking a public area immediately means you have to expectation to not have others gawk, photo, or eavesdrop!!

oh… and finally # 1!!

Vincent Clement says:

Re: More Money

Because if you raise the fine, you risk the chance of more people fighting the ticket in court and your further risk the chance of losing and setting a precedent. Also, the punishment – the fine and possible points – is supposed to fit the violation. Charge too much and you risk the chance that a court ruling that the fine has no relation to the violation.

Jim says:

They set up a few of these in Minneapolis, for a while. There was a story on the news one evening about a guy who got THREE bogus tickes for running red lights. Each time, he went to court and fought it. The video from the cameras CLEARLY showed him stopping for the light while a different vehicle ran the light, yet HE was issued the ticket. The police chief claimed it was a “clerical error” on part of the outside firm that had the contract to operate and monitor the cameras. I wonder how many people simply paid for their “clerical errors” without questioning.

Not too long later, the red light cameras went away again. The state had some legal argument that forced the city to shut them down, over great protest by the city police.

Sanguine Dream says:

I'm not surprised

I’ve seen ticket giving at its worst. The campus police at the college I once attended would literally drop the ticket under your wiperblade and run away like cowards.

There is a lot of money to be made on tickets. Don’t let the cops fool you into thinking that come out in force during holidays to promot safety. They do because they know there is lots of money to be made.

I’m all for safety and using fines to deter minor offenses but to rig the situation so that the driver is essentially tricked into a ticket? Isn’t that kinda like entrapment?

Beefcake says:


An automaton’s inability to exercise judgment aside, if used intelligently at strategic locations, the possibility of improving safety is possible.

Trouble is, most municipalities are using them as ATM’s — a reward for poorly designed intersections. They install the cameras at intersections with the highest number of red-light infractions and begin collecting revenue, rather than fix what’s causing the higher-than-normal red-light infractions in the first place.

Voice of unreason says:

Get to the point

What always fails to be mentioned in articles about red light cameras is that these devices are actually not owned or run by municipalities.

There are only a couple of companies that provide these services to cities. They own the cameras, they collect the pictures, they collect the fines and they pay the city. In return, they keep a hefty portion of the fines.

This all seems fine except that the contracts often include light timing requirements. The part of this article that talks about the yellow light timing being shorter than is recommended by safety guidelines is most likely based on the contract the city has. The city engineer probably can’t change the light timing because of the contract with the camera company.

The light timing is a matter of public record. The contract should also be a matter of public record. It would be very easy for someone who was involved in an accident at one of these intersections to get the city engineer’s information about light timing around the city and make a pretty strong case that the city has ignored common sence safety issues and a smart lawyer could make a killing with a class action suit.

There’s no need to get any of the cities engineers involved in testimony, unless they can provide expert testimony as to when and why the light timing was changed as well as what timing is recommened for public safety.

John Duncan Yoyo says:

Fake Camera's as deterents

Given the system used Cameras can be pretty obvious. The City of Fairfax Virginia has green boxes the size of a half a case of printer paper on big green poles and lights that flash you if you run the light. Vienna Virginia uses little domes mounted out over the road and traffic lights. These all had been off for the past year or two but they got permission from the State Assembly to start using them again.

Fairfax put signs up near the boxes and before the intersections. I don’t remember how Vienna marked them.

IMS Fairfax city had five or six intersections with camera boxes mounted and only one camera. They would move it around to different boxes. I think it rapidly paid for more cameras to fill all the boxes. They got me once for $50.

Vienna Va uses video cameras that allow them to decide if you had cause to enter the intersection in the red light. Something like letting an ambulance pass would be ok.

John says:

...should be illegal

This entire business (because that’s what it really is) of putting cameras at intersections for ticketing drivers should be illegal. That’s clearly government going to far. Reasonable situations for using cameras include accident disputes and reducing violent crime–NOT a money maker for government. Put simply, there will always be more cameras available than the people the police could employ. Therefore there’s no end to the number of cameras that could be installed and ticketing people .

This should be ruled unconstitutional quickly before it becomes more of a problem than it already is.

Rob (profile) says:

It's amazing...

That we still have murder/theft/rape in this country after we do everything possible to make it so police don’t have to sit idle at an intersection and watch for people running reds. We give them RADAR detectors so they don’t have to pace cars and they sit on the side of the road talking on a cell phone, we give them cameras in intersections and now all they have to do is wait until someone slams on the brakes and gets into an accident, at least the response will be fast.

Bob says:

First of all while I think these are not necessarily a good idea because you could get a ticket for a reason beyond your control like getting out of the way of a firetruck or something the other issue here is how impatient everyone is. There has to be a way to crackdown on all the asses that run red lights. This can cause an accident. Yellow does not mean speed up and try to get through the light. Have some damn PATIENCE people. Every day on my way to work I see these impatient assholes trying to make a left turn and as soon as the light turns red they go instead of being patient and waiting for 6 or 8 red light cycles for when the road is clear to make a left turn. Also you have the assholes who sit in the middle of the intersection because the light is green but they cant get through the intersection because the next light ahead of them is backed up, so when the light turns green for the other people they cant go anywhere. There shouldnt be anyone slamming on the breaks if they see a camera because you are supposed to approach an intersection with caution. All this tells me is the people who slam on the breaks when they see a camera are the SAME ASSHOLES who wouldve run the redlight if there wasnt a camera

BillDivX says:

Corrupt at every turn...

Souther California was one of the Traffic Light Cameras earliest adopters. Several of the cities in south orange county hired a company to install and administer the cameras. The contract stipulated a percentage of the revenue for the company as part of payment. When the appearance of the cameras led to the inevitable first round of privacy suits, the lawyers investigating discovered this, and checked the out the company, promptly finding evidence that the company was fudging the cameras and catching people even when the light was still barely yellow, in order to increase their revenue. The cameras were all taken down. but they’ve now re-appeared, under a new contract that doesn’t profit share. Why am i not surprised that such a fiasco has failed to prevent corruption and mis-use?

DM/Diddy says:

I'm for them...

When we had them in Minneapolis for a while, traffic accidents were down significantly at those intersections. We’re talking side-impact, maim or kill the passengers t-bone accidents, not rear-enders where most people are saved by their airbags.

There’s just too many a-holes who feel they have the right to endanger the lives of other drivers by blowing thru red lights. Anything that makes them think twice is OK by me.

BTW, they were removed here because the courts bought the argument that the photos couldn’t prove who was driving the car and thus the tickets wouldn’t stand up in court. I just hope some lawyer gets fed up enough with the bogus parking tickets they hand out here to apply the same argument: “You can’t prove it was me who parked that car in front of an expired meter…”

dorpass says:

Re: I'm for them...

So did you bother finding out what else changed besides the cameras on the corner? Around the time of San Diego fiasco, many places put in the cameras AND made the yellow light longer, which, as previously mentioned decreases the number of red lights ran. This was also the reason for the camera owners (not cities) to go after the cities for not meeting the quotas.

For the guy in Phoenix… you might as well be dorpus with that comment. I’ve been in the area only for a short time and even then I can see how more and more intersections have the yellow light extended, especially the ones with red-light cameras. So again, before you start trumpeting the “benefits” get the whole picture, pretty please with a ticket on top.

Anonymous Coward says:

correct me if i’m wrong, but i know that at least in new jersey, you’re actually supposed to try and stop at a yellow light. the whole purpose of the yellow light is for people who can’t stop in time. technically, its still the driver’s fault if they’re getting in accidents. granted, in practice, yellow apparently means go faster nowadays. so, in general, you’d think the city would care more about safety than money, but why is it we complain when the government tries to keep our children safe for us as opposed to us trying to keep ourselves safe. any accidents caused by these cameras are all going to be due to people driving unsafely. so, now it seems people are saying the cities should help us overcome our own stupidity to make driving safer, but whenever they try to pass laws to try and overcome our stupidity, we all cry “foul.”

i dunno if i explained that point clearly, but i hope you get it.

Cloksin says:

Camera's are good

I have to disagree with just about everyone who has posted here. First of all, you don’t get issued a ticket if you enter the intersection while the light is yellow and it turns red before you exit the intersection, you get a ticket if you enter the intersection after the light has turned red. If you can’t stop for a red light then I don’t care how you get the ticket, so long as you do, and the fine fines for running red lights should be several hundred dollars like they are in Fullerton, CA.
Secondly, it shouldn’t matter how long the yellow light is, when you see a yellow light you slow down to make a stop at the intersection, or did you all forget your drivers education. Maybe everyone should be retested for your drivers licence, lets see how many people will still be alowed to drive.
I think that every intersection in the country should have a red light camera, with steep fines, and those people who are continuing to run the red lights will soon run out of money to afford the gas to be able to drive, and then the streets would be a hell of a lot safer.

Vincent Clement says:

Re: Camera's are good

I have to disagree with everything you posted.

First, red light cameras start taking pictures as soon as the light turns red. The government, the police and the company running the light does not care if the light turned red when you were already in the intersection. In fact, they are counting on these drivers to pad their pocket books. Don’t be so naive.

Second, increasing the time of the yellow light does matter. The problem is that over time, governments have reduced the length of the yellow light, conditioning drivers to make one of two decisions: speed up or hit the brakes. You are probably one of those people that believes that when you increase the speed limit that the drivers will continue to drive 10 to 20 mph over the new limit (a notion that is completely false).

Vincent Clement says:

Re: Camera's are good

I have to disagree with everything you posted.

First, red light cameras start taking pictures as soon as the light turns red. The government, the police and the company running the light does not care if the light turned red when you were already in the intersection. In fact, they are counting on these drivers to pad their pocket books. Don’t be so naive.

Second, increasing the time of the yellow light does matter. The problem is that over time, governments have reduced the length of the yellow light, conditioning drivers to make one of two decisions: speed up or hit the brakes. You are probably one of those people that believes that when you increase the speed limit that the drivers will continue to drive 10 to 20 mph over the new limit (a notion that is completely false).

Cloksin says:

Re: Re: Camera's are good

You my friend are the one who is naive. The camera’s only take a picture if you cross the stop light after the light has turned red, therefore if you are already in the intersection when it turns red there is no picture taken, and therefore no citation issued.
Secondly, what does speed limit increase have to do with red light running, please stay on topic, or start your own blog elsewhere.
The government has not conditioned anyone to make a decision when they see a yellow light. Those that speed up when they see a yellow light are blatently disregarding the traffic laws as nowhere, in any driving manual, driving school, or driving test, is that an option for a yellow light.

Vincent Clement (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Camera's are good

Read the fifth paragraph from the bottom. What did Lockhead Martin IMS do? They “surreptitiously moved three underground magnetic sensors that triggered the cameras, causing innocent motorists to get ticketed for running red lights.”

This part has some interesting points about the length of yellow lights. Anyways, I find that people tend to speed up when they see the flashing Don’t Walk symbol – a dead give away that the traffic light is about to change from green to yellow.

Geoffrie says:

Increased Safety

I can’t vouch for other cities, but here in Portland, OR we have an intersection that used to be extremely dangerous. It was bad enough that it was listed as one of the most dangerous intersections by the insurance companies. The city put in these cameras at all points to cover all 5 streets that met at this intersection, and within 2 years the accident rate dropped dramatically. This intersection is now one of the safest in the city, and it is largely due to people paying attention to the fact that if they run the light they will get a ticket. People learned fast!

Vincent Clement says:

Re: Increased Safety

When it is reported that the “accident rate dropped dramatically” the analysis is limited to collisions within the intersection. If you extend the geographic area of the analysis beyond the intersection, many cities have found that while collisions in the intersection have decreased, collisions within 150 to 300 feet increased.

Yes, collisions in the intersection have greater potential to be fatal, but all of these red light cameras are installed on the premise of increased safety and/or a reduction in collisions. You can’t ignore the increase in collisions before the intersection.

EW says:

Are you people insane?

If we need to change how the camera enforcement is implemented, fine. But implicit in so many of your comments is a flippant attitude toward the law and the danger your sorry butt causes by running a light. One poster even called running a red light a minor violation. Sure, it’s minor until you kill someone who THOUGHT you were going to stop because it’s a freaking RED LIGHT. A lot of traffic laws are about predictability. As soon as you run a light, you become unpredictable. And if you think the government sucks for trying to keep you from endangering the rest of us, you’re a selfish bastard.

Chris says:

we vote for people? ha!

“We elect the people that make the decisions to put them things in. We must agree with what they are doing or we would reelect people to take them out.”

No sadly enough we (and I assume you mean the collective we the populous of these United States) do not vote. About 20% of us might, but the rest don’t give a damn. Currently voting is just an illusion to make it feel like we have a choice. All we can choose, is to put some jackass in a seat. Once there they’ll do whatever they please until a lawsuit says otherwise. Now if a city is conisdering red-light cams they may choose to bring it up in a city-council meeting. In which case anyone who would like to protest must get off their fat lazy ass, drive to town hall, and wait to be called on to voice their opinion. Even fewer people actually go to meetings, than those who vote. The great majority however waits until someone does something they don’t like, and then they throw a huge tissy-fit much like most of the commenters here, and expect something to happen thereafter.

Biker Guy says:

Does it apply to motorcycles?

Do these tickets apply to morotcycles? Just asking because there are some times when a motorcycle MUST run a red light … or sit indefinately. Lots of traffic lights work based on a magnet in the road. My 390lb plastic and aluminum sportbike doesn’t set these off about 1/2 of the time, so if it’s late and there are no cars around to help out, I end up FORCED to run the red light when it’s clear.

I’m not talking about being dangerous and stupid here … that would just remove me from the gene pool prematurely … I’m just talking about not having to ride miles out of my way to get home if I’m out late on my bike and there aren’t many cars on the road. (At least none that are going my way that could trip the light for me.)

dorpass says:

Re: Re: Does it apply to motorcycles?

I am Jack’s sinister temptation.

Just go get a 10$ strobe light, set it to the right frequency, and you can (often) turn the light green by powering up the strobe light for a few seconds.

(warning: that’s a felony in most states, but hey, at least you wont get a fine!)

That would be an IR light that you need and it doesn’t work all that easily or that many places at all. Seriously, I prefer dorpus to be posting nonsense.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Does it apply to motorcycles?

And I prefer dorpus for his accuracy.

Next time, get your facts before correcting someone.

The original strobe sensors (that were mass deployed and are still in mass usage) were created to be backwards compatible to the strobe lights already installed on the rescue vehicles they were providing service for. And it works extremely well, thank you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Does it apply to motorcycles?

And I prefer dorpus for his accuracy.
Next time, get your facts before correcting someone.
The original strobe sensors (that were mass deployed and are still in mass usage) were created to be backwards compatible to the strobe lights already installed on the rescue vehicles they were providing service for. And it works extremely well, thank you.

Thanks for being as accurate as dorpus. You provided an Idaho bill as proof?! There have been NUMEROUS articles on the matter as well as testing by several magazines.

Here is one article for you, Coward.,1282,68507,00.html

I hope you can find more for yourself.

And yeah, it might be an optical strobe light as defined in your lovely amendment, but the signal that sensors respond to is STILL infrared. I hope you are not too surprised that both can be coming from one source. That’s also the reason the strobe light you are talking about works all the same when you have an IR lens on top of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Does it apply to motorcycles?

Great, thanks for that… I think.

But uh, you didn’t discredit anything.

I was referring to the original implemtation of the system that worked quite well before it was rendered far less useless by the MIRT standard, the one that borked most of the usability elements of the system in favor of making it minutely less possible to use without permission (which was part of the original design spec).

And no, I was not referring to IR when I said optical. I was referring to the systems that were implemented pre-MIRT. Thanks for trying to put word in my mouth tho, but I prefer my own intelligent words over your ignorant ones.

I hope you have learned something now. Goodbye. Coward.

dorpass says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Does it apply to motorcycl

First of all, I am calling you Coward because you don’t even have the guts to use a fake name here, Jack. I guess you wanted to make it seem like there are two people sharing one opinion.

My first response to you, Jack, was that a strobe light won’t work since the systems are MIRT. You can argue all you want that you were referring to the old systems, but you might as well talk about steam powered cars. No one put any words in your mouth, your advise was wrong the first time you said it and it is still wrong as you are trying to obscure the original comment. The red-light changing system are MIRT based, strobe light won’t work, thanks for playing, Jackie-boy.

misanthropic humanist says:

The war on travel

I also think that there are too many selfish idiots on the roads who endanger lives by speeding, but I also think that cameras are ineffective and that anyone who doesn’t see this for the gravy train it is is allowing their emotions to get the better of them.

Near Bristol in England a speed camera recently became the first to earn 1 million pounds. If you drive in the UK you are watched by cameras on every street which read your registration plate. They know where you are, how fast you travel, if your motor has insurance and road tax, and even how many passengers you have in the vehicle.

The UK is one massive experiment in TOTAL surveillance and automated law enforcement. The traffic meters and cameras in any London street earn twice the hourly rate of any human working in the shops and offices. In short the entire enterprise is one massive gravy train. We call it the “War on Transport”. It is driven by the marriage of a lunatic nanny socialist state with corrupt local authorities who are in bed with the so called “security companies”.

The experiment is still ramping up, increasing the pressure to see how much we will take before we turn. It has been running for almost 5 years now.

What are the results of this experiment? I’ll tell you….

There has been no significant reduction in serious and fatal RTAs
or street crime and traffic congestion is worse than ever before.

Sorry to hammer this home but




My own town spent 30 million on cameras alone this year.

That would have built a new hospital.

Runaway authoratarianism and sinister “security companies” are fucking us up the ass. Everybody wants to lower crime and increase safety but this is not the way to do it. There is simply no evidence that surveillance impacts on the situation, leaving any thinking person with the incontrovertible conclusion that it’s just a big money making scheme through punative fines.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Yellow Means Stop

Don’t know what driving school you people went to, but in my lessons, I was told that, if you come to a yellow light, you’re supposed to stop if you can, not put your foot down to try to beat it.

Also, if somebody hits you from behind while you’re moving forward, it’s their fault, not yours. When somebody tailgates me, I drive slower anyway, to try to reduce the chance of this. Yes, it pisses them off–that’s the point. 🙂

Vincent Clement says:

Re: Yellow Means Stop

What they tell you in driving school and what the actual law says are two different things. In some jurisdictions, yellow lights have no legal status – nothing in the regulations states that you are supposed to to stop for a yellow light.

What did they teach you in driving school about a four-way stop? Probably, that the vehicle to your right should proceed first. Again, some regulations state that you make a full stop and proceed when it is safe to do so. There is no mention of yielding to vehicles to the ‘right’.

dorpass says:

Re: Research Disputes This Blog Claim

I realize that research can vary, but in the interest of balanced reporting, this was just printed today:

As mentioned before, this is incomplete information. Just as in San Diego some yellow lights were shortened to “help out” the cameras, many cities installing them actually made the yellow lights longer to avoid the legal trouble.

Anonymous Coward says:

Whenever I read one of these articles bitching about red light cameras I can’t help but think about the drivers I see every day who run red lights without a second thought. A few weeks ago I was approaching an intersection and when the light turned red I was a good hundred feet from the intersection when the car next to me floored it and ran the light 3-4 seconds after it turned red.

I ran a light a few months ago because I was in a hurry and got to it just as it changed to red. THREE cars behind me all ran the light. God knows what would have happened had I stopped.

Shropshire says:

Automated Enforcement means $$$

It’s been reiterated numerous times that photo enforcement means cash for municipalities. The city of Edmonton, Alberta in Canada takes in over $15 million dollars per year from enforcement while the rates of accidents/injuries/deaths have either remained the same or actually climbed. Not to mention the fact that the contractor running the systems for the city was essentially implicated in a bribery/no-bid-contract scandal.

The even bigger farce with these photo enforcement systems is that there is no transparent audit trail in which the money goes directly back to what it needs to – driver reeducation. Instead, it goes back into the ol’ pork barrel where politicians can use it for whatever whim they see fit. In the city of Edmonton’s case, this also went to buying a $4M dog kennel and “vacation getaway” homes in Arizona.

The bottom line here is that no government can clearly justify what it is taking our money for, and photo enforcement has nothing to do with administering justice.

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