National Motorists Association Challenges Cities To Prove Red-Light Cameras Are Safer

from the put-up-or-shut-up dept

Over the years, we’ve had a number of posts about studies showing that red-light cameras tend to increase the number of accidents, even as cities that install them claim that they’re doing so for safety reasons. The problem appears to be that red-light cameras cause more people to slam on the brakes at the last second, leading to more rear-ender collisions. Plenty of studies have shown that if you really want safer intersections, the solution is rather simple: increase the length of time for yellow lights and include a pause after a light turns red before the cross-traffic signal turns green. Some cities already do this, but many do not. A big part of the problem is that red-light cameras are big money makers for municipalities, who share the revenue with the makers of the cameras — who have every incentive in the world to set the traffic lights to encourage more violations, rather than fewer. To give proof to the lie that municipalities are installing red-light cameras for safety reasons, the National Motorists Association is now offering $10,000 to cities (found via The Agitator) if it can’t reduce by 50% the number of red-light violations using regular traffic engineering. They’re only looking to do this at camera-enforced intersections that still have high numbers of violations. Of course, if the NMA can show such a reduction, the city would then be required to remove its red-light camera systems. What are the chances any city takes the NMA up on this challenge?

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Comments on “National Motorists Association Challenges Cities To Prove Red-Light Cameras Are Safer”

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John Duncan Yoyo (profile) says:

Having gotten my only ticket in 30 years of driving from a red light camera I still like the idea of camera enforcement. They have to do something about the people who only stop two seconds into the red.

If you get rear ended we the car in back is at fault. You need to leave room to actually stop if the car ahead does so. If he was going fast enough to rear end you he would have run the light as well.

If Red light cameras pay for something useful along the way so be it.

mkam (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I got a red light camera violation in the mail. In the image you can clearly see that the traffic is backed up for quite a ways and my car is 90% through the light. On the photo it puts the velocity at which I ‘ran’ the red light. It said that I was going 2 mph through the light.

In addition at the red light camera by my house the yellow used to be 6 seconds. (its a 45 mph road) After the red light camera got installed the yellow miraculously became ~4 seconds. If it is raining there is no way that you can stop. Cameras are blatant money grab and I always vote against anyone that advocates their use.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Fast enough to rear end you” just doesn’t make any sense. You’re confusing things like following distance, roadway condition and driver attention with speed. They’re not all the same thing. It’s entirely possible to drive safely at 70 MPH with proper following distance and to rear end someone at 5 MPH without it. Some people have the mistaken idea that “safe” driving equates to “slow” driving. It doesn’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

70 MPH as a safe speed on a street controlled by a traffic light. I don’t think so.

I never said that and to say that I did is misleading at the best or just downright dishonest at the worst. Anybody can look right up above to see what was actually said, so you’re not fooling anyone.

Having said that, there is a traffic light about 10 minutes from where I live on a roadway with a 65 MPH limit. There are, of course, warning signs and flashing light leading up to it and it has an adequate yellow period.

Besides that is atleast 15MPH over the speed limit around here- More likely 35 MPH over.

More likely? You don’t know? What are you, one of those twits who drives so slowly that you’ve never even bothered to notice what the actual speed limits are? If you really do live in some part of the country with a 35 MPH maximum speed limit (my state used to be 55 years ago), then all I can say is that it must suck to live where you do, but not my problem.

You should be getting a ticket for something at those speeds on a surface road.

My state has a lot of 70 MPH roadways. You may think we should all be getting tickets but I think you should just stay where the max is 35. And even at 35 you’re still a dangerous driver if you think that rear end collisions are caused by speed rather than following distance.

John Duncan Yoyo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Oh the joy of living in the middle of nowhere. You can lead foot all you want.

I live outside DC where through the miracle of elections and foreign embassies they dump the worst drivers in the world. Besides that and population density we are fortunate to have one of top five bad commutes in the country. We are generally fortunate if the highway speeds are near forty at rush hour.

Javarod says:

I think the larger problem is driver training. Out here we have speed cameras that trigger at 76MPH on the freeways, the speed limit is 65. I saw someone in the left lane doing just under 70 slam on their brakes when they realized they’d reached the camera zone. Ummm, who taught them to drive? First its public knowledge where the cameras are, and number two, wouldn’t common sense tell you that slamming the brakes on like that is more dangerous (and more expensive ifn you cause an accident). This kind of reaction is the greatest danger from these cameras.

Ben says:

In Australia practically every traffic light has a three second delay between the light turning red and the cross traffic light turning green, and I’ve seen it prevent many accidents, having no delay seems to just be asking for trouble.

As far as the red light cameras and rear-ender issues, I completely agree with John Duncan Yoyo, “If he was going fast enough to rear end you he would have run the light as well.”

Wizard Prang (user link) says:

Re: The trouble with delays...

…is that people get used to them. Ever gone through a set of lights just as they were turning red, only to note that five vehicles behind you “just got through”?

I was taught that Amber meant STOP unless it was unsafe to do so. These days I know better – amber means FLOOR IT!!!

Give people an inch and they will take a yard.


Land of the Free says:

Many of the lights around me (OHIO) do indeed go green as the cross lights turn red. That’s America folks! Also, does anyone but me have a problem with getting a ticket if someone else was driving your car and ran a light?? I certainly do.

In America, pretty much all traffic enforcement is nothing but a giant money making opportunity.

Back in the 90’s I read that congress comissioned a report on how speed limits where set. What they found was not what they wanted to find. The average speed of cars on a road was taken, then 10 miles per hours was SUBTRACTED from that average and that was the speed limit. See any problems with that?

The other big one is just arbitrary lines for municipalities etc. And of course the classic speed traps, 45 to 25 around a corner, then back up to 45.

It’s a game about revenue. Noboby really cares about safety in govenment.

matt says:

Red Light Cameras

I have been a licensed driver for fifteen years, during which I have had zero accidents and received only two tickets, both from red light cameras, and both in the past six months.

Both were instances where the camera was placed quite deliberately (i.e. they put it aiming at the left turn lane, where it’s left on arrow only, the green lasts about 5 seconds, and there is usually a line 4-5 light changes long). Both were not even my fault — I was on pace to make the light, and some idiot in front of me jams on the brakes at the green causing me to *just* miss the light (literally I was ONE FOOT past the line in first citation).

I know that these tickets have done one thing to me — If I am on approach towards a light that I know has a camera (the number of which seems to double on a weekly basis here in Dallas, TX), if the light is green I am very heavy on the gas to make darn sure it stays green when I go through it, or if the light turns yellow I’m gonna smoke those tires to make darn sure I’m gonna stop in time. Bottom line is it doesn’t matter green or yellow, these things are making people drive like absolute maniacs.

Another point people have not brought up is what about the super-bright, obnoxious flashes in the face of people coming other directions? There are MANY cases where one direction of traffic is stopped by red while opposite direction remains green. IF you’ve ever had one of the cameras aimed at opposite flow start flashing in your face, it is QUITE blinding and happens at the instant you are entering an intersection at speed.


wnyght says:

Re: Re: Red Light Cameras

LOL, you know, if the public banded together and destroyed the cameras, there would be the initial fines and penalties, but if we keep destroying them, eventually they would have to give up on the idea. Just a thought, but it wont happen, people are too lazy to get up and do anything about it.

Anonymous Coward says:

The problem is that even with proof most cities won’t care. In my city the Mayor is pushing to install more and more of these red-light cameras. He was shown studies that showed that increasing the length of the yellow light a small amount reduced by over 90% the number of people that ran the red light, his response was that increasing the yellow would cause traffic flow problems. I’m not exactly sure how reducing significantly the number of people who run red lights and reducing the number of accidents caused by people slamming on the brakes at the last might wouldn’t help traffic flow but then I’m not the mayor.

Near where I live is a light that periodically turns green and within 1 second turns yellow. How is anyone supposed to get through that light and NOT be cited for running a red light?

Land of the Free says:

Your all missing the point here. Your not supposed to drive better or actually get through a 1 second light. What you are supposed to do is give part of your income to the local government in the form of various traffic violation fees so they can ramp up thier salaries.

The only way to get rid of things like this is to just voluntarily agree to send them a montly tithe instead, at least that way it won’t raise your insurance rates. 🙂

I’ve had no tickets in 15 years (knock on wood) and I drive very defensively as if I’m always being watched, which more and more is the case, bribe the local “traffic tax” collectors (ie cops), and generally have learned to talk my way out of quite a bit of things.

Get one of those silly FOP stickers for your car, yes it’s another “tax” on you, but it does help and if dealing with a real cop make sure they see it.

And that’s the other problem with cameras, the system of selective enforcement as a revenue generator has built into it human interaction element. Camera’s don’t have that. FOP stickers don’t work, bribes don’t work, friendly faces don’t work. humm… I bet late night attacks on the cameras probably work. 🙂

Ed says:

red light camera

As long as the cameras are operating within accepted standards I see nothing wrong with them. I hear a lot of crybabies whining because they got caught by them, but for the most part, if they were driving correctly, they wouldn’t have gotten caught. People are always so quick to want someone else to blame for their own indiscretions. How about some personal responsibility for a change? If you are speeding, accept the responsibility if you get caught. If you run a traffic light, accept the responsibility if you get caught. Stop trying to pass the buck and blame technology. Bunch of brats.

Steve R. (profile) says:

Revenue Enancement

Circa 2000 the City of San Diego, California got into trouble with its red light camera program. It appears that the timing of the yellow light was reduced so that more people could be ticketed. The City of San Diego had a “profit” sharing agreement with the camera vendor. Who was responsible for this timing “adjustment”, I don’t know. But like a lot of tech debates, such as net neutrality, hard to detect and prove issues such as timing or network management are silently “tweaked” by the perpetrators to benefit their revenue enhancement at the expense of unknowing consumers.

In summary, wrote: “San Diego Wants to Adjust Cameras to Issue More Tickets
San Diego, California will shorten grace periods to make more money from red light cameras that have increased accidents in the city.

Since they were first installed in 1998 red light cameras in San Diego have never reduced accidents, but they have generated millions for the city — $16,279,772 until a Superior Court declared the program illegal in 2001. The city recently restarted ticketing, but officials are not satisfied with the amount of money they have been raising. In response, Mayor Jerry Sanders is now proposing either to drop the program entirely or adjust camera settings to trap more motorists at stoplights.

Mayor Sanders told KGTV television that he wants to reduce the amount of time allowed after a light changes from yellow to red before a ticket is issued. This “grace time,” according to a 2002 audit, ranged from 0.3 to 0.5 seconds in San Diego. Sanders proposes to drop it to a lightning-quick 0.1 seconds to issue even more citations and bolster the program’s income.

“We see about a 9 percent decrease for red light runners,” Sanders said. “Most cities using it more widely with a 0.1-second delay actually see up to a 40 percent decrease.”

In 2000, motorists caught San Diego using illegally short yellow times at intersections that had red light cameras. Court action forced the city quietly to increase the yellow time at a number of intersections with the number of violations instantly dropping. At Mission Bay and Grand Avenue, for example, violations dropped from a rate of 363.4 per 100 enforcement hours to an average of 42.2 the day after the yellow was lengthened.

Court documents from 2001 proved that, excluding the intersections with increased yellow time, every red light camera intersection in the city had an increase in accidents, or saw no benefit. San Diego Police Chief David Bejarano confirmed this in an interview on Nightline: “And it’s true in a few intersections we found a few more accidents than prior to the red light photo enforcement. At some intersections we saw no change at all, and at several intersections we actually saw an increase in traffic accidents.” Accidents have also not dropped under the current red light program.”

The Cardinal (profile) says:

Red Light cameras

We have had delayed stoplights for years, and folks use the 3 second delay to continue running them. Anyone who does this should be legally punished – hence the cameras and the tickets.

Regardless of whether the absolute number of accidents increase or decrease with the use of cameras (and since it’s a relatively new trend, I doubt that there is enough long-term data to say one way or another in most locales), I would wager that after a few months, the number of serious accidents (i.e., life-threatening and substantial vehicle damage) decrease substantially.

Check the trends after 3 – 5 years of use, then get back with me.

SteveD says:

Its not an excuse

Why do people think that just because municipalities use these cameras as a form of stealth-tax, then its acceptable to speed or skip stop-lights?

The laws aren’t there to make money, but to save lives. If politicians are abusing them by getting easy money at the expense of making the roads safer, then that needs to be addressed. But it’s not an excuse to break the law (and neither is patriotic rubbish like ‘That’s America!”).

Vincent Clement says:

Re: Its not an excuse

The laws aren’t there to make money, but to save lives

You must be delusional if you believe that. You don’t need laws to save lives, you need common sense.

Want to improve speed limit compliance? Set the speed limit at the 85 percentile and design the road for a specific speed.

Want to reduce collisions at signalized intersections? Increase the time of the yellow light, introduce a 2-second delay where all lights are red, and/or start utilizing roundabouts.

See, I just saved lives without the need for additional laws.

But it’s not an excuse to break the law

I seem to recall that a few Americans were not happy with how the King was ruling the colonies and decided that it was time to ‘break the law’.

In Ontario, Canada, it took retailers breaking the law by opening on Sundays and Boxing Day to allow stores to be open on Sundays and certain statutory holidays.

Rosa Parks decided she didn’t like being forced to sit at the back of the bus and decided to break the law in order to sit where ever she wanted to.

Plenty of other example where sometimes you have to break the law in order to eliminate or change it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Its not an excuse

Why do people think that just because municipalities use these cameras as a form of stealth-tax, then its acceptable to speed or skip stop-lights?

I don’t think I’ve seen anyone here (or elsewhere) claim that running red lights is safe, appropriate, or acceptable.

The laws aren’t there to make money, but to save lives.

If the laws are there to save lives (which they should be) and the statistics show that red light cameras only rarely create a slight reduction in crashes, but, in far more cases, correlate with a significant increase in crashes (which appears to be the case), then the laws should clearly be changed to save lives more effectively by removing the cameras.

Now, yes, that will make it easier for people to break the law without getting caught. But which it more important, perfect compliance with the law or preventing crashes and saving lives?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Its not an excuse

The laws aren’t there to make money, but to save lives.

In the case of red light cameras, the evidence says otherwise.

If politicians are abusing them by getting easy money at the expense of making the roads safer, then that needs to be addressed.

It certainly does. By calling attention to it and creating public discourse about it in an attempt to get the politicians to change their law.

But it’s not an excuse to break the law…

Who (other than your own straw man) said it was?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Its not an excuse

i got a ticket for missing a right turn light by litterally

.51 of a second.

the intersection was so sketchy that the right hand turn lane light remains red the whole time and the only thing that changes is the green and yellow arrow..

the light doesnt even have to change to red because it stays on.

i couldnt even tell that the light had turned red because as soon as the yellow arrow turned off i got bombarded with flashing lights (at night time)..yeah its very safe to blind a whole intersection.

i made it thru the whole turn with out even relizing/ thinking that it was me who got photograped. because the whole thing happend in under 1.5 seconds

i work a minimum wage job, i go to school full time, and i obey the law. yet the government feels that its nessecary to take my whole 2 week paycheck to pay for the whole 1/2 of a second, that i missed that turn.

that justice for….. thumbs down

Colg says:

“Check the trends after 3 – 5 years of use, then get back with me.”

There is plenty of long term data:

Here is an interesting experiment in denmark that plans to eliminate lights all together:

finally here is a clip of an intersection in what appears to be India. it looks insane but apparently it works for them. I would like to see a long term study done on it.

Matt says:

Anon Costa Rica

Flashing green before yellow? Brilliant!!! I say run 6-month interval tests for a few years on the same test intersections… 6 months w/ camera, then 6 months w/ flashing green/extended yellow, back to camera, etc. Compare totals of accidents & citations… hmm I wonder which is more effective. If you live in Dallas, go to for a list of phone and fax numbers for the mayor and all city council seatholders. Why not send a letter including link to demanding they accept this offer, or if they do not then vote them out of their seats.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t know if red light cameras are the answer, but something needs to be done. A few years ago I ran a red light because I was in a hurry. I wasn’t to the line when the light turned red but I knew I’d have a second or two before the crossing traffic got a green light and I’d be through the intersection by then since I was going about 60. Problem was the THREE cars behind me all ran the light too.

A few months ago I was driving on the same road when a light about 200 feet in front of me turned red. I slowed down and stopped, but the car in the lane next to me which was behind me when it turned red FLOORED IT and even though he was four or five seconds late he ran the light, actually cutting between two cars turning left off the other street. From where he was he could have slammed on the brakes and stopped in plenty of time, so it wasn’t accidental on his part. Probably half the non-highway wrecks I see can be attributed to somebody running a red light. And the lights around here have about a two-second delay, but all that does is embolden the red light runners because they know they have time to get through the intersection before crossing traffic starts moving.

Liquid says:

Dumb People

It’s not matter if they are safer. For christ sakes it’s a camera. The only thing it dose it take pictures of those that commit traffic violations. If people wouldn’t try speeding through a damn yellow light just as it’s turning red cause they didn’t feel like stopping. They just happen to be “In a hurry” to get where they are going. Heres a tip LEAVE EARLYER then when you plan on thats simple logic. Then again who needs time for logical thinking anymore. I say keep the red light cams, and keep takeing pictures of those idiots that get into a wreck cuase they had to stop suddenly cause if they didn’t the camera would have snapped a shot and they would have gotten a 150-200$ fine for running a red light. Instead they decided to slam on the breaks and get butt pounded from behind only to now have to pay FAR MORE in repair bills.

Heres a tip people THINK… I know that there are people out there that agree with me… And those that don’t just want to make excuses so they dont have to feel guilty any more for running that red light every once and a while.

Colg says:

Re: Dumb People

I love it when people like you tell others to “THINK” when you obviously have done precious little of it yourself.

Ill break it down and use small words so even you can understand:

1. They make a law to protect public safety: (don’t enter an intersection if the light it red)

2. They find that if they make yellow lights longer fewer people have accidents:

3. They put cameras on the lights to catch bad people.

4. They make money buy catching bad people.

5. They find that people are driving in an unsafe manner because the cameras are there.

6. They have a decision to make now. Do they keep the cameras, catch bad people and make money or do they remove them to protect public safety?

Too often they choose to make money and the price is safety. This directly counters the intent of the law in the first place. Many municipalities compound this by tinkering with the light timing to create more “bad people” and make more money. These are the same jokers that sell the system as a safety feature.

chris says:

follow thee money

here in stl theres has been much controversy over the use of red-light cameras. a local news program did a report and found that most of the lights in the area are actually maintained and owned by the companies who make them. These companies come in and convince local govt to let them install their light system for free as long as they get a rather large cut of the fines. If i remember correctly an average ticket here was 100$ of which the local govt received 20$ the other 80$ lined the pockets of greedy companies.

Oh and I did receive a ticket from a red light camera after my brother bought my truck. Even with proof of the purchase date falling before the ticket date, i was still forced to pay for the ticket or i was told i could face jail time.

Pat says:

You could lengthen the yellow light timing to five minutes and that wouldn’t change the fact that most drivers seem to have a “It doesn’t mean anything to me.” attitude, and they’d still be driving through the yellow – plus the red. Inconsideration for fellow drivers is the problem…that and idiots so busy talking on the cell phone that their reflexes don’t function properly….and don’t even go there with that. Just watch some of them and then try to disprove me. Drivers need to be trained, or retrained, to drive the speed limit, drive with the other driver in mind, and drive with some sort of clue that yellow light means caution, this will soon turn red. And then you – yes, YOU, will have to stop.

VIncent Clement says:

Re: Re:

most drivers seem to have a “It doesn’t mean anything to me.” attitude

Most drivers? Care to back up that statement with some stats?

Drivers need to be trained, or retrained, to drive the speed limit

And governments need to be retrained to start designing roads properly and start using the 85th percentile to determine the appropriate speed limit.

Matt says:

RE: Dumb People by Liquid

“Instead they decided to slam on the breaks and get butt pounded from behind only to now have to pay FAR MORE in repair bills.”

I am not sure about every state, but I have never heard of a case where the person who gets rear-ended is assigned fault for the accident… it is assumed the person behind was tailgating because if they weren’t then they would have had enough time & distance to stop, even if the front car stopped short at the yellow. Not to mention the physical injuries you just wished upon people who are just afraid of getting a $75 slap in the face (in the mail two weeks later no less!).

The point is, they are installing heartless, thoughtless machines on every intersection which give the majority of the money to a privately owned corporation and the remaining few percent going (at least in Dallas)… wait for it… “to further traffic enforcement activities”!

The cameras do not and cannot evaluate the circumstances of an event. An actual police officer sees the entire event (not just two still frames) and uses his judgement to determine if a ticket should be issued. This is appropriate because encountering a yellow light on approach requires a snap judgement by the driver. There should be SOME leeway for errors in judgement since they can and do occur.

The camera offers NO such leeway. Two stills go to a rubber-stamping “police officer” (read: 1st year desk clerk) who follows the rule “front tire over line = accept, front tire behind line = not accept”. There is NO built-in tolerance for a lapse in judgement — in my case I was, according to the citation, *one tenth of one second* late on the light. I bet if I did that 1,000 times in front of 1,000 police cars I would not receive a *single* citation. Heck, I doubt I’d even get pulled for a warning.

But since we have these fancy cameras, now the city can use “safety” as a cudgel to generate revenue, except most of the revenue doesn’t even go to the city, it goes to a corporation probably owned by some golf buddy of the politician who greased the wheels on the deal & made sure the terms were in favor of the corporation.

I am all for public safety; autos should be feared much more than they are and driving is the single most dangerous activity that most of us will do in our lives. However, the concern is a secret tweaking of the system in favor of revenue at the expense of public safety… now THAT’S something deserving of a “butt pounding from behind” as so eloquently stated by Liquid.

James says:

Cover your face

No seriously… something most municipalities won’t tell you, and the red-light cameras nazi a-holes don’t want you to know but if you obscure your face (yes drinking from a large cup will do) the picture cannot be validated, and thus a ticket not issued.

If they DO issue you one, you simply go to court and claim its not you, or that its really questionable as to whether its you.

No one should ever pay one of these rediculous fines. That said, no one should run a red light either.. learn to drive, and have some patience.

Matt says:

Cover your Face by James

This may be different in other states, but in TX a red light citation is a civil penalty assessed against the registered owner of the vehicle. It’s NOT a moving violation and will NOT show up on your motor vehicle record. It’s the legal equivalent of a parking ticket, since as you mentioned it is possible to accurately identify the vehicle but not the driver/occupants.

Anonymous Coward says:

The Old Way

In the town where I live they used to have some traffic light control boxes that the cops could open up with keys and control manually. I remember watching 2-person teams of motorcycle cops set up shop on these lights where one cop would manually trigger the light to instantly turn red just as the chosen victim approached and the other one would then run the victim down and give them the ticket. I knew some people who got these tickets and yes, they stood up in court.

These days they just use red light cameras instead. I suppose it’s more cost effective than “the old way” but the principle is still the same.

US and UK Driver says:

The real solution

American born citizen here, having lived in UK for two years I have learned better training and more restrictive driving for beginners is very beneficial but…… the most important change; extreme road layout using ROUNDABOUTS, ROUNDABOUTS, and ROUNDABOUTS! At times we Americans can be so fucking cocky and stupid! In summary when it comes to driving ability and road layout theories the USA is at the bottom of all the countries in the world.

friday says:

its cool that in china (in kunshan and shanghai at least) the lights have a number that counts down in the green/yellow/red light, so you know how much time you have until it changes. i think this is far better than how it is in the states, now when i am on my motorcycle i am always ready for the change and arn’t caught off guard and not sure if i can make it before it turns from yellow to red. but i will say that driving here overall is crazier and more dangerous (but fun).

Michael Evans (profile) says:

I agree, countdown is something I’ve wanted at a light for a long time. You don’t even have to use numbers, just an extra light with them all one color, even 3 second ticks for change warning, would really help.

The other thing, besides longer yellows, that would help is actually timing the damn lights to let cars through, and posting the actual speed you should be going on the road (under the speed limit sign) that you should go to keep hitting greens.

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