New York Times Takes On Red Light Cameras

from the good-for-them dept

Over the past few years, we’ve seen plenty of stories about problems with red light cameras, from the fact that they tend to cause more accidents (though, rear end accidents, rather than t-bone accidents) to the fact that some cities have been caught lowering the yellow light time in order to catch more red light runners. One thing that seems quite clear at this point is that the cameras are not about promoting safe driving at all, but are purely about increasing revenue (both for the local government and for the private companies who usually manage the cameras for a cut of the fees). And while there have been some mainstream press reports about the problems with the cameras, there haven’t been many public calls from the mainstream press to do something about them.

That is, until a NY Times reporter got dinged by a red light camera (though, for some odd reason, he didn’t find out about it until years after it happened). And then we get a nice report on all of the problems with red light cameras and how cities could easily increase safety by merely increasing the amount of time a light is yellow. It’s nice to see this issue getting some more attention. Road safety is an important issue — and it’s a shame that governments have been making roads less safe in an attempt to increase revenue when there are much better solutions out there.

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Comments on “New York Times Takes On Red Light Cameras”

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All for the ticket says:

Red Light Runners Should Get Tickets

Stop being a crybaby about red light tickets. The main purpose is to catch those people in the dangerous act of running a red light. It’s also mean to discourage such behavior. You need to take a look at the accidents caught on camera where people are seriously injured and ponder just what it is you are whining about.

Evil Mike (profile) says:

Re: Red Light Runners Should Get Tickets

Seriously? I don’t think anything done by our gov in the last 50 years has had anything to do with safety.

Safety is just a good excuse to milk the population of more money–and cops make a good enforcement measure, easier than taxes.

Plus, cops can beat and imprison you.

Violence, the ultimate authority from which all other authority derives.

ZeTron says:

Re: Red Light Runners Should Get Tickets

So you’re all for state and local goverments setting cameras all over the place to issue tickets “in the name of safety” Please… It’s ALL about more $$$. Red light cameras are a cash cow. Some red light camera systems generate Million$ of dollars. There are many people in office who believe they save lives and reduce tickets, because they have been lied to by the red light companies, who usually get a cut of the profits from the tickets. You have been mislead.

Check these links:

BTR1701 (profile) says:

Re: Red Light Runners Should Get Tickets

Discouraging unsafe behavior might be true if the government’s own actions didn’t prove that safety is the last thing they’re concerned about.

For example, when they do things like artificially lower the speed limit near a speed camera (and only near the camera) in order to nail people. New York Avenue in DC is a major thoroughfare (six lanes, eventually turning into the Baltimore-Washington Parkway). The speed limit along most of its length is 45 MPH but for some reason, it drops to 35 right where the camera happens to be. There’s no school or hospital or tight curve or anything that would make that stretch of road more dangerous and therefore require a drop in speed and consequently, drivers neither expect nor notice the reduction and the incidence of rear-end collisions along that stretch of road has increased. Now I’m sure some people can think up all sorts of rationalizations for this but Occam’s Razor and a healthy dose of skepticism for just about anything the DC Government does leads to one inescapable conclusion: it’s all about the $$$.

These speed cameras are generating millions in revenue for the city and when a politician can raise revenue in those amounts without having to raise taxes on the residents even one dime, you better believe they’ll do whatever is necessary to maximize it. For that reason it’s also no coincidence that almost all these cameras are placed on commuter routes and not residential/business streets. They do that so that most of the people who are ticketed are residents of Maryland or Virginia, not the District. Maryland and Virginia residents can’t vote out a DC politician no matter how mad they get over these cameras so they are safe to prey upon.

It’s nothing but a commuter tax, pure and simple.

Also, they delay the delivery of the ticket for a month or more and by doing so, the state knows that the driver probably doesn’t even realize there’s a camera there and if it’s a route they travel regularly, they could conceivably end up being ticketed 60 to 70 times before the first one even shows up in the mailbox. This leads to massive revenue windfalls for the government and at the same time can effectively bankrupt a person when thousands of dollars in fines suddenly drop into their mailbox all at once.

If safety were the underlying concern, they’d get that ticket out to you as quick as possible to make sure you knew about the camera and modify your behavior accordingly. But safety isn’t the real concern. It’s revenue maximization. The state purposely delays notifying drivers in order to maximize its revenue stream. They don’t want you to slow down immediately. Oh, no. They’d much rather you keep speeding through that stretch of road for a while so they can rack up the fines on you.

Richard Ahlquist (profile) says:

Re: Red Light Runners Should Get Tickets

I would agree with you except for one thing. The ticket I got nailed for I was in the middle of the intersection at .04 seconds into the light being red. In other words I entered on yellow and was on top of the exiting crosswalk at .04 seconds after the red. That ticket served no purpose other than to make Cobb County Georgia a little wealthier.

Jonno says:

Re: Red Light Runners Should Get Tickets

Not if the machines cant be challenged as to accuracy, when fined for not going through a red light due to being stuck in an intersection, as can happen, or turning. Also the shortened times to create revenue, create dangerous situations like being rear ended by a truck, as that once happened to me. Red light cameras, like their brothers are not safety cameras and can be set up to infringe on your wallet”in the name” of safety.
I didnt ever think I would be challenging these “dumb cops” which are under under instructions from public servants, which havent a heart….or a brain to speak of.

freak3dot says:

Longer Yellow huh - No more Gotta Get There Fast

If the government increased the length of time of the yellow lights, I would speculate that more people would just to run the yellow light and in turn the red.

The best deterrent is to stop people from always being in a hurry. I don’t understand why people are always in a hurry on our roads. I make it a point to not be in a hurry because I watch the guy weave in and out of traffic with close calls and then stop next to him at the next red light. I call for a change to our businesses that are forcing people to always be in a hurry. I call for more work from home and flex time schedules at work.

In the mean time, just for fun, let’s take off from our newly green lights really fast so we can scare the “hurry” out of our red light runners. Tickets may not do much more than cost unsafe drivers money but near miss accidents may cause them to open there eyes.


James says:

Re: Longer Yellow huh - No more Gotta Get There Fast

I can tell you why.. because a car was meant to GO, not be stopped every 10 feet. Lights need to be properly adjusted for safety and usage… how many times have you ever had to sit at an ill-timed light because there was no arrow, too short of a green, etc. etc.

That kind of frustration can build up in drivers and they respond to it even if they aren’t aware.. and yes its still their fault and they SHOULD be aware, ..regardless lights and intersections need to be designed and properly managed to keep traffic moving as much as is realistically possible.

weaver not runner says:

Re: Longer Yellow huh - No more Gotta Get There Fast

I am so tired of the argument that your sitting at the same light as the person who just gunned it and weaved through traffic. The big point that is missed, is that person that sitting next to you at the light after weaving to get there, is truly getting someplace faster than you.

They left later than you from their origin and will be 2 lights ahead of you in the next mile. Pretty simple logic really that tends to get missed to often.

Am I condoning poor driving? not at all! I am certainly guilty of trying to get someplace fast, I do not ever run a light though. Especially out in Vegas, the lights are so far apart with high speed limits that you could be traveling 55 when the light 20 yard in front of you turns yellow. I have been at that crossroads of slamming on the breaks to come to a screeching halt, or run through with just fractions of a second to spare, or worse run a red light.

How about this, instead of trying to coddle the masses with cute little things to deter, be a safer driver and look both directions before you proceed on your new green light. Its called accountability.

“he ran the light and hit me when I had the green”….”did you look out both directions before you went on your green?”….”well no, the lights do that for me”..

Alex says:

Re: Re: Longer Yellow huh - No more Gotta Get There Fast

How about this, instead of trying to coddle the masses with cute little things to deter, be a safer driver and look both directions before you proceed on your new green light. Its called accountability.

How about this, instead of blaming the victim of your reckless driving, you just man up and admit that you’re a danger to other drivers every time you get behind the wheel.

Vincent Clement says:

Re: Longer Yellow huh - No more Gotta Get There Fast

No. The best deterrent is to design a transportation corridor properly. If you want traffic to slow down in a school zone then narrow the lanes, add stop signs or traffic circles/roundabouts, or other traffic calming measures.

If you time your lights properly, traffic flow will improve, reducing the number of people who are in a hurry. Enforcement has its place, but design will give you a much better return in terms of safety.

R. H. (profile) says:

Re: Re: Wrong problem

If the fine was that high you’d better be sure that I’d stop…I’d slam on the brakes so hard that the car behind me would be in my backseat! I tend to run through yellow lights only when there’s a car right on my bumper. However, if the fine was too high then I’d rather make the insurance claim and get hit rather than pay the fine. BTW: I live in a no fault state and therefore as long as I’m obeying the law (stopping at red lights and such) my insurance will pay for my damages.

shag says:

local city

In my hometown, they had done a few things with pedestrian and traffic safety in mind.

They put in countdown timers on the crosswalk signals.
They also put in delayed red-light changing. It works so that the cars are at a red light, in all directions for a second or 2. So that there is a time that you can pass through, if you can’t stop in time. This also enables on-coming traffic to see you, and gives you the time to make it through.

We also have timed traffic lights, that change as you move forward, that is set the speed-limit. So as long as you are pacing yourself, you can make it all the way across town, without stopping. Traffic that is ahead of you being the execption.

We also have one way streets, that are sometimes narrow. There might be lights however, there might be no traffic, coming the other side. When there is an ambulance behind you, blareing his horn, I would rather take the chance, and rl through the light, then get it in the way. What happens if there was a camera at that light?

However, they did install red-light cameras, even though there dosent seem to be a need.

Jake says:

Re: local city

That’s a good example, actually; no cop on Earth will haul you up for pulling forward across a junction to let an ambulance or fire engine pass, but a red light camera can’t make that distinction. Nor can it account for adverse road conditions or other mitigating circumstances. And that’s just the start of their problems.

Not so Anonymous coward who can't spell says:



I don’t think anyone is advocating that people who break the law should not be punished for it, however, when you increase the accident rate before the intersection to decrease the it in the middle of it (granted survivability is higher)all you are doing is shifting liability instead of getting rid of it. I do have a problem with the justification of automatic red light enforcement in the name of public safety when it in turn creates a new hazard when there other avenues that can be used that actually help with everyones safety. They are a means of enhancing revenue, they are not perfect, able to be manipulated and are a waste of tax-payer money.

Jonno says:

Re: red light cameras (et al)

Elements of the publixwould agree with you, once they got over the fact that authority aint authority but corporations, acting within governements, with the aim of fleecing the public. What do corporations exist for? Making money, and at all costs, even breaking the law, as some company directors have been found to do. Who watches the watchdogs? They do, and theyre A OK in their own eyes, laughing all the way to the bamks.

Rose M. Welch says:

Safer means...

…giving the yellow a few more seconds, or instituting a dlayed green, where all lights are red for a few seconds before the next section gets a green. In my town, most streets are timed so you can go the speed limit and not encounter a single red.

There are times of day where traffic means that you have to slow down and join the herd but that’s the worst. And the timing is occasionally reviewed so that areas that start to get more traffic can get longer greens to keep traffic moving.

This is how you avoid accidents.

The problem with avoiding accidents is that you also avoid the situaations that create tickets.

stopping every ten feet says:

stopping every ten feet

Then there is the fact that some lights are placed merely to control speed (this is illegal in Ohio). Still there is a little, rural township (think no shopping district) near me that has a light at every other tiny road. I’d boycott their little town, except the main road is the only N-S road in the area. Think of the gas wasted at all these unecessary lights.

Jocker says:


LONGER YELLOW LIGHTS! I WILL NEVER GET HOME!!! Seriously though, ever been to Vegas? You are an idiot if you don’t wait a few after those lights turn green because every major light has two three red light runners, easy. I think they a Las Vegan or tourist that way 1-3 times a month that way. Automated vehicles and roads would be a vast improvement but then you would not be able to experience all that freedom and individuality we all think our cars give us! I felt really free and independent this morning in Seattle standing in line to pay 4 plus dollars a gallon on gas.

John Sokol (profile) says:

Eliminate the lights altogether.

That’s what I am talking about.

I think the cars should be smart enough to negotiate some protocol on there own to cross an intersection. Maybe a automatic digital cost bidding process during high congestion periods? How about that? The Rich can afford to cruse through intersections.

Hey I kinda like that. Your on board computers can have a high speed bidding war to cross an intersection so only if two billionaires come to an intersection will they collide.

Mr. Obvious says:

You see it coming ?

The next step in this march toward madness will be the installation of cameras in your vehicle. All in the name of safety, of course. They are installing cameras in planes in order to spot the terrorists and it will simply be a small step to put them in your vehicle. The cameras will not only watch the road, but will also watch you and your passengers. In addition to this, there will be a kill switch, just in case you are the type of criminal that would try to run. In the eyes of law enforcement, everyone is a criminal and you will be made to comply.

John Moore says:

Traffice Cameras

In the City of Lafayette Louisiana, there is a traffice light at Simcoe and University. The first week it was up, they issued over 7000 ticket. The speed limit is 35 on a four lane road. A city employee involed with the camera program asked if maybe the speed limit was to low due the amount of ticket and it being a four lane road. She was told to mind her own business. PURELY A MONEY MAKER FOR THE CITY!!! That intersection has the least wrecks of most in town. The two main areas at Johnston Street and Ambassador Caffery, DO NOT have cameras. What’s UP??

Fungo Knubb says:


I live inbetween two towns. The closer one has instituted red light cameras about a year or so ago, the other, a couple of miles further away, has not.

I used to do all of my shopping in the closer town just due to distance, and the fact that the businesses were about the same as in the town a bit further away.

What I did was not to subject myself to the red light cameras anymore. I now do all shopping in the town that has no red light cameras, thereby changing the town that collects the sales taxes on my purchases. In recent conversations with others that live in the area, they too are doing the same thing. I have no idea how large the group is that’s participating in this form of ‘silent payback’, but a recent local newspaper article was lamenting the substantial drop in sales tax receipts in the town with the red light cameras.

I suspect that recent changes in our economy probably has more to do with that situation than changing shopping habits, but at least I, and others, are contributing to that town’s sales tax shortfall. I get a nice warm feeling every time I think about it.

The city has unclean hands....... says:

The solution to the redlight camera problem

The problem with redlight cameras is the cities hire a redlight camera company to put them in and manage them, and there is then revenue. *LOTS* of revenue.

In some states that revenue is shared between the city and the company. This kind of commission deal was all made illegal in California a couple of years ago.

Now the city has to pay the contractor by the month to run the system and they keep the revenues, which they share with the court in the form of a court “penalty assessment”.

The solution is to take all the money from the redlight camera fines including all penalty assessments, etc., and have that money only used for affordable housing.

None to run the courts, none for the contractor, none for the city.

The city could still put in the cameras and they would then have completely clean hands, since they would not benefit a dime from their operation, and would have to pay for the cameras and their operation our of other funds. They would be a net cost to the city like other kinds of law enforcement. The court system would have clean hands too since they would have to process the citations free.

Then, they could really say honestly they put them in to enhance safety.

But I just bet if they had to use the money *only* for affordable housing they couldn’t get those cameras out of there fast enough.

Bignumone (profile) says:

I have heard...

…of a town where they eliminated most of the red lights. And traffic accidents decreased. Granted, it would not work as well in a big city, but I live in a small town that has red lights every few hundred yards. They seem to have no timing and you will stop regardless of your speed.
And guess what, people speed to try to get through them, many running the light.
This just seems so counter productive to me.

Cenobyte321 says:

Silly at some point

I am from Mexico and I visited New York City on December. My dad rented a car there and as I remember he respected all signs and red-lights. It was all normal until two months after we returned from our vacations that we received a letter from the Red Light Department of New York City with a Notice of Liability that some of you may already know, fining us apparently for running on a red light. The photos showed that the red light was turned on just as we were crossing an intersection.

Someting I noticed in the NOL was that it stated that the fine had to be paid a month after the NOL was issued or an extra amount of money had to be added. Surprisingly the issue date was somewhen in the middle of January and since the postal service took a month to deliver the letter, we obviously we were way beyond the NOL deadline. Either way we paid the whole fine with the extra included.

But a day ago we received a response stating that the amount we paid was not sufficient, that we still needed to pay $1.14 US Dlls. I suspect this was because of the currency change when they retrived the money.

So today for the first time of our lives we wrote a check for 20 mexican pesos (which is a little more than the amount they ask).

Isn’t it a little bit silly that they spend almost a dollar in sending a letter to Mexico just to demand a one dollar payment for the fine?

But it’s just my opinion of this…

boat says:

red light cameras

first.. if the government was so caught up in saving lives they would see to it that every American would have health insurance,that would save many more lives than reciving money from seatbelt and redlight runner violations,it would also free up more officers to go find the items that was stolen from you and ilegal immigration and border protection and other crimes that the police does not get any revenue from but cost them,
QUESTION… since the cameras are mounted above they have to take a pic down at a angle,if one with a pick up truck drove with the tailgate down and a tinted plastic tag cover,would the redlight cameras still be able to get its target??

boat says:

red light cameras

first.. if the government was so caught up in saving lives they would see to it that every American would have health insurance,that would save many more lives than reciving money from seatbelt and redlight runner violations,it would also free up more officers to go find the items that was stolen from you and ilegal immigration and border protection and other crimes that the police does not get any revenue from but cost them,
QUESTION… since the cameras are mounted above they have to take a pic down at a angle,if one with a pick up truck drove with the tailgate down and a tinted plastic tag cover,would the redlight cameras still be able to get its target??

Jason W (profile) says:

Red Light Cameras

Its quite obvious that this is a big money maker for the city. Notice how many there are and how their numbers are increasing? I wonder if accidents have measurably decreased since their implementation. Probably not. I’ve never gotten zapped by one because I never run red lights. There have been a few times where I get caught in the middle of an intersection making a left turn, but fortunately I have not gotten a ticket. If you want to fight back, either get one of those reflective clear covers or the photo blocker spray.

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