Attorney Decodes Numbers On Redlight Camera Photo To Prove That The Light Was Green

from the why-isn't-the-light-in-the-photo? dept

We've seen all sorts of stories about various cities shortening the timing on yellow lights to try to get more money from redlight cameras, but here's a twist. Up in Portland, apparently they'll send you a ticket even if you didn't run a red light at all! Reader Josh sends in the story of a lawyer who was surprised to get an automated ticket as he didn't remember running a red light at all. Of course, the photographic "proof" just happens to not show the actual light (convenient!). However, there were various numbers on the images, and he had to decode what those numbers meant to prove that he hadn't actually run the light:
The first photo shows Ginsberg's Volkswagen a few feet before the crosswalk at Southwest Fourth Avenue and Jefferson Street. Using a key provided by the city, Ginsberg learned that the coding stamped at the top of the photo indicates the light had been red for 24.9 seconds. Ginsberg got a signed letter from a city signal engineer, stating that the light remained red for 25 seconds -- one-tenth of a second after the photo was snapped.

The next photo taken about two seconds later shows Ginsberg's car in the middle of the intersection, but the same coding now reads 00.0 -- indicating the light is no longer red. It's green. It does not resume counting until the light turns red again..
Then apply a little basic math:
A code on the second photo indicated he was traveling 15 mph. In one-tenth of a second, Ginsberg calculated he traveled less than 2 1/2 feet -- his front wheels wouldn't have reached the crosswalk.
The police originally defended the ticket claiming -- falsely -- that the light was a 26 second light. However, after the case was dismissed, in a video the police admitted it was human error, but insisted that this was the only time this ever happened:
But, how can he say that? Most recipients have no idea what the numbers in the photo mean or how to fight it. This was just the first time the police got caught issuing a bogus redlight camera ticket.

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  • identicon
    laura, 21 May 2010 @ 12:47pm

    Isn't it usually a contracting company that handles red light cameras? I wonder: would a contractor take the position that decoding the numbers is a protected trade secret?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Freedom, 21 May 2010 @ 12:59pm

    Same standard for speed guns?

    Why aren't red light cameras held to the same standard as speed guns which require periodic certification and are open to public examination?

    If nothing else, having a video of the offending instance in today's tech land wouldn't be that hard and would provide the necessary proof in most cases.

    Freedom

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Danny, 21 May 2010 @ 1:12pm

    You know what this means....

    " Using a key provided by the city,..."

    There will be a mad rush to prevent private citizens from obtaining said key in order to get to the information needed to challenge red light tickets like this person did.

    Like laura says I would not be surprised if that information suddenly became a trade secret that cannot be shared.

    Even more proof that the main goal of red light cameras is safety.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dude, 21 May 2010 @ 1:21pm

    I think the biggest issue with the entire system is they can give you a ticket for running a red light w/o ever showing the light. For any real "proof" of running a red light you need to show that the light was red when you entered the intersection/crossed the stopping line along with a picture before and after that instant.

    Showing pictures of a car in an interestion with the words "red" (or anything else) superimposed by a computer proves nothing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      David Johnson (profile), 21 May 2010 @ 1:41pm

      Re:

      And there needs to be two pictures--one from before the vehicle enters the intersection, and one while it's in it to prove that they entered the intersection when it was red. This resolves the issue of people being in the intersection before it turned red.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anshar, 21 May 2010 @ 1:42pm

    Looks like…

    While he didn't break the law, he was being unsafe. If his car was still going 15 mph that close to the intersection while the light was red, he was probably trying to time the light and succeeded. Nevertheless, it's not a good practice even though he did not, technically, run the red.

    The police might have had more luck tearing up the ticket voluntarily and charging him with unsafe driving (if that's an offence where he is).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      BAlbrecht (profile), 21 May 2010 @ 2:35pm

      Re: Looks like...

      Except a determination of unsafe driving requires a contextual judgment. There are arguments that can be made the other way--that under certain specific circumstances, it may be safer to be within an intersection while the light turns red. The problem with automated devices such as cameras is that they ignore the context of the situation. As such, I personally think it's impossible to say with any certainty that Mr. Ginsburg's driving was unsafe.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 21 May 2010 @ 2:58pm

      Re: Looks like�

      While he didn't break the law, he was being unsafe. If his car was still going 15 mph that close to the intersection while the light was red, he was probably trying to time the light and succeeded. Nevertheless, it's not a good practice even though he did not, technically, run the red.


      You read it wrong. He's going 15 mph in the *second* picture. Not coming up to the redlight.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Anshar (profile), 21 May 2010 @ 4:04pm

        Re: Re: Looks like�

        Hi Mike. I'm not trying to be confrontational, but I didn't read it incorrectly. To clarify my observation, the math and the statement from Ginsberg prove he was traveling at 15mph in photo #1.
        In one-tenth of a second, Ginsberg calculated he traveled less than 2 1/2 feet
        That's "traveled" not "could have traveled" (and remember, this is an attorney defending himself in court, not an off-hand remark so I believe such minutia is relevant). Since 1 mile = 5280 feet and 1 hour = 60 minutes = 3600s and since he traveled

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Anshar (profile), 21 May 2010 @ 4:07pm

          Re: Re: Re: Looks like����¯�¿�½������¢������¯������¿������½��

          Hmmm. Comment field doesn't seem to like "less than" signs. Carrying on...
          Since 1 mile = 5280 feet and 1 hour = 60 minutes = 3600s and since he traveled [less than] 2.5 feet in 0.1s: 2.5'/0.1s = 25ft/s. 25ft/s x 3600s = 90000 ft/h. 90000ft / 5280 = 17.05mph. The same math says that at 15mph the actual distance travelled in 0.1s is 2.2 feet which is consistent with both the statement and the camera data.
          Therefore, he had to be in motion travelling ~15mph at the time the first photo was recorded.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            elmer92413 (profile), 21 May 2010 @ 8:00pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Looks like

            You still don't get it.

            He is saying that he *was* traveling 15mph in the second picture. And if he ran the red light, which was only red for another .1sec, and thus was going 15mph in the first picture. Then he would have only been 2.2ft from his staring position in the first picture. And because he was much further along then that it is obvious that the light was long ago green.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Anshar (profile), 22 May 2010 @ 12:43pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Looks like

              I'm afraid it's you who doesn't get it. I will attempt to simply for you: there are 3 (three) times with which we are concerned.

              Time A: The 1st photo is taken. The light as been red for 24.9 seconds.

              Time B: 0.1 seconds later - the light turns green. There is no photograph of this.

              Time C: "about two seconds" after the first photo was taken. This is when the second photo was taken showing the car in the intersection.

              Ginsberg used math to show that in the 0.1 seconds between Time A and Time B he could not have travelled far enough to enter the intersection and therefore didn't run the red; by the time he DID enter the intersection, the light had changed.

              My point was that while Ginsberg's math is correct, he also implicitly admits that he was approaching the red light at 15mph. Given the distance to the intersection in the photo, that implies that he had no intention of stopping for the red and was attempting to time his entry into the intersection to coincide with the light changing. That practice may not be explicitly illegal but it is generally unsafe and could have resulted in a dangerous driving charge which, in light of Ginsberg's own math might have stuck.
              I hope that clarifies my point and I'm sorry if it wasn't clear in my earlier comments.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymously Brave, 24 May 2010 @ 11:58am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Looks like

                From the article:

                "A code on the second photo indicated he was traveling 15 mph. In one-tenth of a second, Ginsberg calculated he traveled less than 2 1/2 feet..."

                I think you are taking it all too literally. Keep in mind, these are the words of the reporter in the news story, not a verbatim transcript of the words used by the lawyer to defend himself. Likely his argument was that it would be impossible, at a speed of 15mph, to fully enter the intersection in 0.1 seconds.

                Is it not reasonable to assume that a driver will accelerate once a light turns green. IMO, I also think it is reasonable to assume that a driver could accelerate from even a full stop to 15mph in about 2 seconds without being unsafe. In this case, given the amount of traffic seen approaching the intersection in the photos, it is likely he was breaking, with the intent to stop, but the light changed to green before he reached a full stop, giving him a "head-start" to reaching 15mph in 2 seconds. 15mph could hardly be considered "blowing through" the intersection, anyway.

                Of course, we could theorize all day, but without ordering a complete copy of the court records we have no way of knowing the exact wording the attorney used to defend himself. I, personally, am not willing to assume that the casual phrasing of a news article is 100% accurate.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                IC_deLight, 25 May 2010 @ 4:44pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Looks like

                Contrary to your statements, there is no photo of the light with ANY of the pictures. At best you have an indicator (programmed statement) made by the red light camera vendor (who undoubtedly profits from the accusations via a fee splitting arrangement) regarding the status of the traffic control device. The red light vendor (not the city) maintains every aspect of the system. The red light camera vendor isn't present to testify at all.

                The red light camera vendor is the sole source of the information provided to the police who only receive two snapshots with a timestamp created by the red light camera vendor. Would you not at least consider the possibility of hanky panky with the timestamp?

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Karen, 21 May 2010 @ 1:43pm

    As a resident of Portland...

    I know that intersection. It's a one-way street, so no light in the opposite direction to show, though it should be positioned to see the light for cross-traffic. These cameras are supposed to be checked & calibrated regularly. The one time I got caught w/ one, you could see the light, but it was a two-way street, so had a light in the opposite direction.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Frybaby, 21 May 2010 @ 1:43pm

    Drop in the bucket

    This is a drop in the bucket compared to an earlier story. Evidently, the City of Portland decided to put up a "Safety Corridor" sign on a heavily trafficked stretch of road. This road had been the scene of a number of accidents, so not really a bad idea. Howver, the Portland Police then proceeded to increase speeding fines based on the designation. The problem is, only the Orefob Dept od Transportation has the authority to make such a designation official, and they were never contacted. Sure enough, somebody finally pulled the squeaky wheel act, and the Oregonian paper got involved. http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2010/04/inflated_traffic_fines_in_unof.html Turn out, there have been 10 YEARS of incorrect fines. Oops. and what o you know... "City officials said Tuesday that it would be difficult to figure out exactly how many motorists received inflated tickets or how much extra the big fines generated." To their credit, they have started a program to help people who suspect they got incorrectly hit by an inflated fine. However, that does not undo the blatant profiteering. Bad year for the Portland PD, and more importantly, Portland citizenry: Shooting deaths, Chief fired, general chaos.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2010 @ 1:54pm

    It's human error? Bullshit officer. They camera should not be taking pictures of people who are going through green lights.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Nastybutler77 (profile), 21 May 2010 @ 3:26pm

      Re:

      Exactly. I thought that part of the benefits of having it automated was that it eliminated "human error."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2010 @ 11:22am

        Re: Re:

        Except when the human configuring it makes a grave error... Thinking. Unfortunatley people tend to get these things called ideas to make more money and don't stop to consider the consequences. I recall a line in one of the Star Wars movies: "Is that legal?" "I will MAKE it legal!!" So many of our public officials think this way. Sad, but true.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Just Another Moron in a Hurry (profile), 21 May 2010 @ 2:22pm

    Not a source of revenue

    Did anyone else catch that the first article states "City officials say they aren't making money off the red-light cameras which were installed in 2001." but in the very next sentace, there is a link to another article, and in that article, it says "The cameras also have been revenue producers. The cost of the cameras for a four-year period from 2002-2006 was $1.49 million while the gross revenue while the gross revenue for the same period was $1.78 million -- a net revenue of $295,000."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2010 @ 3:25pm

    I really think there needs to be someway to alert the driver of the infraction immediately after it occurs otherwise how can someone possible recall the incident when they receive the ticket in the mail.

    If a police officer pulled you over, you would be able to possibly explain the circumstances to the officer and you would be able to recall the situation if you wanted to fight the ticket in court.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Matthew Krum, 22 May 2010 @ 4:08pm

    Why Don't They?

    Why don't they put the sensor facing oncoming traffic but have the camera take the photo from behind? That way they'll have the plate and the light in view. I guess they would still need the driver's face so why not two cameras? In court it should be 'beyond a reasonable doubt' so wouldn't an extra POV be worth it?
    Oh, BTW, if you go through downtown Portland maintaining a speed between 11 & 15mph you'll hit all green lights. Lots of people do it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Billybob, 22 May 2010 @ 5:22pm

      Re: Why Don't They?

      They take a video in Washington. The light on the pole will flash to get a clear picture of the plate. They mail you pictures along with a link to the video.

      I know because I got several after I sold my car. Before the plates where taken off it.

      The intersection camera boxes, the speed signs, and anything not on the top of the pole in the intersection seems to get vandalized around here. Nobody ever seems to see the people doing the vandalizing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    random student, 4 Aug 2010 @ 1:10am

    This scenario happened to me like an hour ago. I was coming to a stop at the intersection waiting to make a right turn and it took my picture even though i was behind the line. a couple of seconds later the light turns green and i go through and it takes my picture again. i dont know if the photo they send will have any time stamp or coding on it. How do I go about fighting this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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