Myths vs. Facts about red light & speed cameras

Myth: If you don’t speed or run red lights you have nothing to worry about!

Fact: 1. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, over 1 in 4 tickets (28%) are issued to the wrong person. Camera citations are issued to the registered owner weeks, sometimes months, after the alleged violation occurred. What happens if you can’t remember who was driving? Some city judges are forcing owners who contest tickets to name the driver or pay up, even though the law does not state that  the owner must incriminate another person in order to have the ticket dismissed.

2. Most citations are issued on technical grounds where safety is hardly a consideration. Drivers who fail to stop on the stop line or don’t  stop “long enough”  before making a right hand turn, make up the majority (about 80%) of the red-light citations.

3. School Zones with speed cameras are usually very unclear about when the lower speed limit is in effect, as was recently proven in Lynnwood, Washington. School Zone speed cameras are notorious for issuing tickets when children are not present.

Myth: The primary reason local governments use photo enforcement is for safety, the money is just an added benefit.

Fact: 1. Safety is actually decreased by the presence of cameras. Comprehensive and independent traffic studies have clearly shown that the use of red light cameras significantly increase the overall number of accidents.

2. About 80% of the tickets that are issued by red light cameras are for “free” right hand turns that didn’t stop exactly on the stop line or for not stopping “long enough” –  neither one of which is a significant safety risk.

3. Some US cities were caught shortening yellow light times to increase violations.

4. Seattle Mayor, Mike McGinn, when asked why the contract with the Arizona camera company was not part of their Arizona boycott, answered, “You may have noticed we have a budget deficit here.” Tacoma city manager, Eric Anderson, similarly answered the same question “we’re talking about very important revenue streams for the city.” No mention of Safety.

Myth: The cameras prevent T-bone crashes, one of the most dangerous types of accidents

Fact: In 2004 the Texas Transportation Institute (T.T.I.) studied 3 years worth of crash data from 181 intersection approaches across three Texas cities, and found that with only “one exception, all of the right-angle [t-bone] crashes” in their study happened  5-16 seconds after the light turned red. Yet, the camera vendor, American Traffic Solutions (ATS), says “the majority of red light violations occur within the first second of the red.” In fact, the average ticket is issued when the light has been red for half a second or less.

In other words, camera tickets are being issued primarily for split-second violations where statistically, collisions are not occurring. Which is why cameras can not reduce dangerous crashes.

It’s safe to say that drivers who enter an intersection 5-16 seconds after the light has turned red are not trying to beat the yellow light. These incidents occur for many different factors like: distracted drivers, chemical impairment and poor visibility. Ticket cameras can not solve these problems either.

Myth: Cameras force drivers pay more attention to the road.

Fact: The threat of massive fines   being issued by machines creates a lot of stress on the roads as drivers slam on the breaks to avoid getting caught in the intersection. The machines cause drivers to act nervous in areas of photo enforcement as they know they are being watched by merciless machines that will issue tickets for any and all technical violations that are within the machine’s scope.

The cameras, themselves can be a distraction. When the cameras take a  picture, they flash a very bright strobe light. This is very alarming to many drivers and can cause them to be temporarily blinded. Many veterans have complained that the flashes cause them a great deal of stress while driving because the camera flash is similar to the flash of an explosive device.

The flash technology patent owners have this to say about it: “The use of flash illumination may be detrimental at night to oncoming traffic and has the potential to cause temporary driver blindness and consequent safety risks as well as preventing authorities from deploying systems covertly.” But it’s all about safety, right?

Myth: The violation review process is fair and unbiased since it is conducted by a police officer

Fact: 1.The violation review process is extremely biased. The police officer works for the cash strapped city, whose contract usually requires them to approve a very high percentage of tickets (90%). Failure to do so voids the “stop loss clause” in the city’s contract with the ticket camera vendor and costs the city very large sums of money ($3,500-$4,750 per camera).

2. The  only evidence that the officer is allowed to take into consideration is the evidence gathered, packaged, and digitally enhanced by the out of state, for profit corporation whose success as a business rests entirely on convictions. Evidence about the intersection that might prove that a driver couldn’t stop due to problems with the intersection are intentionally left out. Since all camera infractions are dealt with in civil court, defendants do not have a right to legal council. This process is unfairly biased towards the corporate interests that seek to profit from convictions.

Real Solutions

Well Engineered Intersections and Roads
Why are some intersections more dangerous than others? Do ticket camera advocates want us to believe that all of the bad drivers in town flock to the same intersections?  The main reason that some intersections have more accidents than others, is differences in the way they were engineered. In the rush to put up automated ticketing cameras and start raking in the big money, many cites leave traffic engineers out of the process.

Only a traffic engineer can properly determine:

  • Why an intersection has a high occurrence of violations
  • How many violations are voluntary vs. involuntary
  • If the yellow light is long enough for all drivers to stop
  • If the signage is appropriate

The claim that safety is the priority isn’t a valid claim unless a city that proposes to install cameras has conducted a traffic engineering study (not to be confused with a “traffic study” conducted by police or the ticket camera company) to fully understand the problems with the intersection in question, otherwise the city doesn’t know if the cameras will increase safety or diminish it.

Longer Yellow Lights
Extending yellow light times by as little as one second over the ITE minimum standard has been proven to reduce accidents by a massive 40 percent, and improving signal visibility reduced violations 25 percent. Even the most distorted numbers created by ticket camera vendors in efforts to prove camera effectiveness, can’t match the effectiveness of engineering solutions.