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Red light cameras have sparked some heated debate (tako... Red light cameras have sparked some heated debate (takomabibelot, Flickr).
Television images of cars being T-boned at intersections are impossible for viewers to ignore. That's great news for shows such as ABC's Good Morning America, which aired such video a few weeks ago in a story about the auto insurance industry's study claiming automated "red light cameras" saved lives. These devices activate if a vehicle enters an intersection when the traffic light turns red, record the license plate, and mail the vehicle owner a citation with a substantial fine. A percentage of the proceeds from each ticket goes to private companies who sell the devices to local governments and then operate the devices. This percentage is typically one-third of the ticket revenue, which can annually total $1 million even in small municipalities.

In reality, however, the incidences of cars speeding through intersections when the light is red is rare; just two percent of all highway fatalities occur during red lights in intersections, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Fewer are caused by cars intentionally running red lights.

This small slice of traffic enforcement, though, is creating big headlines. There is a fervor in many state legislatures and in regional referendums to ban "red light cameras". The reason is that in some cases the devices seem to cause an increase in accidents at intersections.

How's that? Most of the cars ticketed by the "red light cameras" are those that entered the intersection when the light was yellow and on the verge of turning red, many state legislators from Washington state to Florida have discovered. When motorists fear a photo ticket in these intersections, they tend to slam on their brakes, increasing the number of rear-end collisions, and possibly deaths.

The state of California suggests that yellow light duration be no shorter than 4.2 seconds, while the national highway constructors industry says 3.8 seconds should be the shortest duration. Texas requires 4.7-second yellow lights on roads with speeds of 50 mph and higher. However, yellow lights in intersections equipped with "red light cameras" are often set to last only 3 seconds, according to data from court cases. In one recent case in Glassboro, New Jersey, a motorist who had been issued a ticket discovered that the yellow light duration was only 3 seconds, while New Jersey law says that the minimum yellow light time must be 4 seconds. As a result, a reported 12,000 tickets worth $1 million were thrown out.
Should red light cameras be banned?
Yes 36158 (85.3%)
No 6229 (14.7%)


In cases of shortened yellow light duration, more motorists are then photographed and ticketed, producing more revenue for the private "red light camera" operators, claim citizen groups organized to ban the devices. As a result, the citizen groups charge, more motorists become trigger-happy with their brake pedals at these intersections, and accidents increase. In 2004, a Texas Transportation Institute study found that increasing the duration of yellow lights by 1.0 second reduced intersection accidents by 40 percent.

Most people without a financial interest in the results would agree that fewer accidents is a better outcome that more ticket revenue.

Of the five jurisdictions that were able to bring the choice of "red light camera" enforcement in their municipalities to a vote last November, all five banned the devices, including the large cities of Houston and Anaheim. "I would say the trend of red light cameras is on the decline," says Gary Biller, executive director of the National Motorists Association. "The media loves to show broadside accidents, but the majority of tickets from [red light cameras] are for people turning right on red."

One such "red light camera" was set up recently in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on a busy intersection where turning right on a red light is illegal. It sparked a heated debate when citizens complained to their state representatives, who then introduced a bill to outlaw the devices in the state. Proponents of the devices said that "red light camera" enforcement should be allowed for safety, yet in 2009, intersection fatalities in South Dakota totaled just 7.

Proponents of "red light cameras" include the insurance industry, which supplied the recent "T-bone" footage for the Good Morning America broadcast. Municipalities that have increased revenues from the automated ticketing of "red light cameras" are also in favor of the systems. However, vocal citizens where the devices are installed have urged lawmakers in more than a dozen states to ban the devices on two fronts: First, that tickets issued by a machine are unconstitutional, and second, that there are no accurate data proving the devices actually reduce accidents, despite the recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety claim. In 2005, a study by The Washington Post showed that crashes in intersections equipped with "red light cameras" in the District of Columbia doubled, and fatalities and injuries increased.

Way back in 1997, Alaska's state lawmakers banned "red light cameras" after they had already been removed from the state by local municipalities. Alaska in 2009 had just 3 fatalities at traffic-controlled intersections, with no "red light cameras". So the argument continues, whether the devices save lives, as the insurance industry and the private companies that operate "red light camera" traffic enforcement devices claim, or if these devices cause more accidents in their quest to squeeze ticket revenue from motorists.


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  • 485 Comments
      vanwrinkles
      • 4 Years Ago
      Every government check ******* liberal loves these things. They get paid for sitting at red lights. If they got paid for the amount of work they do, they would probably have a different opinion. Ofcourse, they would also be broke.
      hensteeth
      • 4 Years Ago
      Mr Berg, the word is incidents, not incidences.
      Mike
      • 4 Years Ago
      A red light camera is NOT going to stop the major, life-threatening accidents. Those are going to happen anyway because people are either a) drunk or b) texting or c) talking on the cell phone. Lots of the accidents I saw on the film were blatant that drivers were not paying attention to what was happening on the roadway. Lots of cars stopped at an intersection and then one car comes speeding through. That tells me they weren't paying attention. A red light camera isn't going to stop that. And let's face it, if you think it would, you have to have the cameras all over. But, I think you're fooling yourselves. This was a ploy for towns to make money, nothing else. It has failed too as I've read municipalities are just about breaking even. And it has the potential to create MORE accidents as people will slam on the brakes when they're not sure rather than proceed safely through the yellow light (as the article mentions). Perhaps what would be better is if there was a standard for all lights where the light doesn't turn green for at least 1-2 seconds after the light in the other direction goes red. Also, innocent drivers need to be paying attention as they go through intersections and not just blindly believe that all is well. A little defensive driving never hurt anyone.
      Billy
      • 4 Years Ago
      Where I live in New Mexico, you can always count on 5 or 6 cars speeding through an intersection well after the light has turned red. No police makes driving wild. Like some places in South America, red lights are a mere suggestion.
      momsford
      • 4 Years Ago
      "In reality, however, the incidences of cars speeding through intersections when the light is red is rare". If they think this is true, they need to come sit at the intersection of Southtown Blvd & Frederica St in Owensboro, KY. This light get ran constantly, but there's never a cop around anywhere. I even asked a cop why are people running that light. His answer "well it's a pretty day, they're probably just enjoying it". Now, is that answer to the question? Yeah, put the cameras up, because these lazy cops aren't going to get out and do their job unless they can use their weapons. I live in a subdivision with five local police officers, none of which ever will try to catch the speeders that drive the main road thru it as a shortcut to other roads. But one of the cops will certainly try to find you if you drive thru the subdivision with the music blarring......because you woke up his baby!
      • 4 Years Ago
      I recently got one on these tickets. I made a right turn on a red light in which i did not come to a complete stop. It was 5 in the morning in a low-traffic area. I did slow down and check for any oncoming cars, and then continue with caution. I did break the law i guess. The ticket was for $540. I think it is super ridonkulous for a ticket to be $540. If i had run the red light going straight, I think that is bad. But for me to turn right on a red and got a ticket for $540, that is ridonklous. It was a out-of-state ticket, so i will not contest it and just pay the fine and attend online traffic school.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I do believe its a revenue tactic, I also believe that being hesitant while driving is dangerous to yourself and others. Having fear of getting a ticket while approaching a Red light , takes your focus off the perimeter of everything else. Thank You
      thepath2u
      • 4 Years Ago
      All we need is common sense once again... It starts in the home and the schools, and is taught at the end of a paddle. I have many times looked in my rearview mirrior, and saw someone following so close that If I would have stopped? Yes I COULD STOP, I'm Driving a Z-06 Corvette with Nascar Brakes that will outstop most vehicles in one third the same distance... I would have be rearended, so I was FORCED to run the light for safety... One time I did this, a State Policeman was watching, and wrote a ticket to the perosn behind me! He said I did the ONLY SMART THING I could have done, run the light for safety, quickly looking both ways and accelerating. Things aren't Black and White Folks, nor Red or Green... Use comman sense, put the cell phone and texting away, along with the fast food, and put both hands on the wheel, drive like you are racing, NOT FAST, just that your only activity is DRIVING. Thus Endith the lesson.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Not only increasing the time the yellow stays lit, but also delaying the change from red to green in the intersecting lanes will allow all automobiles to pass safely through an intersection. To allow all four directions to remain red for perhaps 4 seconds would create a buffer of time that would allow all drivers to observe if the intersection is safe to enter. But, of course, to do this would require that safety matters first and not the MONEY!!!.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Tickets should never be handed out by machines. Period. If they want to stop law breakers, let them put more cops around. Not money grabbing machines. What a sham!
      tharriger
      • 4 Years Ago
      I apologize for the apparent run-together of my last comment. I submitted it with proper paragraph breaks, but the Web page software smashed everything together. Just can't get good help these day.
      ERIC
      • 4 Years Ago
      When I worked for DOT I learned a lot about these red lights. First thing to consider is that they DO increase rear-end collisions at intersections. As such, if the intersection already has a high rate of rear-end collisions, then they can't use the light. If the intersection has a high rate of cars getting t-boned, then yeah they'll use the cameras. However, they put a limit on the cities of how much they could make off the cameras, which in turn pissed off a lot of cities so they stopped using the camera (think about it, if everyday you drive over the white line before turning right, you will get a ticket for each time even though you won't get the first notice until a week later). As a side note, some cities are getting around the fact the state agencies are taking away the traffic lights by installing their own camera on a nearby telephone poll for an intersection. I guess a money revenue is more important than safety.
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