Red Light Cameras: They Work

August 28th, 2011 at 11:58 pm | 112 Comments |

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Back in April, I wrote a piece for FrumForum taking a counter-intuitive look at red light cameras, arguing that Tea Partiers and anti-camera activists were right to oppose the cameras being placed at intersections, since there were more cost-effective ways of reducing crashes. An idea that I gave particular prominence to was that crashes could be reduced just by extending the yellow light time at intersections.

Unfortunately, the piece was not well informed by the opinions of true camera experts.

Follow-up interviews with FrumForum have confirmed that the cameras do reduce crashes, are more effective, and that many of the “solutions” advocated by camera opponents are little more than gimmicks.

The original piece gave a lot of prominence to the use of an extended yellow light to reduce accident time since it seemed to strike two birds with one stone: reduced accidents by giving more time for cars to stop, and less money being spent since no cameras need to be installed. It was indeed, too good to be true.

According to David Kelly, the president executive director of the national coalition of safer roads, arguments to increase yellow light time ignore that changing the traffic patterns in one section of road affect traffic patterns throughout other sections:

There’s a very specific formula for what the traffic light timing should be, what the yellow light timing should be. And it has everything to do with approach speed, how many lanes are going into the intersection, what the visibility is on the intersection, and what the timing of the sequencing of the lights is. If you had ten lights in a row at ten different intersections they’re all sequences, there are a lot of different factors that go into yellow light timing.

To which the camera opponent response is: but studies have shown that an extended yellow light does reduce accidents. It turns out that the more correct analysis is that it reduces accidents for a certain amount of time.

One case study that Kelly cited was conducted in Philadelphia. It showed there was a 34% decrease in fatalities when you extended the yellow light. But this was not a permanent increase, eventually the accidents returned to their previous levels. “So what happens is you change your yellow light timing in a particular intersection, after a while people get used to the fact that it’s a shorter yellow light or it’s a longer yellow light, people know their driving in their neighborhoods,”

Another individual who spoke to FrumForum about the real world consequences of extended yellow light time was Ron Reagan, a state representative who was in the Florida legislature from 2002 through 2010. He explained that he got interested in the issue after a constituent’s death by a red light runner brought it to his attention. The first tests they did were in Manatee County, and they first experimented with extended yellow light time:

We did notice immediately that the number of violations dropped significantly. But within four days what we found was that people had changed their driving habits. They knew that they had extra time. And it was virtually the same number of red light runners occurred within 4 or 5 days after we changed that light.

This is not the only documentary evidence that red light infractions increase without actual cameras being brought to bear. A study in Houston examined a town which had the cameras but then removed them, only to see a significant spike in violations:

Troy Walden, an associate research scientist at TTI, said the study of one typical town, which he wouldn’t name because the study hasn’t been released, showed that weekly red light violations decreased from 2,445 to 1,738 when red light cameras were installed.  But after they were removed, violations rose to 4,755.

In the light of such numbers, how do the camera opponents manage to try to give their campaign against the cameras an air of legitimacy? One piece of evidence that they constantly invoke is a University of South Florida study which challenged a lot of the supposed benefits of increased camera use. One of its authors was quoted on FrumForum arguing:

It is important for the public at large and federal, state, and local officials to understand that motor vehicle safety is advanced through evidence-based methods. Attempts to generate revenue through traffic citations are directly contrary to public safety since infractions are increased by improper roadway engineering, creating hazards and expense for the public

Notably, this paper has not widely accepted among experts. A source whom FrumForum spoke to who was aware of the details surrounding the study explained that many members of the traffic safety profession did not hold a high opinion of the study or its conclusions.

Ultimately, it makes sense that red light cameras reduce accidents and infractions and create a positive net gain. While there was a counter-intuitive appeal to arguing that this was a case of creeping big government that could be resisted at the local level, the overwhelming evidence is that accidents are reduced when people know they are being monitored and that yellow lights don’t stop cars — red lights stop cars.

Although this issue can seem a small bore, it still strikes a chord within the conservative movement. On August 1, the Weekly Standard ran a piece arguing that red light cameras were the ultimate mix of paternalistic nanny statism and crony capitalism with government contractors.

The snark that the piece uses to oppose the cameras is actually very hilarious. First they indict the source of the cameras:

Like many cultural plagues, the red-light camera originated in Europe. Invented by a Dutch race-car driver, Maurice Gatsonides, red-light cameras were installed by European municipalities throughout the 1980s to ticket drivers without the necessity of using actual police. In 1993 the sickness crossed the Atlantic, and New York City permanently installed cameras of its own.

The piece also fell prey to implying that “studies showed” the cameras were not safe:

But the fig leaf of safety frittered away as study after study showed that the cameras made little difference and in some cases actually made intersections less safe.

And attempted to play up problems with the cameras by calling the cameras a threat to the Republic:

None of it—not shorter yellows or the cameras or the $400 tickets—represents a grand, existential threat to the Republic. But it’s a threat all the same. A threat to the idea that government should be a tool of the people. Not a ratchet.

It would be appealing if the facts backed up the ideological assumptions. Unfortunately they do not. Red light cameras reduce accidents and the way to deal with concerns about contractors is to reform bidding procedures, not ban cameras.

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112 Comments so far ↓

  • FosterBoondoggle

    By quoting actual research and evidence you’ve demonstrated that you’re one of those pinko lefties. A proper conservative would stick with his gut.

    • gover

      Noah–Foster’s right, and you are in danger. You are at a young, impressionable age. In this article you’ve both recognized that conservatives lie and supported a course of action on the flimsy grounds that it will produce useful results. Keep this up, you’ll become a liberal.

    • paul_gs

      You can pull up research supporting whatever prejudices you might hold.

      Red light cameras are a cash cow, pure and simple.

      • MelonTarge

        Red Light cameras are a cash cow… for a while. After a while people get used to them and stop trying their luck. Then they stop paying for their selves, and just do their jobs.

  • gonzoredux

    Thank you for writing this correction. It takes a lot of integrity for a journalist to correct earlier mistakes. Though I do wish the Tea Partiers were right on this one…

  • Hunter01

    If this were a serious discussion, we would want the cites for each of the studies and then take a careful look at the methodological rigor of these studies. And if there was a body of empirical evidence on red light cameras, we would want to see the pooled results in the form of a meta-analysis. Of course, that’s if we were serious.

  • stpetedriver

    Take a look at the state of Georgia, they passed a law that required one additional second of yellow time at red light camera intersections. Now 2 years later there are almost no red light cameras left in the state, they became unprofitable to maintain so they were removed.

    This is the same thing that happened in Loma Linda, CA where the city had red light cameras for 4 years before they lengthened their yellow times, then they saw a dramatic and sustained reduction in red light violations, and one year later they removed their red light cameras.

    We are seeing the same thing happen now in Missouri, where the state has started the process of lengthening yellow times on state roads. In cities with red light cameras they have seen significant and sustained reductions in red light violations, some as high as 95%, like in Arnold, MO.

    Lengthening yellow light signal times makes roads safer, much more so than installing red light cameras.

    • Rabiner

      Actually Red Light Cameras become unprofitable because they are effective. When Red Light Cameras prevent people from running red lights it means there are less tickets to process and execute.

      • stpetedriver

        They are not effective, if they were effective you wouldn’t see cities like New York keep them in place for more than 10 years with a constant ticketing rate. There’s a great graphic in the Albuquerque study that shows ticketing rates initially go down and then back up close to original levels after 2 years. Red light cameras don’t work.

        • Rabiner

          That Albuquerque Study you mention as your ‘evidence’ had these findings:

          “The findings in this study have policy implications for the use of RLCs in Albuquerque at signalized intersections and suggest several courses of action. First, the primary finding of a moderate net cost benefit supports the continued use of RLCs in Albuquerque. Second, the finding that this benefit varies by intersection suggests a more targeted approach to the use of RLC systems. This is further supported by the finding that the mix of injury and PDO crashes also varies considerably by intersection. Third, the reduction of red light running citations and speeding citations provides evidence and parallels the findings of other studies that RLC programs reduce the number and rate of red light running violations.”

          So I guess you were wrong.

        • stpetedriver

          Did you actually look at the data in the Albuquerque study?

          The results show that total crashes at RLC-equipped intersections have increased by 1% after RLCs were installed while crashes at non-RLC intersections in the city have decreased over 9%. Injury crashes decreased at RLC intersections during the study period, but they decreased 11% more at non-RLC intersections than they did at RLC intersections.

        • Rabiner

          I read the damn report. Considering the policy analysts took into account all of those factors they still stated that the cameras were a net positive. Sorry but you’re wrong or the study is wrong. And considering you tried to use that particular study as your evidence I’m thinking it was you.

        • stpetedriver

          So you are saying that more crashes and more injuries are just fine if less people run red lights?

        • Rabiner

          At red light camera intersections there was a net increase of 62 accidents. However there was a decrease in Injury Accidents of 102 accidents and an increase of 166 of damage only accidents (rounding error for why numbers aren’t perfectly adding up). Except that damage only accidents produce on average only 2,400$ of damage while an injury accident produces 26,000$ of damage. I’ll take that net benefit of 2 million or so and have the 60 more accidents since they’re minor.

        • stpetedriver

          They didn’t calculate crash costs for the control intersections, they only did for the red light camera intersections, so it’s not really the same thing is it.

        • Rabiner

          Its pretty easy to calculate the reductions in the control intersections. The accident figures were provided. Also if you read the study they shutdown the 4 least effective RLC intersections while keeping the effective ones.

        • stpetedriver

          They also shut the cameras off completely for a while because they were losing money, until they could negotiate with the camera company to charge them less. I guess they felt all of this safety wasn’t worth it if it cost them money…

        • Rabiner

          I hear money doesn’t grow on trees and in order to run the program if it isn’t self sustainable you’d need to raise taxes.

    • Graychin

      If red light cameras become unprofitable, how on earth does that imply that they are ineffective? Is their objective to raise revenue, or to reduce the number of accidents caused by drivers running yellow/red lights?

      Unfortunately, too often the objective is revenue. The most odious arrangements are those in which the vendor of the camera system is paid a piece of the action from ticket revenue.

      Yellow lights ARE too short in my neck of the woods. In theory, I’m supposed to be completely out of the intersection before the light turns red. With normal reflexes, and at normal speed, that’s impossible – even if one slams on the brakes and risks getting rear-ended. That’s why I push so many yellow lights – not because I’m in a hurry, but because I don’t want to get rear-ended. Even then, two or three cars usually follow me through the intersection.

  • COProgressive

    “Ultimately, it makes sense that red light cameras reduce accidents and infractions and create a positive net gain.”

    The cameras may reduce frontal and side accidents, but two towns near me have installed the red light cameras and I have seen a number of people who lock their brakes as soon as the yellow is illuminated rather than take the chance of having their plates photographed. This ripples back through traffic and while I don’t have data to prove it, I suspect the red light cameras have been the cause of any number of rearend collisions that no one is associating with the cameras.

  • drdredel

    I’d be curious to learn if there’s a higher incidence of collisions near speed traps, as people slam their brakes when they suddenly spot a cop that they’re approaching at 20+ miles per hour over the limit. Alternatively, I’d be curious to see if the incidents of collision is less in the vicinity of a known speed trap. My intuition tells me that nothing positive comes out of monitoring people’s speed.

    • Kevin B

      As toll roads become more and more prevalent, I wonder how long it will be before the electronic toll collection becomes a law-enforcement tool. When you enter the toll road, the time is noted. When you exit the time is also noted. Between any two collection points, they should be able to calculate your average speed. There would be no “speed trap”, since every lawbreaker traveling above the posted limit would be automatically fined.

  • Houndentenor

    I’m in Houston right now and this topic is much discussed. It’s obvious that the people opposed to the cameras oppose them because they routinely run red lights. There is no privacy issue here (which is the excuse the red light runners like to give) since there is no significant difference between an automated camera and a policeman with a camera at every intersection. The latter, of course, is cost-prohibitive. The answer to this is obvious. Don’t run red lights! That logic is lost on the “you can’t tell me what to do” crowd down here. Obviously everyone else’s safety is less important than them getting wherever they are going a couple of minutes sooner.

    • stpetedriver

      I think you are the only one talking about privacy here. I’m opposed to red light cameras because they do nothing to improve safety and are mostly used to raise revenues by outsourcing law enforcement to an out-of-state or foreign for-profit corporation that only cares about making money, not improving safety.

  • Herb

    Wait….if red light cameras reduce accidents, then do red lights cause them???

    We’ve been a car-centric culture long enough to have better ideas on road design than intersections and traffic lights, which interrupt the flow of traffic and lead to not only accidents, but long drive times. Rather than innovating, we’re just compensating.

    In that sense, red light cameras work like a crutch.

  • sinz54

    I’ve encountered numerous situations where the traffic light was malfunctioning–just stuck at red–producing a line of cars that stretched back a block or more. Each of us frustrated drivers eventually made the decision to go through that light when the coast was clear.

    If there had been a traffic camera installed at that intersection, would all of us drivers who were forced to go through that malfunctioning traffic light be issued tickets?

    • stpetedriver

      Yes, you would get ticketed for that. And here are some other things that red light cameras might ticket you for:

      - being stopped NEXT to a person that runs a red light
      - going through an intersection too slowly
      - stopping a few inches past the stop line
      - having the system mis-read a license plate
      - having the same license plate number from a different state
      - being in a funeral procession, even with police escort
      - being stuck in traffic with the rear of the car still in the intersection

      • Rabiner

        You are so wrong it isn’t even funny. Stop using misinformation. Red Light Cameras, at least in California, have specific protocols. They have a 12 second video of you running the red light from (6 before, 6 after) to give context so no, you won’t get a ticket if you’re next to a person who runs a red light, and you won’t get a ticket if the intersection is malfunctioning. A police officer has to sign off on the ticket after all the information has been compiled by the company that operates the camera. Also for many red light cameras, the censors won’t even register if you go over them going under 15 miles per hour as to prevent the system going off on right hand turns during a red light.

        “- having the same license plate number from a different state”

        Which is extremely easy to prove in court that the ticket doesn’t belong to you. You won’t even have to see the judge many times since the officer who gave the ticket is in court and offers people the opportunity to see the video before the court proceedings to get people to not fight the tickets. Show him there that it isn’t you and its pretty easy to get out of it.

        • stpetedriver

          All of the conditions I have given have documented cases where people were given tickets for these reasons. None of them are from California, which does have more stringent requirements because it is criminal and not civil like in most other states.

          My point is that you never should have gotten a ticket, this is guilty until proven innocent and that is wrong.

        • Rabiner

          All tickets are ‘guilty till proven innocent’ if that’s your standard. No ticket is executable until you pay or go to court to fight the ticket and then you pay or don’t. No different with a Red Light Camera ticket. Why don’t you try to use that Albuquerque study again or did I change your tune?

        • stpetedriver

          How do you question a camera?

          How can the officer that “click-signed” the citation testify to the road conditions or the conditions of the traffic signal if they were never there?

        • Rabiner

          Lets see, a police officer reviews the video evidence, checks to dmv records to verify that the person who was photographed was the person in the car. The video evidence has 6 seconds before the person runs the red light and 6 seconds after so there is context. It isn’t just a photo taken of the person. He knows exactly how fast you were going, how long after the light turned red you went into the intersection and if there were any cars behind you that could of forced you to go into the intersection.

          The officer that ‘clicked-signed’ the ticket is the same officer who is in court providing the evidence in the case against you.

          Ways to challenge a ticket:

          There was a car behind me and due to my fear of being rear ended I went into the intersection.

          That isn’t me in the photo running the red light.

          You can argue that the yellow light did not follow Cal Trans regulations and was too short (the police officers check the yellow lights every week to make sure they’re calibrated to Cal Trans specifications).

          You could just argue for financial hardship to receive a reduction in the ticket cost.

          You could argue road conditions but it could mean a number of things, are you arguing that the weather sucked? that traffic sucked? what exactly? A red light camera only goes off if the person goes over the sensors which are before the intersection at a speed faster than 15 mph so the system won’t go off if you’re in the intersection due to traffic (should get a ticket for blocking traffic anyways) when the light turns red.

          I can only speak to California since that’s the only Red Light Camera program I’ve actually studied in depth.

        • stpetedriver

          California is one of the very few states that issues criminal red light running camera citations that incur points on your drivers license. Other states(like Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Washington, Illinois, etc…) issue these as civil ordinance violations and don’t use pictures of the driver at all, the first registered owner of the car is fined and no attempt is made to find the actual driver. These also do nothing to take dangerous drivers off the road, in fact in New Mexico one woman amassed over 70 red light camera citations and she still has her license.

    • Kevin B

      Tell it to the judge.

      A malfunctioning red light is something that should be fixed, and it should be a valid defense in court.

      But just because the occasional driver has a woman in labor in the back seat, it doesn’t make speed limits a bad idea.

      • stpetedriver

        Why should you have to take time out of your day to appeal a ticket that was issued due to faulty equipment? A ticket that never would have been issued by a real human police officer that was on the scene.

        • Kevin B

          So you want to replace every red light cam with a police officer?

        • stpetedriver

          Not sure where you got that from. What I am saying is that red light cameras cannot take any input in except “light red, camera triggered”. Whereas a police officer could clearly see that a light was malfunctioning and possibly get out of the car and direct traffic or change the light to flashing red until it is fixed.

          The red light camera does nothing but issue tickets, and lets the courts figure it out after that. I think that is wrong that you would have to take a day off of work to go and appeal a ticket that you never should have gotten in the first place. Most people would just pay the ticket and avoid the hassle, and that is exactly what the cities that install these and the red light camera companies want to happen, and I think that is wrong too.

        • Frumplestiltskin

          absolutely, what is the worth of human life compared to the remote chance that you might one day get a faulty ticket and have to miss a whole day (or part of a day) of work to contest it? I say let people die so you are never inconvenienced (and if you are one who is killed, you will die a martyr for freedom from traffic cameras and maybe we will rename a month after you)

        • stpetedriver

          Red light cameras do not save lives, they take pictures. Most red light running fatalities occur more than 5 seconds after the light turns red and are the result of an impaired driver. Purely red light running fatalities are actually very rare and account for less than 2% of fatalities on the roads, and that number has been going down steadily for years.

        • Primrose

          All tickets are guilty until proven innocent. In fact, if you don’t proclaim your innocence soon enough, they assume your guilty, usually 48 hours.

          I have to take time out of my day to appeal a ticket for a police officer who was wrong. And there is no way I have discovered to question the evidence of police officer in traffic court for things like speeding tickets. The court assumes that the police officer has not cause to lie, though tickets inevitably increase at the end of the month.

          Not only that, but the court presumes that the officer remembers the incident correctly months afterwards. The time from ticket to court is very extended. I once went to court hugely pregnant, having gotten the ticket before I even knew I was pregnant. Or perhaps before I even was. And the officer remembers me? Out of all the tickets he gives all day? Every day?

          At least with a camera, we can see what happened.

  • jamesj

    Serious, much respect to Noah for writing this.

  • cporet

    If you want to stop people from running red lights, which is why the cameras are installed then you have to hit people where it hurts. State legislatures must make failure to stop for a red light more than a $50 fine. It should be the equivalent fine and punishment for reckless driving because in reality failing to stop for a red light is reckless behavior.

    • stpetedriver

      Red light camera fines range from $400 – $500 in California, and violation rates don’t fall any more there than they do in other states with much lower fines. 70-90% of red light violations happen less than one second after the light turns red, and most are unintentional. This is why red light violations drop drastically after yellow light times are lengthened.

      • Rabiner

        I don’t see how running a red light can ever be ‘unintentional’.

        • stpetedriver

          When the yellow light is too short it’s very easy to unintentionally run a red light, especially if you are in a semi.

        • Rabiner

          Don’t drive so fast in the semi. I know in California based on the speed limit of the intersection yellow lights are standardized. They have to be at least a certain length while local officials can make the yellow light longer than legally required based on their discretion.

        • stpetedriver

          A lot of cities have been caught lowering their yellow light times at red light camera intersections below the federal minimum of 3 seconds: Dallas, Nashville, Chattanooga, Chicago and many others.

          There is no excuse for this, it’s all about money.

        • Rabiner

          And none in California without violating the law. Maybe other states should be more like CA in this respect?

        • stpetedriver

          If they make them criminal then they would make less money because more tickets would be thrown out, and for those states this is about money and not safety. Also, several courts in California have ruled red light cameras as unconstitutional, so it’s not like everything is perfect for the camera citations in California either.

      • cporet

        No. Running a red light is intentional. Once the yellow light is on and you no longer have a green light if you are not in the area of the solid white line leading up to the intersection you slow down and stop before the light turns red. You don’t speed up to make through the light while it is still yellow.

        • cporet

          Besides, my point is that running a red lights is, intentional or unintentional, reckless driving.
          Reckless if you intentionally run it. Reckless if unintentional because you’re just not paying enough attention to be propelling a ton and a half of metal at 35 to 45 mph

        • stpetedriver

          So you are saying if a city makes a yellow signal time 2.5 seconds on a 4-lane road with approach speed limits of 35mph, you would say every person that “runs the red light” 0.1 seconds after the light turns red is “reckless”?

          This happened in Chicago by the way, they got caught doing it, and a whole ton of red light camera tickets were thrown out because of this.

        • Rabiner

          2.5 seconds is far too short. In California the length of a yellow light for a 35 mph zone is 3.6 seconds. The whole chart can be found at:

          Hope that helps and I think other states should take the standardized approach.

  • Traveler

    I enjoyed this discussion. I think StPete raises some valid concerns. Do they really work, and what are we trading for? Traffic violations shouldn’t be used as a source of revenue. We love four way stop signs here in PA, and the local cops will ticket you if you don’t come to an absolute stop. Even a 1/2 mph roll which is totally safe will cost you. That is just plain bull and lowers respect for the law.

    Governments should use roundabouts as often as possible. They are far more effective for moving cars through intersections, and far more safely.

    Also might help if cops enforced “slower traffic keep right”. I would gladly trade a lower top speed for having a courteous passing lane. As it is, too many “enforcers”, so once by them, I blow through speed traps at 79 knowing the cops will only take me if over 80. Much prefer to just tool along at 74. Kevin B, would that give me a speeding ticket on EZ pass?

    • Kevin B

      Maybe. I think most police jurisdictions don’t bother to give tickets for people driving less than 5 mph over the limit, to account for people whose speedometers are not accurate, I would expect that to be the same for tollway violations. But so what if it isn’t? If the speed limit is 70, and you are driving with the needle on 74, then you are violating the law. And you know it. It’s a willful violation. Drive 70. Or 69, if you’re worried about your speedometer.

      People break the law on highways because they get away with it more often than not. A system that ticketed every car driving over the limit would make more people into law-abiding citizens. Consistent enforcement would increase respect for the law. You wouldn’t be able to get out of it simply by showing cleavage or saying yes, officer, no officer.

      And if you think 74 is an appropriate speed for that particular highway, then petition for the speed limit to be set to 74.

      • Traveler

        Petition for speed limit change? Are you out of your mind?

        The truth is everyone here on the east coast regularly travels up to 10 mph above the speed limit. There are certain roads (used for training cops) that permit only 5 mph, but most of the time it’s even more than 10 mph. If 55, most go 70-73, if 65, most go 75-78. Of course there are the occasional law-abiding folk like you (who hopefully reside in the right lane). So if cops and the state wanted to enforce the laws, they would. They don’t. That is why enforcing a rolling stop for essentially a yield process is nothing but a revenue stream. It has no effect on safety. I am not talking about a NJ roll, which is at least 10 mph.

        • Kevin B

          If people got tickets on a regular basis for going over the speed limit, they would drive the speed limit. The culture of driving ten miles over the limit would evaporate quickly if every trip work or to visit Grandma in the next town cost an extra $150 or more in fines, automatically documented and conveniently billed to your home address.

          The motorcycles that zip past at 120 mph, weaving in and out of traffic would also change their habits.

    • Rabiner

      You’re hte second person to complain in this thread about getting at ticket for not following the law. It says ‘stop’, not ‘roll through’. A red light means ‘stop’, not ‘miss stopping by 1 second’. If we allow no ticket for someone running a red light after .5 seconds passed, how about 1 second or 2 seconds? at what point is it truly dangerous?

      • Traveler

        Rabiner, running through at 50 mph is a whole lot more dangerous than a creep at the stop.

        • Rabiner

          And driving while having a .081 alcohol level is less dangerous than having a .12 but you’re still driving drunk. Both are breaking the law, follow the law or are you soft on crime when it suits your habits?

        • Kevin B

          I actually drive better when I’m a bit drunk, because the threat of getting a DWI on my record makes me more careful.

          Actually the above is not true. It’s just a rationalization that I’ve heard more than one person make.

          And anyone remember Jeff Bridges in the movie Starman? He’s an alien who learns to drive by observing his human companion. Everything is going fine until he blatantly runs a red light. She asks him why he did it. He replies that he learned it from watching her. “Red-Stop, Green-Go, Yellow-Go Very Fast.”

        • Primrose

          But the “creep” at the stop is not creeping, it is going very fast and not stopping yet.

    • LFC

      I agree that people who don’t follower “keep right except to pass” need to be ticketed. A person on the highway even driving 90 mph can only cause a backup of one, i.e. themselves, when they catch up to the next car. A person driving below the prevailing speed in the left lane can cause a virtually unlimited backup. Backed up traffic increases accident danger so the ignorant offender needs to get over to allow traffic to flow.

      I also agree that if you lightly roll a stop or get pulled over for speeding, you need to take the ticket and shut up about it.

      • Traveler

        Yeah, but we get to carp about it here! And I do pay when caught. Thankfully its been quite a while.

        I just want cops enforcing unsafe behaviors, not purely illegal ones. I would be surprised if “enforcers” in the left lane did not cause more accidents and road rage incidents than any single factor. And this too is against the law. Yet it not enforced. In PA, you are explicitly permitted to pass on the right, yet these enforcers will then speed up. Just to piss you off. Talk about unsafe.

        So I don’t want to hear this pious bleating about what is illegal or not. It is what is permissible (deemed safe by the cops, ie., not excessive speeding). Running a red light is unsafe. A creep through a 4-way stop sign on a side street with no traffic is not unsafe.

      • Rabiner

        You can actually get a ticket for driving too slow on a freeway. It’s called driving dangerously if you’re going 30 mph in the left lane of the 405 when traffic is moving at 65 mph. I’m unsure of the exact violation in the technical term but I’ve seen people receive these tickets and I’m perfectly okay with it.

        • Kevin B

          Some freeways have posted minimum speeds. If you don’t feel comfortable driving that fast, or your vehicle won’t go that fast, then you should take an alternate route.

          But no self-respecting law enforcement officer would give a ticket for going the speed limit in any lane.

  • HenryF

    Evidently ATS, the camera company, got hold of Noah and filled his ear – or wrote his column for him. For instance, David Kelly is not an expert, he heads Storm King Strategies in DC, which lobbies for ATS, and the NCSR is an ATS supported front. Noah should have mentioned that – it is not a well-kept secret. And Ron Reagan is on the board of the NCSR.

    Kelly tossed out one old canard that I was sure would get pounced upon by the commenters here. But since they didn’t, I will. Kelly said that after you lengthen a yellow, people “get used” to it and resume running the light. Dead wrong. Study after study, and real-world experience, have shown that running stays down, indefinitely, after you lengthen a yellow. To see actual monthly figures from Fairfax VA and Mesa AZ, Google cameras alternatives Fairfax Mesa.

    ATS claims to have a Core Value of “Honest Engagement,” but that too seems to be a front, just like Kelly, Reagan, and the NCSR. (If red light cameras are so good, why does a purveyor of them need to hide, undisclosed, behind a front group?) To read more about ATS, Google Watergate Rosenker Astroturf.

  • paul_gs

    I hit the brakes much harder when I see a yellow light now that our city has installed red light cameras. In wintertime on icy roads, this can be hazardous for the driver behind me, but I’m not willing to chance a $400 ticket.

    If red light cameras are to be used at all, the penalty should be much less if you enter an intersection on red 1/10th of a second late then if you enter say 4 seconds late. The fines are far too arbitrary and far too expensive.

    • Rabiner

      I can understand how the fines are too expensive, but how are they arbitrary? It’s a binary offense, either you ran the red light or didn’t.

      • paul_gs

        I already explained how they are arbitrary. If the roads are icy and I enter a red 1/100 of a second late I get a $400 fine. If I drive through a 10 full seconds after the light has gone red, the fine is still $400. Penalizing the minor infraction the same as the truly serious infraction is arbitrary.

        • Rabiner

          You want degrees of running red lights? Similar to speeding versus reckless driving?

        • Kevin B

          I think he means similar to the escalating fines for speeding based on how far over the limit the car was traveling. With double fines for school zones, of course.

        • Rabiner

          I understand, I just fine that the fact you’ve run the red light is not arbitrary, it’s binary. You did it or you didn’t. Once you start adding degrees to that infraction you’ve brought arbitrary opinions into the discussion on punishment. He wants a change to the way punishment is given for the offense that’s fine, just don’t start saying that running a red light sometimes is fine.

        • paul_gs

          Running a red light is not fine, but unintentionally running a red light 1/10 of a second late because of icy road conditions results in a punitive fine the same as running a red light 10 seconds into the red. Yet the law makes no distinction between the two very different infractions.

          Red light fines lose support with the general public because they punish untintentional (and minor) violations of red lights the same as the much more egregious violations.

  • LFC

    One of the prior controversies in Philadelphia (since addressed) was that the yellow times were actually shortened when the cameras were put in place. This was great for revenue enhancement. Authorities also need a red “grace period”. There isn’t a person out there who has been driving for any period of time who hasn’t misjudged a light and gone through a bit late. We’re human, it happens.

    • paul_gs

      If red light cameras are to be used, the fines should escalate depending on how late into the red one enters the intersection.

    • Traveler


      Good point. They had to throw out over a thousand tickets. Frankly, I am all for them. I very rarely miss-time a yellow and run a red light, and so I wouldn’t mind if caught. But here in Phila, so long as you are in the intersection (past the stop bar on your side), then you are legit. That is why there is a delay till it turns green. I am pretty sure it is that way in all states, although one poster suggested otherwise.

  • D Furlano

    Do red light cameras work, yes. What is not allowing them to work properly is the dysfunction caused by lobbyists and special interest groups.

    “The City Council’s decision was expected after the Police Commission voted to drop the program, which had ticketed more than 180,000 drivers since 2004.

    Councilman Bill Rosendahl said the contract was costing Los Angeles $1.5 million a year because many people ignored the citations.

    There currently are about 65,000 outstanding unpaid tickets, Councilman Mitchell Englander said.

    Council members blamed the losses on the refusal of the Los Angeles County Superior Court to force drivers to pay up.”

    • stpetedriver

      The audit of the program by the City Controller said:

      “We found that the program cannot conclusively demonstrate that it has reduced traffic collisions”

      • D Furlano

        Because no one takes it seriously. If you ticket people for illegal parking but never follow up on the tickets that are issued then you cannot conclude that illegal parking signs are ineffective.


  • jagerine

    They’ve been in my city and I know people avoid them, so they must reduce accidents too. They should do an extended yellow, or an extra half second or second between the red and the next green.

  • PracticalGirl

    This has been a great thread to read.

    In Oregon, enforcement of the camera tickets has been problematic. First, consider the predictors for red light runners.

    “For age group, drivers 25 and under were 1.90 times more likely to run red lights than drivers aged 26–35 and 2.10 times more likely than drivers over the age of 45″

    Yet, many (most?) teenaged drivers are not the registered owner of the car they drive. And the teens figured that out very fast. Get a ticket from a “camera”? BFD- if you’re not the registered owner of the car, the ticket isn’t valid- at least in Oregon. So the kids learned to ignore the red light cameras. Did it cause more accidents? Not that I know of, but it did cause a lot of time, paper and postage to be wasted.

    • Rabiner

      In CA they attempt to find the person driving the car, not just who the car was registered with and then if it isn’t a match give up. Matches are made from anyone on the insurance of the car or within the immediate family on many occasions.

  • Fastball

    I have yet to hear camera opponents give a convincing rejoinder to the suspicion that they want greater freedom to indulge in reckless, selfish behavior and lower odds of being caught.

  • D Furlano

    Here, 50% of people in large cities agree with the use of red light cameras 17% oppose.


    “Results: The average annual rate of fatal red light running crashes declined for both study groups, but the decline was larger for cities with red light camera enforcement programs than for cities without camera programs (35 vs. 14 percent). The average annual rate of all fatal crashes at signalized intersections decreased by 14 percent for cities with camera programs and increased slightly (2 percent) for cities without cameras. After controlling for population density and land area, the rate of fatal red light running crashes during 2004-08 for cities with camera programs was an estimated 24 percent lower than what would have been expected without cameras. The rate of all fatal crashes at signalized intersections during 2004-08 for cities with camera programs was an estimated 17 percent lower than what would have been expected without cameras.”

    • stpetedriver

      The only poll that matters is the ballot box, and red light cameras have been voted out every time they have come up for a vote in this country. So I think your numbers are wrong.

      As for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety “death study”, you should take their results with a grain of salt(or maybe a pound of it). The IIHS member organizations make millions every year off of red light cameras, and this study assumes that red light cameras are the only reason for the decline in intersection deaths. In other words, intersection engineering changes and changing traffic volumes are completely ignored by their study so they can promote red light cameras. They also chose a very small percentage of red-light-camera-installed-cities, and they cherry-picked the time periods for their study to fit their desired results. This study is about as valid as when the tobacco industry claimed that cigarette smoking increases lung capacity.

      • Rabiner

        Considering in the last city election the only candidate who wanted to repeal our Red Light Camera program lost by finishing 4th out of 4 I’d say not really. I live in Culver City, CA btw.

        • stpetedriver

          So the candidate’s only platform was to repeal red light cameras, he had identical positions on all of the other issues as his opponents? Other than that he was just as qualified as the other candidates? I find that very hard to believe.

          When red light cameras are on the ballot in a city election, that is the only issue that question is asking about, and when that happens, every time, the people vote to have them removed.

  • Bagok

    A little serendipity; I read this morning that there’s an app that may help avoid camera tickets:

    My unenlightened opinion is that local governments would not invest in this tech if it were not a money maker. I’m OK with that actually. It is the certainty of getting caught that prevents crime. Once people are convinced they will get a ticket (small fine or large, points or no) for running a red light their behavior will change. Ultimately that is a good thing. I’m tired of people screwing with everyone’s commute, endangering our lives and property, just so the asshats can shave a minute off their travel time.

    Now, if we could only do something about tailgaters and aggressive drivers. Driving in traffic should be a cooperative experience, not a competitive one.

    • Traveler

      I agree one hundred percent. If “enforcers” stayed in the right lane, there would be much less tailgating and aggressive driving. For the life of me, I cannot fathom those people. They are either 1) oblivious, 2) ignorant, 3) uncaring, 4) ideologues or 5) any combination of above. For sure they are not cooperative.

      Nobody is trying to win a race. They just want to travel at the permitted speed and would like a little cooperation in doing so.

      • D Furlano

        They have cameras for that :)

        • Traveler

          But wouldn’t believe where. I got helicoptered once by NJ Staties. Couldn’t tell my speed, by didn’t like me using all the lanes, even with much signaling. Cop lied about me passing him on the right (like anybody ever would ), but gave nominal ticket without points. Was very cheerful in fact (as was I!). Only later saw that helicopter caught me, so no way of measuring speed. (Ok, I was 82 like everyone else).

          Moral is there are way too many people lollygagging in the left lane. LFC outlines scenario 1, but like I point out, probably more like 5. Think about it the next time you land over a city. Look at the highways. You will see what traffic engineers call “Platoons”, where one driver sits in the left land at the same speed as the center (this is Philly, not LA), and there are some 20 cars backed up behind. Then it opens up until the next platoon. Essentially what you see is living proof of how 5% of the population represents those scum lying somewhere between 1 and 5, and making it miserable for the rest of us that wanted to go a little faster.

          It would be fascinating to see a computer model of how much gas is wasted as a direct result of these enforcer strategies including responses by the other 95% that brake, then accelerate, then brake, etc ad infinitum. Factor the amount of road rage and needless deaths, and this is the real safety issue of our times.

          In Portugal and China, the lanes are marked with speed ranges. Farthest right the slowest, next faster, next fastest, and last cars only. Apparently they enforce it in Portugal, and traffic moves very smoothly. China traffic is best modeled by Manelbroit.

          Just two cents.

  • think4yourself

    Noah, it takes a big man to write a retraction. It’s hilarious to read the passion posters have on this topic for and against.

    As for me, I live in S. Calif. I (almost) never run a red, intentionally or otherwise but cheerfully admit to having a lead foot (at least on this site that doesn’t use my real name address or social security number).

    Where we live, the “California Rolling Stop” was invented and if you’re doing just the speed limit on the freeway you’re a hazard. None of this matters to the public unless you make the evening news in multi-county car chase, then it’s entertainment. Here’s to OJ & his Bronco.

    • Rabiner

      I’m just tired of people using poor information to make an argument. And considering while in grad school at USC I did an implementation study of red light cameras I figured I’d give my insights from what we learned in 2008.

  • LFC

    Fastball said… “I have yet to hear camera opponents give a convincing rejoinder to the suspicion that they want greater freedom to indulge in reckless, selfish behavior and lower odds of being caught.”

    Although I’m personally not a red light camera opponent (as long as they don’t pull the revenue enhancing BS like Philadelphia tried, as I noted above), I do understand the point of opponents to a degree. When almost any normal person drives, they will screw up at least a little. Imagine if your driving was 100% monitored. Creep above the speed limit? Ticket. Cross a center line on a curve? Ticket. Cross onto the shoulder a bit? Ticket. Get a bit confused about your turn and fail to use your signal? Ticket.

    Getting a ticket on a rare occasion for a screw-up is frustrating but you can deal with it. Getting a ticket for every screw-up is different. Now red light situations are much less frequent in day to day driving and the risk to others is high so I accept the idea of the cameras, but what if authorities could monitor the speed and lane position of every car on every road all the time. Would that be OK? I think many, including myself, would start to feel like they were living in a police state.

    BTW, did you know that many (most?) cars in the U.S. have data recorders that record your speed, acceleration, if your seat belts were buckled, etc. for analysis after an accident? Some might view this as an invasion of privacy.

  • LFC

    Traveler said… “If “enforcers” stayed in the right lane, there would be much less tailgating and aggressive driving. For the life of me, I cannot fathom those people. They are either 1) oblivious, 2) ignorant, 3) uncaring, 4) ideologues or 5) any combination of above.”

    Don’t forget the cell-phone yappers who sit in the left lane because there’s usually less going on so it’s easier to hold a conversation. MUCH more important than traffic flow. Cell phone usage restrictions should be passed by every state. Studies have shown that cell phone usage is more dangerous than driving legally drunk and texting is much worse yet. I wonder how many MADD members obliviously chat away on their cell phones while driving, completely unaware of the danger they pose over a person who had 3 beers.

    • Traveler

      Actually, I find most of the vacancies in the right lane. Yappers are equal opportunity brain farts.

  • paul_gs

    Of course red light cameras work. Any time you punish the public with heavy punitive fines for what in most cases is a very minor infraction you can say they “work”.

    The vast majority of red light tickets are where the driver unintentionally enters a red light less then 1 second after the light turn reds. Most times this is because of poor road conditions. Yet the law punishes these normal law abiders the same as dangerous drivers who willfully drive through red lights.

    Cash cow? You betcha.

    • Rabiner

      You really need to stop with the ‘unintentional’ line. People run red lights because they were moving too fast and couldn’t stop in time, tried to speed up to beat the red light, or because they just didn’t care. I’ll buy the unintentional line when the person’s breaks don’t work and you can prove the breaks failed.

      • stpetedriver

        People also run red lights because the yellow lights are too short. We don’t all live in California where there is a state law to protect sane yellow signal times, and in fact most states don’t have laws enforcing yellow signal times. Many cities have abused this to raise revenue at red light camera intersections, and that’s wrong.

  • dugfromthearth

    hmm, a quick google search indicates that stpetedriver exists simply to go everywhere red light cameras are mentioned and claim they do not work. This is not simply the case of a reader spamming this thread, they are spamming the internet. One has to wonder what has made stpetedriver so obsessed.

    • stpetedriver

      I think you need to look up the term “spam”:

      And I do try to post with the same user login when possible, unlike the paid red light camera advocates that purposely try to hide that they have posted on multiple forums.

      There is nothing indiscriminate about the messages I leave. I am just trying to get all of the information out there on red light cameras. The red light camera companies are spending millions every year to spread a very narrow view of red light cameras, and they have created separate organizations, paid lobbyists and paid forum posters to spread their side of the story. I don’t get paid to do this, I am not trying to sell anything. I am just trying to present the facts. I have never gotten a red light camera ticket, and I hope I never do, but I think that most red light camera installations are used for revenue generation, and many actually reduce the safety of intersection after they are installed. I have done a lot of research on the subject and have read every study I can get my hands on, and the end result is that there is no guarantee of safety improvement, and in most cases crashes increase after they are installed. That’s why I’m against them.

  • Steve D

    Two suggestions:
    1. Everyone connected with surveillance cameras, of any kind, is individually and severally liable for errors, with strict liability. Everyone from the guy who installed it to the CEO of the company.
    2. For every dollar a municipality collects in ticket revenue, they spend two dollars on schools.

    • stpetedriver

      1. If you do some searching on Google you will see that a few members of the executive management of ATS have actually been ticketed by their own equipment for “running” red lights. And guess what, they are ignoring their own tickets.

      2. North Carolina tried putting all red light camera profits to schools, and the cities decided that if they couldn’t have the money that no one would, so cameras are mostly gone from that state now.

  • Smargalicious

    The people that hate red light cameras are usually:

    Guilty of some infraction, and angry that the evidence can’t be refuted.

    Piss on ‘em.

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