Greater Greater Washington

Topic of the week: You don't have to put on the red light (cameras)

Red light cameras are supposed to improve safety, but in 2013 their use actually went down. Are they on the wane? Our contributors give their insight.


Photo by Wayan Vota on Flickr.

Modesto, California has found that cameras may not be worth the trouble. They don't monitor all the lanes at an intersection, most of the revenue goes to the vendor that operates the system, and the fines are shockingly high. And studies, including one of local Virginia jurisdictions, conclude the red light camera effect on safety is ambiguous. Should we fix the problems with cameras, or focus our efforts elsewhere?

Dan Malouff: Many people don't like cameras because they intrude on our collective sense of entitlement to break traffic laws with impunity. But that entitlement should be intruded upon. Yes, governments should of course strive to get cameras right and deploy them fairly, but laws should be enforced. If it turns out that enforcing these laws is somehow unsafe (a claim I'm skeptical of), then the law should change, not the tactic of enforcing it.

Canaan Merchant: Data I'd seen before had convinced me of a red light camera's effectiveness. This and other studies I've seen recently have cast some of that into doubt. Still, I think the problems that people have with automated traffic enforcement mainly stem from poor management in developing the systems, usually by just selecting a vendor without a clear oversight process, and problems that people have with due process once a ticket is issued.

The former should absolutely be an area of concern while the latter may just be indicative of problems that have always existed but ignored because an individual's likelihood of getting a ticket was lower. If both of those issues are handled competently then I think camera enforcement will generally be a net-positive for a given intersection.

Still the best way to tackle the problem would be to make red lights more irrelevant. That means focusing on solutions that move people without requiring the use of a car.

Neil Flanagan: Traffic cameras, whether they're at red lights or to control speeding, should always be a second choice. Better design of the roadway should always be the priority. Narrower lanes, neck-downs, medians, and shorter distances between intersections can discourage speeding and remind drivers that they're approaching an intersection. Marking the pavement where a driver should brake if they see yellow might also help.

The goal should be to make intersections safe for all users, not uphold the law strictly. Starting from there, you can see another problem. Left out of this article, too, were non-motorists. Cars are engineered to protect drivers. The street is the only protection a pedestrian has.

That said, I'll echo the sense of entitlement to the right-of-way. The top comments on the article are a slew of excuses for traffic violations, like this one by "Biceps:"

Perfect example: a co-worker of mine got a photo of herself from an RLC in the mail - it was *classic*. It was a perfect pic of her driving through the intersection, looking way to her left, mouth wide agape, with a cellphone right up against her head. She didn't even remember running the light. It was a [expletive] awesome photo."
It wasn't her fault, he explains: she wasn't trying to speed through the light, she just wasn't paying attention! The engineer of the recent Metro-North accident was not given the same benefit of the doubt for spacing out, even though railroads are still safer per passenger-mile.

Adam Froehlig: I have always seen red light cameras as a local jurisdiction's attempt to replace traffic enforcement with a revenue generation tool. This is especially apparent in DC, where the revenues the cameras generate is well publicized and leads to much of the public angst against the program. A well-designed program puts this revenue back into safety programs and street improvements, but DC simply adds it to its general fund.

The safety record of red light cameras is a bit mixed. While they do help prevent the more serious right-angle crashes that often result in injuries and the occasional fatality, they can actually increase the overall crash rate due to rear-end crashes caused by the lead driver slamming on their brakes to avoid the red (and the camera ticket) and the driver behind them not stopping in time to avoid the rear-end crash.

Another item to consider: due to legal reasons, the red light camera can only fine the owner of the vehicle, it cannot target the operator. While the vehicle owner is usually the operator, this is not always a case. Compare this with a law enforcement official pulling over a vehicle and issuing the driver a ticket, where the driver (if unsuccessful in their "defense") will not only have to pay a fine, but will also lose points on their license.

While it helps reduce crash severity, it's at best a mediocre replacement for an actual law enforcement official doing traffic enforcement.

Ben Ross: Surely the reason for rear end crashes at red light cameras is that the driver in the first car doesn't expect the camera and then stops suddenly, and the driver in the second car also doesn't expect the camera and is therefore unprepared for the first driver's sudden maneuver. With more cameras these problems would vanish. It's like with cyclists, there's safety in numbers.

Abigail Zenner: Although I wish that red light and speed cameras were not needed, sadly drivers' impatience has a tendency to cause very dangerous situations. We also see that law enforcement either cannot be everywhere all the time or cannot always pull over the driver who runs a red light. Drivers also complain that red light cameras catch legal right turns at some intersections, although I have often wondered if the driver came to a complete stop prior to the right turn.

I would love to see some more awareness campaigns on driver attentiveness and explain to drivers why we have the laws we do. Many times, impatient behavior by drivers actually slows traffic down and creates more hazard.

I am fascinated by some experiments, like the one in Texas that rewards drivers for good driving behavior with cash or prizes. Cameras could also provide these rewards. The winner of the VW Fun Theory contest had this idea to enroll good drivers in a lottery when caught driving at or below the speed limit. Maybe we can come up with more carrots and more education to balance out the stick of a ticket.

Jim Titus: Do you remember what it was like before the red-light cameras?

We had trains on tires. Drivers regularly ran red lights as long as they were within 30 feet of the rear end of another car going through the intersection. Drivers with a green light often had to edge their way into these trains of red-light runners. Most drivers in the District of Columbia stop at red lights now.

Maybe today, some tailgating distracted drivers rear-end cars that stop at yellow lights. But in those days, people who stopped at newly red lights faced the same fate.

Steven Yates grew up in Indiana before moving to DC in 2002 to attend college at American University. He currently lives in Southwest DC.  

Comments

Add a comment »

1. that there is an argument that we should not have cameras because its SAFER for drivers to run a red than to stop for it, should certainly put discussion of CYCLIST behavior into context.

2. Rear end crashes effect other motorists. Running reds effects other motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists. It may well be that red light cameras are more justified at locations with large numbers of pedestrians and cyclists

3. I remember, when learning to drive, that one should drive slowly enough for any given traffic conditions, that one COULD stop if the driver ahead stopped suddenly. The rear end crashes indicate excessive speed

4. And by the way, the rear end issue does not apply to speed cams. Which are almost illegal in Va. I would like to see that change

5. I would have no problem if all the fine money (over the operating costs) went to safety improvements.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 10:45 am • linkreport

Many people don't like cameras because they intrude on our collective sense of entitlement to break traffic laws with impunity.

That's a strawman. Knocking down a strawman is not a good way to make your case.

This would be analogous to saying "most people like cameras because they create significant revenue for government that comes out of the pockets of drivers".

by Falls Church on Dec 19, 2013 11:00 am • linkreport

I think the one big issue is blocking the box. They cause gridlock. Somehow mitigating blocking the box benefits everyone: cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists. The idea that you should be able to tail the last car just so you can get through that light, but at the same time block everyone from getting through the intersection needs to be stopped. I'm not sure a camera or a policeman, or educational campaigns or what is the answer, but that is a huge factor in the dysfunction occurring in and around DC.

by dc denizen on Dec 19, 2013 11:02 am • linkreport

* traffic dysfunction

I'm not sure that Congressional dysfunction is caused by blocking the box :)

by dc denizen on Dec 19, 2013 11:04 am • linkreport

Falls Church

Except the debate about speed cameras often includes complaints about the speed limits being too low, a problem that apparently was less severe when the limits were the same, but were not enforced by cameras.

As for where the revenue goes, I would be quite supportive of all of FFX county camera revenue going to safety programs. As for DC, given how many suburban drivers use capacity on DC roads, and how rarely suburbanites pay gas tax in DC, AFAICT, I don't see it as unreasonable that DC grab some revenue that way. I mean its not like DC doesn't already spend a lot on safety improvements.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 11:09 am • linkreport

Adam
Another item to consider: due to legal reasons, the red light camera can only fine the owner of the vehicle, it cannot target the operator. While the vehicle owner is usually the operator, this is not always a case. Compare this with a law enforcement official pulling over a vehicle and issuing the driver a ticket, where the driver (if unsuccessful in their "defense") will not only have to pay a fine, but will also lose points on their license.

While it helps reduce crash severity, it's at best a mediocre replacement for an actual law enforcement official doing traffic enforcement.

Clearly, but the idea that we're going to have cops stationed at intersections catching red light runners is ridiculous. There's not only the cost but the fact that officers doing nothing don't even enforce traffic currently.

That red light cameras are less good than some mythical perfect situation where we can have live officers enforcing constantly isn't really an argument for not having red light cameras.

Modesto's problem is that they signed a contract where their contractor gets to keep 90% of the revenue. If people think it's "unfair" that they got a ticket for blowing through a red to turn right then I'm not sure what the response is other than to say that you have ALWAYS had to stop on red before turning. This isn't some new phenomenon - getting caught is.

@Falls Church
That's a strawman. Knocking down a strawman is not a good way to make your case.

It's not a strawman - people in the article (and all over the place in these discussions) complain about being caught for things like right-on-red without stopping, which is illegal and always has been! So yes, people are pissed because things which previously went unenforced being enforced.

by MLD on Dec 19, 2013 11:17 am • linkreport

Technically, traffic cameras are illegal without the police supervision, but the police are getting paid a portion per ticket through "safety programs", become dishonestly biased and not motivated to toss tickets out and become vehement defenders of the camera program even where they are unsafe, causing accidents through sudden slow-downs, and where they do what should be illegal - use flash at night, affecting driver's night vision.
"A well-designed program puts this revenue back into safety programs and street improvements, but DC simply adds it to its general fund." No, cops should not get kickbacks. No, if the local "safety program" is run by the police department, the police department has no motivation to check the vender's cameras are accurate or run safe.

by asffa on Dec 19, 2013 11:27 am • linkreport

It is always better for revenue to go back into the general fund, rather than being kept is special funds.

@Jim Titus; while I am not aruging that drivers are better behaved in the District than 15 years ago I doubt red ight cameras are the sole cause. I'm been the hundreds of stop lights across the country where people actually stop outside the presence of police or cameras. Amazing but true.

by charlie on Dec 19, 2013 11:29 am • linkreport

asffa

many local safety improvements are run by local DOT's so that neednt be an issue.

BTW, why would sudden slow downs cause accidents? Shouldn't you be leaving enough room (relative to your speed) so that you could stop suddenly if you had to? Why do so many people around here follow so closely relative to speed when driving?

If drivers want their needs accommodated, maybe they should begin driving safely.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 11:31 am • linkreport

I read this article yesterday. The author makes some really good points. Generally I'm against automated traffic enforcement but that's only because they're being deployed improperly. I suspect many of the complaints can be addressed by jurisdictions doing a better job spec'ing out the contracts. The mayor of Modesto rightfully complains the cameras are set up only to generate revenue rather than promote safety, so why did they give the contractor so much control over picking locations? The problem with rear end collisions could probably be significantly reduced by eliminating the warning signs approaching the intersection. Why is it necessary to warn drivers the law is going to be enforced? All it seems to accomplish is scaring them in to needlessly slamming on their brakes the second the light turns yellow. Finally the revenue sharing agreement in Modesto is not at all representative of what other cities and states are doing. Redflex clearly got a sweetheart deal and it's no wonder they're setting up cameras to generate revenue. $500 per violation and they keep 90% perpetually? Most other cities structure the contract to give 100% until the equipment is paid off! then it drops to 40-50% and tapers with each year.

It's really a shame these devices have been given such a bad rep. They were abused as cash registers when they really had the chance to make a difference in pedestrian and traffic safety.

by dcmike on Dec 19, 2013 11:34 am • linkreport

Agree with dc denizen that blocking the box is the biggest DC problem and tickets are way overdue. An education program and a cop in the box for a while to start would help.

Otherwise in DC the cams are clearly a huge revenue source that takes the place of tolls.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 19, 2013 11:38 am • linkreport

Funnily enough, my dad did get a ticket from a MPD officer for blocking the box a few years ago.

by Canaan on Dec 19, 2013 11:45 am • linkreport

Luckily, DC is installing blocking the box cams.
http://mpdc.dc.gov/node/724432

Camera locations:
http://1.usa.gov/1g9vkpu

by MLD on Dec 19, 2013 11:48 am • linkreport

MLD, AWITC

It's not a strawman - people in the article (and all over the place in these discussions) complain about being caught for things like right-on-red without stopping, which is illegal and always has been!

Except the debate about speed cameras often includes complaints about the speed limits being too low, a problem that apparently was less severe when the limits were the same, but were not enforced by cameras.

The above are real arguments. The strawman is saying that "we shouldn't have cameras because they intrude on our collective sense of entitlement".

Making the argument that speed limits are too low is not the same thing as arguing that one is entitled to break the law.

Making the argument that rolling right turns don't have the same risk of injury as blowing through a light, therefore shouldn't have the same priority in enforcement (which is the actual argument made in the article) also isn't the same thing as saying one is entitled to breaking the law. They didn't say no one should ever get a ticket for rolling right turns because they are entitled to break the law but rather right turns shouldn't be the emphasis of the camera program. Here's what the actual "complaint" was in the article:

“A significant portion of the red light cameras—maybe 70 or 80 percent—are for rolling right turns,” Shah told Ars. “When you think of RLC, they're for people blowing through the intersection, which don't have nearly the same kind of chance for accident or injury. A lot of people feel like it's really unfair, doing the things like the right turns.

“There’s nothing wrong with using technology to improve traffic safety. What's wrong with RLC is that the emphasis became on revenue instead of traffic safety early on, and that led to decisions on business models and locations and how they set up fines, warnings, education. That left a bad taste in people's mouths,” he added.

I'm not saying the complaint is valid nor am I saying that the argument that speed limits are too low is valid. I'm just saying they're a totally different argument than the strawman "people don't like cameras because they think they are entitled to break the law". If that's what you're hearing and responding to when discussing the issue with someone who disagrees with you, you're talking right past them.

by Falls Church on Dec 19, 2013 11:49 am • linkreport

"Making the argument that speed limits are too low is not the same thing as arguing that one is entitled to break the law."

Not if the person was complaining about them prior to the implementation of speed cameras. However the argument frquently comes up in the context of complaints about speed cameras with the strong implication that prior to the cameras, the limits were not enforced that strictly if at all, and that cameras, more than the limits, are the problem.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 11:54 am • linkreport

" A lot of people feel like it's really unfair, doing the things like the right turns."

I can see how its a waste of resources to focus enforcement on right turns (just as it would be to use police to stop cyclists from doing Idaho stops, say) but I don't see prioritization justifies the use of the term "unfairness" - that sounds much more like entitlement to me.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 11:56 am • linkreport

Not if the person was complaining about them prior to the implementation of speed cameras.

If speed limits are too low but not enforced (or rarely enforced), why would someone complain about them? Speed limits being too low only becomes an issue when the speed limit is enforced.

There are hundreds of crazy laws on the books that never get enforced. No one ever complains about them because they're not enforced.

by Falls Church on Dec 19, 2013 11:58 am • linkreport

I can see how its a waste of resources to focus enforcement on right turns (just as it would be to use police to stop cyclists from doing Idaho stops, say) but I don't see prioritization justifies the use of the term "unfairness"

The unfairness is described in the next paragraph. The speaker is arguing the reason right turn cameras are prioritized are for reasons of maximizing revenue. If that's truly why they are being prioritized, that's unfair.

by Falls Church on Dec 19, 2013 11:59 am • linkreport

by the way, as someone who walks across streets in FFX county, WITH the light, AT crosswalks, I have to say that rolling right turns are NOT a trivial offense in my opinion.

It should be borne in mind that ALLOWING right turns on red is itself a modification of prior traffic law, that they are not allowed in cities overseas with heavy pedestrian activity. That enforcement against ROLLING right turns on red is now seen as "unfair" speaks very loudly to an entitlement mindset. If drivers cannot realize that right on red without stopping is seriously illegal, maybe we should ban right on red entirely.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 12:01 pm • linkreport

"There are hundreds of crazy laws on the books that never get enforced. No one ever complains about them because they're not enforced."

IE they feel entitled to break the law, because its "crazy". BTW, there is a huge difference between a speed limit thats a few miles per hour too low, and a "crazy" law.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 12:03 pm • linkreport

AWITC, right on red is not permitted in New York City either.

by dcmike on Dec 19, 2013 12:06 pm • linkreport

" If that's truly why they are being prioritized, that's unfair."

Why? If you broke the law, and in this instance broke a law that we all agree should be enforced, then I do not see how the motive for prioritization is relevant. At least its not unfair to the driver ticketed for breaking the law. It may be unfair to the person who is harmed by the breaking of a DIFFERENT law ("its unfair they didnt target the driver who HIT me") but not to the driver ticketed.

Just because something is unfair, not all parties harmed by that thing have a case for unfairness.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 12:06 pm • linkreport

That enforcement against ROLLING right turns on red is now seen as "unfair" speaks very loudly to an entitlement mindset.

I don't think that's why the article is saying the right turn cameras in question are unfair. It seems like they're saying it's unfair because they think the cameras are located to maximize revenue, not safety, and prioritizing right turns is what maximizes revenue. Also, the article isn't arguing that the concept of right turn cameras are unfair -- they're talking about these specific ones which seem to be located to maximize revenue, not safety.

"There are hundreds of crazy laws on the books that never get enforced. No one ever complains about them because they're not enforced."

IE they feel entitled to break the law, because its "crazy".

No, that's why they don't feel they need to complain about the law until it's enforced. The people saying the speed limits are too low are not arguing that they are entitled to break the law, they're arguing that the speed limit should be raised.

by Falls Church on Dec 19, 2013 12:10 pm • linkreport

If you broke the law, and in this instance broke a law that we all agree should be enforced, then I do not see how the motive for prioritization is relevant.

They didn't say it was unfair that someone who broke the law got a ticket. They said the prioritization of right turn violators over red light violators for reasons of maximizing revenue was unfair. Claiming that as "unfair" is not the same thing as thinking you're entitled to break the law.

by Falls Church on Dec 19, 2013 12:15 pm • linkreport

1. The justification for locations should be based on safety and crash data
2. We should give people an option of taking a safety training course in lieu of the fine - that would disarm the "this is about money" argument a bit, and should improve safety. We should collect data on the classes to see if they do reduce recidivism.
3. We should set up additional cameras that allow us to get driver faces in the photo and we should add points to the tickets as well as ticket cell phone use (as a secondary offense).

by David C on Dec 19, 2013 12:16 pm • linkreport

4. In cases where the city knows that the ticket won't stand up - like the machine had not been calibrated properly - the city should waive the ticket without the driver having to protest it.

by David C on Dec 19, 2013 12:20 pm • linkreport

@FallsChurch - "They didn't say it was unfair that someone who broke the law got a ticket. They said the prioritization of right turn violators over red light violators for reasons of maximizing revenue was unfair. Claiming that as "unfair" is not the same thing as thinking you're entitled to break the law."

Except, hold on there a second. The prioritization argument is ultimately a non-enforcement argument. Why do we prioritize things? Because we have limited resources and can't do everything, therefore we want to do the most important things first, and move on to less important things if and when we have the resources. So saying "They should prioritize other things" means de-prioritizing - in this case - rolling rights, with the direct implication that it's actually too trivial to enforce.

The 'prioritization' argument is a great way to argue for non-enforcement without making it obvious that's what you're arguing for.

by Distantantennas on Dec 19, 2013 12:23 pm • linkreport

"No, that's why they don't feel they need to complain about the law until it's enforced. The people saying the speed limits are too low are not arguing that they are entitled to break the law, they're arguing that the speed limit should be raised."

Ive seen people here specifically say that the speed cameras should not be in certain locations (such as on I395 in DC) BECAUSE the speed limit is unreasonably low.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 12:32 pm • linkreport

"Because they intrude on our collective sense of entitlement to break traffic laws with impunity. But that entitlement should be intruded upon."

Except for bikers...

"If drivers want their needs accommodated, maybe they should begin driving safely"

Except for bikers...
Why I am surprised that this level of hypocritical discourse comes from the regulars of "GreaterGreaterCarhate" I dunno, but I do get quite the kick out of people making one argument, but then turning around and ignoring those exact same arguments for cyclists. Hilarious

by Huh on Dec 19, 2013 12:33 pm • linkreport

"They said the prioritization of right turn violators over red light violators for reasons of maximizing revenue was unfair. Claiming that as "unfair" is not the same thing as thinking you're entitled to break the law."

Unfair implies I have right, which has been ignored. I do not see how a law breaker has a "right" to cost benefit based law enforcement. As dis says, prioritization exists because of limited law enf resources. If resources were available, all the laws (at least all we want on the books) could be enforced. In which case the red light turners would be just as badly off. They are not harmed compared to the optimal situation (of all the laws being enforced) but rather compared to the actual prior situation - when they got away with law breaking due to limited LE resources.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 12:36 pm • linkreport

Except for bikers

Except that no one said that. You're arguing with yourself. I hope you're winning.

If MPD wants to enforce laws that cyclists break, I'm sure you'd get a lot of support from the cycling commuting. Especially if they targeted riding at night without lights or wrong-way cycling.

by David C on Dec 19, 2013 12:38 pm • linkreport

More red light, don't block the box, and speed cameras PLEASE. When reckless automobilists get tired of paying high fines, which many apparently have not (Thank you!), they will change their ways and we'll have safer streets.

Thanks, Jim Titus!

by @ShawingtonTimes on Dec 19, 2013 12:39 pm • linkreport

So saying "They should prioritize other things" means de-prioritizing - in this case - rolling rights, with the direct implication that it's actually too trivial to enforce.

I don't think that's what they're saying. If cameras were placed in order of priority to maximize safety and all the cameras for higher priority locations were already in place, and the next logical place to put a camera was a right turn, then it would be fine to put them there. But, if you're only going to have a limited number of cameras, it's unfair to prioritize locations that max revenue instead of max safety.

ve seen people here specifically say that the speed cameras should not be in certain locations (such as on I395 in DC) BECAUSE the speed limit is unreasonably low.

I don't see how that's the same argument as "Many people don't like cameras because they intrude on our collective sense of entitlement to break traffic laws with impunity. "

************
Could we get a show of hands? Is there anyone reading this thread who is anti-camera who maintains that position because cameras intrude on our collective sense of entitlement?

by Falls Church on Dec 19, 2013 12:39 pm • linkreport

""If drivers want their needs accommodated, maybe they should begin driving safely"

Except for bikers..."

You might have guessed that I had the antibike meme in mind when I wrote the above. Also, I do not know of any behavior cyclists routinely do that endangers others as much as the local custom of following too closely at high speed. And before you complain about having to swerve to avoid a cyclist running a red (and I do not believe that bikess running reds in front of close intersecting traffic is routine, BTW) that gets to exactly my point - if you were going slowly enough to stop (and following traffic were as well) you would not need to swerve.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 12:40 pm • linkreport

"But, if you're only going to have a limited number of cameras, it's unfair to prioritize locations that max revenue instead of max safety."

Prioritization based on safety is probably good public policy - I do not see that the law breaker has a right to it.

"Could we get a show of hands? Is there anyone reading this thread who is anti-camera who maintains that position because cameras intrude on our collective sense of entitlement?"

can we please have a show hands - how many people arguing for sugar import quotas are doing so for narrow self interest, rather than to protect America's interest in natural sweetener self-sufficiency? I guess no hands will go up.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 12:44 pm • linkreport

Unfair implies I have right, which has been ignored.

While it's not a true legal right, you could say you should have the right to have the priority of law enforcement based on safety, not revenue. That's the "right" that the article is claiming is being ignored. They're not claiming that they have a right to break the law and that's what's being ignored.

If resources were available, all the laws (at least all we want on the books) could be enforced. In which case the red light turners would be just as badly off.

Yes, they would be in the same financial position but they would have gotten there as the result of fair prioritization of enforcement.

by Falls Church on Dec 19, 2013 12:46 pm • linkreport

"While it's not a true legal right, you could say you should have the right to have the priority of law enforcement based on safety, not revenue. "

the only person who could possibly have that right is the person entitled to the lawful and proper benefits of the other prioritization. For example a person who was hit by a red light runner, while the cameras were focused on right turns could say "that was unfair, I was hit by a car and that would have been avoided by proper and fair prioritization" However the red light runners themselves were not harmed in that way - they are either not harmed at all, or they are harmed only because they lose the benefit of being able to break the law without suffering a penalty. And such a harm does not merit a claim of unfairness TO THEM.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 1:00 pm • linkreport

Prioritization based on safety is probably good public policy - I do not see that the law breaker has a right to it.

I'll concede that there's no right to good public policy. So, perhaps assuming you have a right to good policies makes you self-entitled.

If you modified the argument from

"Many people don't like cameras because they intrude on our collective sense of entitlement to break traffic laws with impunity."

to

"Many people don't like cameras because their prioritization is not based on good public policy"

Then I would agree that there is no longer a strawman.

by Falls Church on Dec 19, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

I guess that the people saying that right turn on red without a stop is a low priority aren't among the sizable group of people hit each year by drivers turning right on red without stopping. The classic symptom is that, since the driver doesn't want to stop, they carefully look to the left at the oncoming traffic and don't pay any attention to the pedestrians with the right of way at the crosswalk. This is a huge problem, and it takes a pretty serious case of windshield perspective to trivialize it.

by Mike on Dec 19, 2013 1:10 pm • linkreport

I'd modify to say "because they think their prioritization..."

But then when you ask individually the thinking goes back to indignation that its now easier to get caught and you can't talk your way out with a camera.

by drumz on Dec 19, 2013 1:11 pm • linkreport

"I'll concede that there's no right to good public policy. So, perhaps assuming you have a right to good policies makes you self-entitled."

it does not - if you are someone who would have been the beneficiary of the things that should have been prioritized - the pedestrian hit by the red light running driver in the example I have already given. NOT if you are a law breaker (of a law we call think should remain in force), complaining that good public policy on prioritization would have resulted in your going unpunished.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 1:13 pm • linkreport

can we please have a show hands - how many people arguing for sugar import quotas are doing so for narrow self interest, rather than to protect America's interest in natural sweetener self-sufficiency? I guess no hands will go up.

Exactly, the people arguing for sugar quotas are not putting forth the argument that we should have them because they are aligned with their narrow self-interest. They put up arguments like "national security" or "helping poor farmers in need like Willie Nelson". I'm not saying those are good arguments but those are the ones they put up.

If your argument against sugar quotas is that we shouldn't base public policy on the narrow self-interest of special interest groups, you're really not addressing the arguments put forth by the pro-sugar quota folks.

by Falls Church on Dec 19, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

I have a proposal for people who resent cities collecting revenue via red light cameras: STOP AT RED LIGHTS. This simple act of civil obedience will dry up the city's revenue from red light cameras.

by alurin on Dec 19, 2013 1:29 pm • linkreport

"Exactly, the people arguing for sugar quotas are not putting forth the argument that we should have them because they are aligned with their narrow self-interest. They put up arguments like "national security" or "helping poor farmers in need like Willie Nelson". I'm not saying those are good arguments but those are the ones they put up."

I have addressed arguments against having red light and/or speed cameras many times before. I have no argument with prioritizing differently than they do in Modesto - and AFAIK they are not prioritized that way in either DC or in Virginia. I was responding to those who criticized the claim that the folks claiming unfairness were doing so out of a sense of entitlement to break the law. I beleive they are. Maybe are lying. Maybe they do not recognize that their desire to drive in a way that is illegal, and dangerous to others, but which is close to a social norm (or in the case of driving over the limit, IS a social norm) is a sense of entitlement to break the law. We have discourses about entitled poor people, entitled elderly, entitled young people, and of course entitled cyclists, but outside of the urbanist and cyclist communities to which most drivers are not exposed, very little discussion of entitled motorists. I do not think that only those who consciously consider themselves to have a sense of entitlement actually do so.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

alurin

+1000

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 1:41 pm • linkreport

One speedtrap quirk of DC red light law that most aren't aware of is that when the light turns red your entire car must be over the intersection line. This means if you enter on a yellow light and the light changes before you clear you get a (big) ticket.

DC has had red light cameras already. Years ago I got a camera ticket and the photo sent showed the back bumper of my car was still about 6 inches in the "box" when the light turned yellow to red. The light had just turned yellow when I entered the intersection but I was probably going under the speed limit.

Setting very short yellow lights and having such ridiculous tolerances makes the system offensive and loses public support. And yet every intersection downtown is constantly blocked during rush with no tickets.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 19, 2013 2:06 pm • linkreport

I wouldn't object if 100% of the money went to the vendor maintaining the system, as long as aggressive enforcement means that roads are safer, particularly for pedestrians and bicyclists.

And as smart urbanists, that should be fine right?

by Alicia on Dec 19, 2013 2:30 pm • linkreport

FWIW, my model of how people behave suggests that a well-implemented automated enforcement must result in safer roads. That is, I think people respond to incentives. In other words, making it more expensive to speed and/or ignore red lights will result in less speeding and less red-light-running. If one believes that that speeding and red-light-running increases risk for all road users then automated enforcement will make it safer. Moreover, law enforcement officer's time is *expensive*. To be frank, machines are bad substitutes for many aspects of their job outside of traffic enforcement. If we're able to use capital to make their time more efficient, we should pursue it.

If we observe people ...

(a) suddenly braking at intersections where red-light-cameras are announced resulting in more rear-end collisions

(b) suddenly slowing down for speeding cameras and subsequently speeding up after passing the zone

... then we should stop announcing their locations. Drivers should understand that speeding and red-light-running simply comes at a higher cost than before. These are public roads. I don't understand why anyone would complain about a fairly implemented policy.

Fairly implemented is key. In my mind, a fairly implemented system is one where ...

(a) traffic lights have reasonable yellow light durations
(b) speed limits are easy to observe
(c) cameras are well calibrated.

So complaints about (a), (b), and (c), are legitimate, IMO.

by Geof Gee on Dec 19, 2013 2:30 pm • linkreport

Geof Gee: (a) is reasonable if "reasonable duration" is based on stopping for the yellow light if it is safe to do so at the posted speed limit. The argument is usually more along the lines of "I was traveling 10 miles over the limit and it wouldn't have been safe to slam on my brakes to stop" or "I didn't try to stop because it was yellow and that's the same as a green and it's not fair that I got a ticket".

by Mike on Dec 19, 2013 4:05 pm • linkreport

Alicia,

would it be good urbanism to hire a contractor to build a bike lane for 10 million dollars, when an equally good contractor could build the same lane, same quality, same specs, for 5 million? That would be poor procurement - don't know if you'd call it poor urbanism.

It seems many municipalities have gotten better deals than Modesto did. I don't know if thats better urbanism, but it seems like better procurement.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 19, 2013 4:14 pm • linkreport

The "gotcha", speedtrap type enforcement is what is repulsive. If it means getting even 10% less revenue from tickets to have them perceived as fair and have more public support it's worth it.

And Geof is right, yellow lights are there for a safety reason so that people don't slam on brakes. People should be allowed a reasonable number of seconds to clear an intersection. That should be easy to program, give tickets to drivers who haven't cleared the intersection in say 3 seconds of a yellow light. If people slam on brakes at a yellow there will a lot of rearenders.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 19, 2013 9:19 pm • linkreport

AWalkerintheCity - sudden slow-downs have caused there to be a ratio of INCREASED accidents near where traffic cameras are installed. I'm not saying that's ideal - in an ideal world, nobody would ever get hurt at all and drivers were perfect.
But what that means is the cameras aren't about safety, but revenue.

by asffa on Dec 19, 2013 9:38 pm • linkreport

But the severity if the accidents matter. If we are trading struck pedestrians for fender benders then I don't mind so much.

by Drumz on Dec 19, 2013 10:02 pm • linkreport

And have yellow lights been shortened? It's something people love to claim but no ones ever provided any sort of evidence that does more than allege.

by Drumz on Dec 19, 2013 10:06 pm • linkreport

Drumz If you had some idiot with his Instamatic occasionally using their flash at passing cars, somebody might stop them because they was causing a hazard to both drivers and pedestrians. These speed cameras at night are doing the same.

I'm pretty sure a pedestrian strike near me (I saw that an accident and happened and where) was partly due to drivers avoiding looking at the curbs near intersections where there's speed cameras at night, or being temporarily blinded. It was flashing directly at drivers one way, meant to photograph drivers going the opposite direction. I know someone got hurt, that a driver didn't see the pedestrian. I think the cameras are partly why.
Instinctively drivers avoid looking directly into headlights to keep their night vision. They also avoid looking directly at curbs where traffic cameras are flashing, endangering pedestrians who would be trying to cross.
I made a repeat complaint about that location and the cameras were adjusted slightly, but too late to help that pedestrian. Most of the county isn't willing to listen, only because someone had been hurt, did they partly adjust the camera. Flashing camera lights at drivers at night is a potential hazard - to everybody. Shouldn't be done, particularly in an age when alternative cameras aren't expensive and work so well.

by asffa on Dec 19, 2013 10:34 pm • linkreport

@Drumz ...

I have no evidence that DC DOT has shortened the yellow light sequence. However, there is evidence that it's been done elsewhere. For instance ...

http://goo.gl/0YJLUP

by Geof Gee on Dec 20, 2013 12:21 am • linkreport

I love red light cameras, and I agree that they seem to have reduced the instance of people being assholes. Although I did one time witness someone get a red light ticket because they followed through with a left turn on red to get out of the way of an ambulance, which was behind him and had no other way out. But that sort of situation is (I hope) incredibly rare.

Speed cameras, on the other hand, have got to go. They basically amount to a stupidity tax and do absolutely no good outside of their immediate vicinity. (In my unsubstantiated opinion.)

by Pleblife on Dec 20, 2013 12:56 am • linkreport

Geof,

Thanks. Yes were something like that to happen it would really behoove the city to have a rock solid reason for shortening a light.

Though I guess you could shorten the light and just have the clearance phase be one second longer to try to balance the safety aspect.

I'm curious about the flashes as well. Is their evidence that has led to a collision. Has it been used as a defense in court? My personal experience is that the flashes are jarring but they've never seem to inhibited me in any way. I either was already slowing to a stop or had made it through the light anyway and the flash was behind me.

by drumz on Dec 20, 2013 8:02 am • linkreport

@charlie: I think we can attribute the tremendous improvement in red light compliance to the red light camera. Why else would it have occurred right after the cameras were installed. Most people got one ticket, read about the cameras, noticed others complying more, and modified their own behavior accordingly.

DC was unusually bad then. I am not sure why. But the fact that others communities never got do bad probably explains why they are not that bad now even without the cameras. Whether removal of the cameras would cause a regression, their initial installation fixed a problem.

by JimT on Dec 20, 2013 10:32 am • linkreport

GLD: Thanks, that's great about the new "Block the Box" enforcement cameras. However, they should be added also, around Farragut North and Metro Center - it's been just total chaos there all day, continuously for many years due to blocking the box. This is long, long overdue.

by slowlane on Dec 20, 2013 1:38 pm • linkreport

I'd rather see a thousand fender benders than one dead pedestrian. It's just a hunk of metal, people--please at least pretend to have some humanity.

by Mike on Dec 23, 2013 8:33 am • linkreport

Long term camera "enforcement" is really about churning tickets.

Whether it is RLC that shorten ambers (or start to cite on right turns, stop lines, moving trigger lines too), speed cameras that lower trigger speeds to churn tickets (it is now possible to receive a "ticket" while NOT even speeding http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/39/3976.asp , even driving below the speed limit http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/35/3523.asp )

Lately the industry in order to drive profits has moved to stop sign and cross walks. One wonders when they will move on to others like bike riders as one example http://banthecams.org/index.php/articles/legislative-news/1154-bike-license-assemblyman-envisions-cameras-in-bike-lanes-too).

Long term camera enforcement is about petty enforcement to churn cash. Safety is pulling over a dangerous driver, Cameras are about sending bills. One is safety, the other is just a cash scam.

www.motorists.org
www.banthecams.org
camerafraud on Facebook
www.mddriversalliance.org

by Stephen on Dec 28, 2013 7:42 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or