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Red light cameras blend safety with a dose of (insert profanity)

Post by Brian O'Neill on April 27, 2012 at 9:20 am with 14 Comments »
April 27, 2012 9:55 am

A couple of years ago I was driving to work, when I slowed for a red light. I put on my signal and turned right. Two weeks later I got a ticket in the mail.

I balled up my fist and shook it, spitting out, “Redflex!” Seinfeld fans will get that, trust me.

Redflex Traffic Camera System/ AP Photo

The infraction was for my apparent failure to stop before turning on the red, a point I had no intention of arguing for two simple reasons. First, the police agency at the top of the ticket was my employer; second, I had watched traffic cops review Redflex footage before and knew the process was fair.

I muttered a quiet, $#@&! and paid the ticket.

I was reminded of that incident while reading a Trib article (4/26) regarding Puyallup’s recent council vote in favor of Redflex cameras. The arguments, both pro and con, were a civil mix. Public safety, not revenue, is the purpose of the system, said the proponents. Intrusive government is using punitive taxation, said the critics. The general consensus of most people was evident in the comment section, which could best be summed up as “$@&%! the cameras.

The camera system prevailed in Puyallup for the same reason it continues to exist in many local municipalities. It makes the streets safer. As a driver, I gnash my teeth while coming to a complete stop before turning right at the handful of Redflex intersections in town. I also can’t deny that the controversial cameras have reduced the likelihood that I will be having an intimate moment with my airbag.

I admit it has been difficult to acclimate to traffic tickets as a take-out option, courtesy of Redflex. Getting used to any new technology can be a complex issue. It took us a nanosecond to embrace the iPhone, but it will probably take us a few more decades to get used to the red light cameras.

One of the reasons these cameras are so unpopular is the perception that they are used indiscriminately. The number of intersections populated by Redflex has grown substantially in the last few years, and the public has begun to ask their city government to justify the placement of what is often considered a socially invasive tool. In the dystopian world of Orwell’s “1984” that question would have been a bad idea. In our free society, it is a fair one.

Consider the following scenario: A city council meeting filled with a heated group of motorists ready to vent about the installation of a new red light camera. But these council members are inspired individuals who value open communication and transparent government. In advance of the camera’s installation, they published a press release citing the number of collisions, injuries and fatalities at at the controversial intersection.

After listening to the complaints, councilmembers haul out the collision statistics measured after the camera was installed. If the stats clearly demonstrate the camera’s presence saved lives, then the complaints are noted and the camera stays. However, if there is no discernible improvement in safety, the camera goes. Which only goes to show that people like transparency and open communication (and that my fiction writing needs work).

Another negative perception is that receiving a Redflex ticket is a cold and impersonal experience. While I don’t know of anyone who relishes the idea of a cop leaning in their car window, at least there is the sense that a human may (or may not) consider the specific circumstances involved.

If we continue using red light cameras, we will simply have to adjust to this issue. We should expect, however, that officers reviewing Redflex video for traffic violations are writing tickets in a manner consistent with a traffic stop conducted on the street.

Moving forward, we need to fix the problems and adjust to busy intersections with red light cameras. No matter what your views,nothing alters our individual responsibility to driver safely. While we are fuming about the Redflex revenues filling the coffers of city hall, more than 30,000 people die in traffic collisions every year.

That is the only statistic we should be cursing.

Leave a comment Comments → 14
  1. BlaineCGarver says:

    It doesn’t happen every day, or, even every month, but I take time to look before entering an intersection after my light turns green. Only an idiot would trust others with their live.

  2. BlaineCGarver says:

    Dang….what I wanted to say is that I have saved myself from a few T-Bones by looking before going out into the intersection.

  3. musingintacoma says:

    The traffic camera debate amuses me. It is sometimes hilarious to read the comments posted on articles on the topic.

    To avoid a camera ticket is simple, follow the law. Easy enough. I have gotten one of these tickets and after reviewing the online footage to ensure that the violation is a clear one, I too, like Brian, gnash my teeth, mutter an expletive or two and write the check.

  4. musingintacoma says:

    I too do as Blaine does, I look before proceeding from a stopped position after the light turns green. Not only is it good self-preservation, but I also believe it is the law. You may only proceed after a light turns green after checking that the intersection is clear of vehicles and imminent threats (the red light runner.) Brian, do correct me if I am wrong.

  5. the film of the infractions are speeded up as noted on the ticketing website and states they are not admissable in court.
    the number of tickets issued can spike when timing sensors and other triggers are not maintained properly.
    most drivers issued a ticket simply pay , as taking time off from work is problematic.
    however if every ticketed driver made a written request to the prosecutor for the orginal film from the company and asked for the maintenance logs of the equipment and requested the reviewing officer to attend the court date they system would be brought back to it’s senses.
    essentialy the author is positing that intersections are made more safe by sending out requests for money to the citizens.
    as mentioned in another article i’m old fashioned and simply do not do business in those areas that are using this shody technology as a revenue generator.

  6. Brian O'Neill says:

    Tacoman1- I’m sorry, but you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The cameras are here and any technical problems that result in dismissals will be dealt with as time passes. Your same arguments were used when radar (and now LIDAR) guns were used to measure speed, i.e. just check the maintenance records and the case will be dismissed. Whether or not you like the cameras, it is clear that these things are affecting driver’s behavior. It’s hard to argue with something that can decrease traffic fatalities.

    Musing- It is legal to proceed into an intersection on a green, though it may not be safe to do so until you have cleared the intersection. If you’re waiting in the intersection when the red light turns, however, you need to exit immediately or get a ticket (that’s a typical red light infraction).

  7. jonnymo99 says:

    There is also the issue that the company who makes the cameras gets a sizable chunk of the revenue, often more than the city. And that in many cities, the ticket is not enforceable, it’s voluntary! I believe Federal Way is like this. I got one of those tickets for a right turn without stopping. I returned the ticket marked “Not Guilty” and stated that you could clearly see my brake lights, so I must have been stopped. A weak defense at best, but I never heard another thing from them. Had this been enforceable, I can’t imagine I wouldn’t have heard from the police.

    I don’t mind paying a fine for a traffic infraction if it helps the city out. But I have a problem paying a fine that just allows the video company to sell more cameras.

  8. RLC DO NOT Save lives.

    Heck in REDFLEX Chicago, the cities so called safety “claims’ were found to be WRONG!

    Quote: “The Chicago Department of Transportation says the City’s 188 red light cameras have made intersections safer.

    But as FOX Chicago News reports exclusively, a new UIC report finds that accidents at red-light intersections have actually gone up five percent.
    Using data provided by the Illinois Department of Transportation, Assistant Professor Rajiv Shah compared the total number of accidents the year before the cameras were installed and the year after. What surprised him most is that car accidents have declined city-wide, except at red-light intersections.”

    also see:

  9. BlaineCGarver says:

    Brian, the TNT has a Q&A section that covered staging for a left turn in the intersection. If it is legal to do so (says the TNT Guru) how can it be an infraction if you are delayed making the turn, especially if it’s because someone runs the light from the other direction?

  10. Brian O'Neill says:

    That’s not the type of delay I was referring to, Blaine. A red light violation for “entering or remaining in an intersection” on a red light includes vehicles that pull into the intersection when there’s no room on the far side. When the light turns red the vehicle will be stuck in a line of stalled traffic, effectively blocking the intersection. In short, cars can’t enter the intersection unless there is room in the lane of traffic on the other side.

  11. rivitman says:

    Here is the best reason to not have these cameras.

    The people don’t want them.

    The rest is irrelevant.

    I note that the Seattle police dept has receive clearance to fly drone aircraft. We don’t want those either. Neither do we wish to have our children, our elderly, our handicapped, harassed and groped at the airport. We don’t want TSA on our buses. We don’t want homeland security checkpoints on our highways. We don’t want government authority to record and examine all digital data, nor do we wish for an executive order authorizing the potus (lower case intended) to seize, well, everything, including you and me. We don’t want FEMA camps and the militarization of civilian police forces.

    But it’s all happening.

    Me personally, I don’t want body cams on cops either. I draw the line at dash cams.

    Liberty is circling the drain, red light cams are just a minor pathogen in the greater body of that fatal disease of governmental overreach and oppression.

  12. smokey984 says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Amen rivetman.

  13. cadana1961 says:

    I have yet to find an excellent reason for such technological oversight as these intersection cameras … It’s a waste of time and $$ … I’m sorry, but they do NOT make roads safer … If they did, we would see a break in our car insurance!

  14. Reiker01 says:

    I can’t speak for Tacoma, but can tell you that I was deeply involved in the research and implementation in Seattle. One of my tasks was to attend community meetings and explain the program and answer questions.

    Once I dispelled the many myths found on the Internet about RLC, and answsered the many questions by citing factual, verifiable data and studies, the only question left was “when can I get one on my street?”

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