Traffic Light Cameras
[I updated this post here]
State Rep. David Grimes, R-Montgomery, says that accident is an example of why he has prefiled a bill that would allow law enforcement agencies to set up cameras at traffic lights and then write tickets that will be sent to the owners of vehicles caught on film running under the red signals. Grimes says the fear of getting a ticket would slow drivers down as they approach traffic lights and discourage them from running red lights.
Whatever the theoretical merits of these things, Radley Balko reports on how they actually worked in Lubbock, Texas, where in order to increase revenue from camera tickets, local officials shortened the times for the yellow lights. Less yellow time, of course, means cars are more likely to get caught running a red light, but that also means more traffic accidents. So the traffic cameras created an incentive for the Lubbock officials to disregard public safety.
Lubbock is not the only place where cameras made intersections less safe:
As red light cameras in Modesto, California are sending more people to the hospital, city officials have decided to double the number of intersections with the devices to increase revenue. Last year, each of the four intersections currently photo enforced experienced an increase in the number of collisions.
Accidents are increasing at the seven intersections monitored by red light cameras in Cleveland, Ohio. According to statistics obtained by WEWS-TV, the photo enforced intersections experienced 28 collisions before the devices were installed compared to 39 afterward. Akron attorney Warner Mendenhall, who is arguing against traffic cameras before the Ohio Supreme Court, told WEWS that the results reflect the program’s true motivation.
“It’s very clear that safety is not the issue,” Mendenhall said. “There are studies throughout the country that show accidents actually increase.” (View studies).
Now I know no-one in Alabama would ever let revenue concerns trump public safety. Our politicians are much more honorable than that. But there’s other problems with these cameras.
Some you could label as basic due process problems:
Ticket recipients are not adequately notified.
Most governments using ticket cameras send out tickets via first class mail. There is no guarantee that the accused motorists will even receive the ticket, let alone understands it and know how to respond. However, the government makes the assumption that the ticket was received. If motorists fail to pay, it is assumed that they did so on purpose, and a warrant may be issued for their arrest.
The driver of the vehicle is not positively identified.
Typically, the photos taken by these cameras do not identify the driver of the offending vehicle. The owner of the vehicle is mailed the ticket, even if the owner was not driving the vehicle and may not know who was driving at the time. The owner of the vehicle is then forced to prove his or her innocence, often by identifying the actual diver who may be a family member, friend or employee.
Ticket recipients are not notified quickly.
People may not receive citations until days or sometimes weeks after the alleged violation. This makes it very difficult to defend oneself because it would be hard to remember the circumstances surrounding the supposed violation. There may have been a reason that someone would be speeding or in an intersection after the light turned red. Even if the photo was taken in error, it may be very hard to recall the day in question.
There is no certifiable witness to the alleged violation.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it may also take a thousand words to explain what the picture really means. Even in those rare instances where a law enforcement officer is overseeing a ticket camera, it is highly unlikely that the officer would recall the supposed violation. For all practical purposes, there is no “accuser” for motorists to confront, which is a constitutional right. There is no one that can personally testify to the circumstances of the alleged violation, and just because a camera unit was operating properly when it was set up does not mean it was operating properly when the picture was taken of any given vehicle.
There’s questions about whether they even work:
Ticket cameras do not improve safety.
Despite the claims of companies that sell ticket cameras and provide related services, there is no independent verification that photo enforcement devices improve highway safety, reduce overall accidents, or improve traffic flow. Believing the claims of companies that sell photo enforcement equipment or municipalities that use this equipment is like believing any commercial produced by a company that is trying to sell you something.
Taking dangerous drivers’ pictures doesn’t stop them.
Photo enforcement devices do not apprehend seriously impaired, reckless or otherwise dangerous drivers. A fugitive could fly through an intersection at 100 mph and not even get his picture taken, as long as the light was green! . . . .
Cameras do not prevent most intersection accidents.
Intersection accidents are just that, accidents. Motorists do not casually drive through red lights. More likely, they do not see a given traffic light because they are distracted, impaired, or unfamiliar with their surroundings. Even the most flagrant of red-light violators will not drive blithely into a crowded intersection, against the light. Putting cameras on poles and taking pictures will not stop these kinds of accidents.
And the unintended consequences:
These devices discourage the synchronization of traffic lights.
When red-light cameras are used to make money for local governments, these governments are unlikely to jeopardize this income source. This includes traffic-light synchronization, which is the elimination of unneeded lights and partial deactivation of other traffic lights during periods of low traffic. When properly done, traffic-light synchronization decreases congestion, pollution, and fuel consumption.
All in all, these things are a bad idea. Which means they’ll probably be coming to your town very soon.