Traffic Light Cameras

[I updated this post here

Saw this story via The World Around You:

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.

Happened in Ohio, too:

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.


Explore posts in the same categories: Alabama Legislature, Not Alabama

15 Comments on “Traffic Light Cameras”

  1. Could one not appeal the ticket to a higher court and force the city to prove his/her guilt? While this may hold up in muncipal court, I have my doubts that it would on appeal.

  2. Del Says:

    The article in the Mobile paper today said if they do this down here, they will almost certainly increase the length of the yellow lights, to help avoid accidents. Imagine, a glimmer of sanity. Never thought about it screwing up synchronization though—something that IIRC the city just spent a bunch of money on.

    I always assumed the main thrust of these cameras was to nab those people last in a long line of cars who run the red because they are unwilling to wait through yet another red-green cycle. You are right in that these people don’t cause accidents, unless inattentive drivers in the opposite direction jackrabbit start as soon as their light has turned green, w/o noticing the scofflaws still in the intersection. They cause a lot of irritation, though 🙂

  3. wheeler Says:


    in theory you are right, but who is going to pay a lawyer 5k or more to beat a hundred dollar ticket? ninety-nine out of a hundred would just pay it whether they actually ran the light or not. you’d spend more fighting it than paying it.

  4. Texas Redhead Loser Says:

    These are already in effect here in some parts of Dallas, in the “test areas.” I see them on the stoplights on my neighborhood, but I don’t know which are being used and which aren’t. I haven’t changed my behavior and neither have the other local drivers, but there are MANY complaints about the fact that the owners of the cars being ticketed, rather than the drivers. It’s not just about the money, that citation will go on the owner’s record. I think it might only take a couple of people to file a big enough suit against the city to make them re-think this plan. Time will tell.

  5. I guess I am a glutton for punishment, but if a person can’t defend himself in this instance maybe her doesn’t deserve to drive. (Satire) Seriously, I have a jury trial over a traffic ticket in a couple months.

  6. wheeler Says:

    “I have a jury trial over a traffic ticket in a couple months.’

    you are my hero.

  7. Mark Says:

    I read somewhere, and one the sources you cited links to a report that says that intersection accidents are reduced by increasing the time of the yellow light. Of course that wouldn’t increase traffic fine revenue.

  8. Rep David Grimes Says:

    After careful review of all this mis-information, it is very apparent that the writers are extremely mis-informed and apparently have a pre-conceived idea of the whole camera proposal and have decided that it is a bad idea.


    The proposed legislation allows that the camera takes a pic of the tag on the car, not the occupant/driver. Yellows are timed by federal guidelines. And, the proposed legislation provides for misdemeanor penalties for tampering with the timer issues.

    Viewers are sworn officers with a minimum of 40 hrs of specialized training for this duty.

    The eye witness is the camera which provides irrefutable evidence that the car went through that intersection at that exact point in time. The photo is digitally time stamped.

    Current Alabama law provides that an officer must personally see the violation take place in order to cite the offender. Alabama law enforcement simply does not have adequate manpower to provide this coverage for the public.

    Substantiated evidence shows convincing evidence that the cameras properly installed at red lights do save lives and property damage.

  9. wheeler Says:

    rep. grimes,

    thanks for the response. here’s my reply.

    “The proposed legislation allows that the camera takes a pic of the tag on the car, not the occupant/driver.”

    that is exactly the problem. if the owner of the car is not the driver, the owner is now forced to go to court and prove his innocence.

    “Yellows are timed by federal guidelines. And, the proposed legislation provides for misdemeanor penalties for tampering with the timer issues.”

    i’m glad to see there will be some attempt to control the incentive to tamper with yellow times. but 1) like it or not, politicians are people, and the chance to make some extra money makes people do funny stuff, and 2) i’m sure those guidlines and penalties will leave a lot of wiggle room for legal shortening of yellow times, and even though it’s legal, it still makes the intersection more dangerous.

    “Viewers are sworn officers with a minimum of 40 hrs of specialized training for this duty.”


    “The eye witness is the camera which provides irrefutable evidence “

    the camera could never possibly be mis-timed with the light, so that it actually takes a picture just before the light turns red? these things will always function perfectly? you have that much faith in technology and the people using it?

    “Substantiated evidence shows convincing evidence that the cameras properly installed at red lights do save lives and property damage.”

    i cited my sources for the contrary position, where’s yours? or is this what the camera manufacturors tell you? and how do i know they will be “properly installed?”

    even if no-one shortens the red light times, accidents will increase because – fearing a camera ticket – drivers will be more apt to slam on their breaks when the light changes to yellow, causing the car behind them to rear end them.

    look, these cameras will not prevent even one accident. obviously, they can’t stop a speeding car. so the theory is that they will deter people from running red lights. the problem is that accidents at red lights are caused by people who are not paying attention. that is, people who are drunk, or on a cell phone, or putting on makeup, or whatever. in other words, the wrecks are caused by people who are not thinking at all. they aren’t thinking about the light, and they’re sure not thinking about the camera. so the camera won’t have any deterrent affect when it comes to wrecks.

    and even if they do prevent a few t-bones, that decrease does not justify the combined costs of the increase in rear end collisions, the hassles created for innocent people, and the just plain irritating increase in the state’s surveylance powers. we don’t need these cameras or want them.

  10. Mark Says:

    Although local governments that install red light cameras (my home town in Georgia, for example) never talk about revenue as a reason when they first install them, they sure talk about revenue after they install them. And then they start talking about installing more red-light cameras.

  11. […] On Traffic Cameras In the comments to the previous post, we’ve heard from the sponsor of the bill that would bring red light cameras to […]

  12. publius Says:

    cameras catch more blacks than whites. cameras cannot be bribed or persuaded. cameras are racist. pretty much sums up alvin holmes position on cameras. im against cameras too. well i want cameras that will fire a head shot to known criminals. with facial recognition software why not. oh, i forgot some people think the 5th amendment protects criminals more than victims.

  13. moe Says:

    There is a way to legally beat these cameras:

    A majority of red light & speed cameras utilize strong flash to photograph the license plate on your car. Once sprayed on your license plate, PhotoBlocker’s special formula produces a high-powered gloss that reflects the flash back towards the camera. This overexposes the image of your license plate, rendering the picture unreadable.

  14. Nate Says:

    They also make clear covers that prevent your license plate from being seen at extreme angles (like the overhead angle of a camera). Anyone (or officer) behind your vehicle can see the plate cleanly.

    They are still legal in many states, but I cannot attest to our particular laws.

  15. derek shay Says:

    i recently got a ticket from the red light camera. i have not gone to court yet and i want to fight it. i was sitting at a red turn waitting for the signal to turn green. The camera started flashing seconds before the the light turned green. when the light did turn green, i proceeded through the intersection making my left hand turn. The camera was still taking photos, so i looked around me and the cars behind me and on the side of me were all making the same left turn as i was and the left hand turn light was green. In the photos i recieved with the ticket the first photo shows me at a complete stop waitting for the light to turn green. the second photo is suppose to show me running the red light, but i’m still at a complete stop at the intersection. then theres a third photo with me driving through the intersection. My question for everyone is how can i fight this? And what is the accuracy of the camera?

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