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9/17/2012
Colorado: Accused Dark Knight Killer Flashed by Traffic Cam
Short-yellow red light camera trap in Aurora, Colorado ensnares suspected mass murderer.

James Holmes camera ticketJames Holmes, the man standing trial for a July 20 killing spree, had been flashed by a red light camera headed in the direction of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater just ten days before the attack. Holmes was taken into custody after twelve movie-goers were murdered and fifty-eight injured at the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. Police responding to the murder scene impounded Holmes' white 2000 Hyundai Tiburon which was found in the Century 16 theater parking lot.

The same car was photographed at noon on July 10 turning left from East Mississippi Avenue onto South Abilene Street, headed north about a mile and a half from the theater. Holmes was in custody before the ticket was mailed, and it is not known whether he ever saw the tell-tale flash in his rear-view mirror.

As can be seen from the video of the violation taken by Xerox (formerly Affiliated Computer Services), Holmes was just a few feet from the crosswalk when the light changed from yellow to red and the camera flashed. The yellow warning signal lasted just 2.9 seconds -- below the federal minimum requirement established by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).

"MUTCD (Section 4D.10) provides guidance regarding the duration of yellow change interval," FHWA's 2009 issue brief on Engineering Countermeasures to Reduce Red-Light Running explained. "It indicates that the duration of the yellow change interval should be approximately 3 to 6 seconds, with longer intervals reserved for high-speed approaches. The MUTCD does not provide guidance regarding the calculation of clearance interval durations other than to provide ranges of acceptable values... Using a yellow change interval length less than 3 seconds may violate driver expectancy and result in frequent entry on red indications. If the interval is too short, rear-end crashes may result."

In Baltimore, Maryland, District Judge Keith E. Mathews argued the MUTCD standards must be followed for safety reasons. In a scathing report to then-Mayor (now Governor) Martin O'Malley, Mathews "highly recommended" the signal timing be corrected.

"Most alarming are instances when the inconsistent yellow light times have been less than the 3 second federal minimum," Judge Mathews wrote. "Nearly 10 percent of the 181 citations surveyed had a yellow light prior to the red light of 2.9 seconds. This is inconsistent with federal standards and presents a grave danger to Baltimore city drivers."

Internal company documents obtained from a 2001 trial in San Diego, California show the vendor now operating as Xerox-ACS deliberately targeted intersections with excessively short yellow signal timing for the installation of red light cameras (view documents).

View video of the violation





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