The Red Light Running Crisis
Is it Intentional?

Office of the Majority Leader
U.S. House of Representatives
Red Light Running Scam
May 2001


Executive Summary



The Report
Summary
1. Something Funny
2. Camera Revenue
3. The Theory
4. The Fact
5. Code Changes
6. Cameras Ineffective
7. Conclusion
8. References


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(200k, PDF format)

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There's a hidden tax being levied on motorists today. In theory, this tax is only levied on those who violate the law and put others in danger. But the reality is that the game has been rigged. And we're all at risk.

We are told to accept the idea that our laws should be administered by machines-not human beings-because it is a matter of safety. We must accept this expansion of government and this Orwellian threat to our privacy because cameras are the solution to the so-called red light running crisis.

This is a federal issue, not just a local one. The federal government is promoting and offering funding for this "solution", because the safety benefits are supposed to be indisputable.

After all, who's going to object? Nobody likes a red light runner. They endanger themselves and others. They must be penalized.

But why have so many people become wanton red light runners all of a sudden? The answer seems to be that changes made to accommodate camera enforcement have produced yellow light times that, in many cases, are shortened to the point that they are inadequate. And when people come upon an intersection with inadequate yellow time, they are faced with the choice either of stopping abruptly on yellow (risking a rear end accident) or accelerating. The options for those confronting such circumstances are limited and unsafe. But each time a driver faces this dilemma, government increases its odds for hitting the jackpot.

This report suggests there is something that can be done to address this hazard. It cites examples of problem intersections where yellow times have been raised by about 30 percent and the number of people entering on red fell dramatically. It cites, in addition, controlled scientific studies that confirm the hypothesis that longer yellows are better. The following reductions in red light entries are documented:
Mesa, Arizona73%
Georgia75%
Virginia site 179%
Virginia site 277%
Virginia site 3Problem "virtually eliminated"
MarylandProblem "virtually eliminated"
It is no coincidence that each of the "problem" intersections mentioned above happened to have yellow times that fell short by about 30 percent. Today's formula for calculating yellow times yields yellow times that can in some cases be about 30 percent shorter than the older formula.

And one should ask the question, if there's a problem with an intersection, why don't safety engineers in the field just go out and fix the timing?

In fact, before red light cameras arrived in the United States, that's exactly what our regulations instructed them to do. If too many people enter on red at an intersection, engineers were supposed to lengthen its yellow time. But in the year that red light cameras first started collecting millions in revenue on our shores, those entrusted with developing our traffic safety regulations dropped the requirement to fix signal timing, instructing engineers to "use enforcement" instead.

Indeed, according to the Federal Highway Administration, these problem intersections serve as a great location to hold a press conference. The agency offers a script for local officials to exploit a tragically mistimed intersection to call for the installation of additional red light cameras and tout their safety benefits.

But none of the reports that are supposed to tell us that red light cameras are responsible safety benefits actually say that. First, they dismiss increases in rear-end collisions associated with red light cameras as "non-significant," despite evidence to the contrary. Second, they do not actually look at red light intersection accidents. The latest accident study in Oxnard, California, for example, only documents accident reductions "associated with"-not caused by-red light cameras. Although that statement has little scientific value, it does have great marketing appeal if you don't look too closely.

Every study claiming red light cameras increase safety is written by the same man. Before joining the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), he was a top transportation official in New York City at the time the city began looking into becoming the first jurisdiction in the country to install red light cameras. In other words, the father of the red light camera in America is the same individual offering the "objective" testimony that they are effective.

A similar conflict of interest affects those entrusted with writing safety regulations for our traffic lights. The Institute of Transportation Engineers is actively involved in lobbying for, and even drafting legislation to implement, red light cameras. They are closely tied to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which in turn is funded by companies that stand to profit handsomely any time points are assessed to a driver's license.

In short, the only documented benefit to red light cameras is to the pocketbook of local governments who use the devices to collect millions in revenue.

We traded away our privacy for this. We gave up our constitutional protections for this. In return, we are less safe. That is the red light camera scam, and it has gone on for far too long.


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