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Red-Light Camera Ticket Revenue and Short Yellows 976

Posted by kdawson
from the show-your-yellow-teeth-for-the-camera dept.
NicknamesAreStupid writes "A Fort Meyers news station reports a nerdy husband getting his wife out of a red-light camera ticket by proving the light was set with too short of a yellow. Then he goes out and proves that nearly 90% of the lights are set an average of about 20% too short. Is this a local incident, or have local governments nationwide found a new revenue source? What puzzles me is how a single picture can tell if you ran a light. If you are in the intersection before the light turns red, you have not run it, even if it takes a little while to clear it (say to yield to an unexpected obstacle). Wouldn't you need two pictures — one just before the light went red showing you are not in the intersection, and another after the light went red showing you in the intersection?"
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Red-Light Camera Ticket Revenue and Short Yellows

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  • Legality (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NormalVisual (565491) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:08PM (#31824234)
    Bah, forget the issues with the short yellow - what torques me is that here in Florida it's illegal for municipalities to legislate this kind of thing, but they do it anyway, and no one says boo.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Pharmboy (216950)

      They put up the cameras in North Carolina, but there was a problem: Our state Constitution says that *all* fines collected must be put into the education fund (this would exclude court costs). They installed the cameras, collected a bunch of money, a lawsuit was had, and it was judged that both halves of the funds collected (was a 50/50 split between cities and the company that owned the cameras) must be given to the schools. That means the camera company would have to do it for free, which wasn't going

  • Old news. (Score:5, Informative)

    by rueger (210566) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:12PM (#31824286) Homepage
    Seriously, red-light cameras have nothing to do with safety and everything to do with money making. Often the contracts with the company providing the cameras sets a specific maximum length for the yellow light. Making it longer would bring penalties to the City.

    Don't recall the specifics, but at least one study found that lengthening the yellow light acually reduced accidents more than installing cameras.

    The study noted here [sciencedaily.com] actually found that accidents went up after installing the damned things. Then again it was Florida...
    • Re:Old news. (Score:5, Informative)

      by rueger (210566) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:16PM (#31824342) Homepage
      Also check out The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care, [lww.com] which last month reported that:

      Despite reducing the number of cars entering this intersection during a red light, RLC do not seem to prevent traffic collisions at this monitored intersection. Alternative means of injury prevention must be investigated.

    • Of course (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:24PM (#31824466)

      Just ask AAA: The number one way to make intersections safer is double the lengths of the yellows. You take an arbitrary intersection that has accident problems and if you lengthen the yellow, that tends to do more to solve the problem than anything else. Of course as you note, long yellows are counter to profit from red light cameras.

      • Re:Of course (Score:4, Insightful)

        by nextekcarl (1402899) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:37PM (#31824654)

        I wonder for how long though? By this, I mean I heard they found a large benefit from adding the middle brake light (not sure of the name for it, but the one in the rear windshield) in taxi cabs in NYC. Something like 20% fewer rear end collisions (I'm guessing on the percentage as it was years ago that I heard this) so the government made it mandatory. Only it seems the improvement only lasted for a little while. Once it became standard and people became used to it, the improvement basically disappeared. So it only helped while it was novel, is that the case with longer yellow lights? Do people compensate for it after a little while when they start to learn it is a "long yellow"?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Sycraft-fu (314770)

          Not sure, I haven't looked at any of the studies extensively, but AAA seems pretty confident. It does make some sense when you think about it. Yellow warns people that a change is happening, but they need time to react. If they are trained on yellow being short they may elect to speed up or jam on the brakes, which causes problems. If they understand that there is plenty of time, they'll maintain speed and go through.

          I know there are more than a few lights here where I get trigger happy on the brakes when I

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by AK Marc (707885)
          I wonder for how long though?

          Forever.

          By this, I mean I heard they found a large benefit from adding the middle brake light (not sure of the name for it, but the one in the rear windshield) in taxi cabs in NYC. Something like 20% fewer rear end collisions (I'm guessing on the percentage as it was years ago that I heard this) so the government made it mandatory.

          CHMSL, Center High Mount Stop Light.

          Only it seems the improvement only lasted for a little while. Once it became standard and people became us
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by paro12 (142901)

            What a Bunch Of FUD....

            If you're going to throw crap out there, you might want to trying providing links that back up your claims.


            It was the same with airbags. Aside from unbelted passengers, airbags didn't improve safety. But Ralph Nader, knowing this, got up in front of Congress and lied in order to get airbags passed that would kill infants, while also working to prevent warning labels on them initially so that people wouldn't be scared of them. So we've had presidential candidates who worked very hard to pass regulations that killed babies by ejecting their heads out of the back of car windows while their bodies were still strapped into their car seats. Safety doesn't matter nearly as much as the appearance of safety. .

            Study [iihs.org] after Study [ama-assn.org] after Study [ohioinsurance.org] have shown quite the opposite. In fact, there have even been papers [apa.org] that conclude that the media have skewed their reporting on the subject to basically fall in line with what you were spouting about above.

            The point of an airbag is to cushion and slow the upper torso and head from striking hard objects that cause rapid deceleration of the body and

          • Re:Of course (Score:4, Insightful)

            by aXis100 (690904) on Monday April 12, 2010 @09:59PM (#31826082)

            Airbags were only a problem in the USA, where they had to be powerfull enough to stop an unrestrained adult.

            For the rest of the seatbelt wearing world, airbags reduce head trauma and thus save lives.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by FooAtWFU (699187)
        My understanding was that to make it safer, you make the time when both lights are red longer, don't just make a longer yellow.
    • Not in Austin (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:39PM (#31824680) Homepage

      Don't recall the specifics, but at least one study found that lengthening the yellow light acually reduced accidents more than installing cameras.

      Indeed. Which is why when red light cameras came to Austin, they first studied all the 'bad' intersections and decided which should have their yellow light lengthened, and which should get a camera. I looked at a map they published showing which got which treatment, and it seemed like about half of the problem intersections were given longer yellows.

      One of the intersections that got a camera I have a lot of personal experience with, and it's yellow was just fine before and unchanged after. The problem was people just flagrantly running the red. Seriously it was ridiculous.

      Anyway, while I'm sure there's a contractor making a lot of money off the cameras, it seems to have been implemented fairly intelligently here.

      Also, while contracts may stipulate maximum yellows, state laws often dictate minimums. I've heard (on /.) of various municipalities getting in trouble with the state governments for breaking these laws to increase red light camera revenue. Which is disgusting. Okay yeah law is sometimes arbitrary, but this law is fundamentally based on the laws of physics. :P

  • by Siberwulf (921893) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:13PM (#31824304)
    Some cities go a step further than just a picture. They will give you a picture before, a picture after and a 12-second video of you running the light. All that information can be found online via a URL given to you with your citation.

    http://www.plano.gov/Departments/Police/RedLightCameras/Pages/default.aspx [plano.gov]
  • by Jason Pollock (45537) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:14PM (#31824310) Homepage

    From what I understand, the cameras are triggered by motion. If you cross a line while the light is red, you get photographed.

    http://auto.howstuffworks.com/car-driving-safety/safety-regulatory-devices/red-light-camera1.htm [howstuffworks.com]

  • by ducomputergeek (595742) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:16PM (#31824344)

    ...if they are for "public safety" instead of revenue. I know of several cities here in Missouri that have turned them off because people stopped running the red lights. Instead of going to the press and talking about their success. No the departments were complaining because NO ONE WAS RUNNING THE LIGHTS and therefore not making any money and forcing them to "turn them off". They didn't put those cameras there to increase public safety. They did it to increase revenue.

  • by mcsqueak (1043736) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:19PM (#31824398)

    In my city, we now have cross walk signals that display a count down in large illuminated digits until the signal is going to change.

    I know this is primarily for the benefit of pedestrians, but I like them as a driver as well. I now know with a greater degree of accuracy how long the green light is going to last, and if I need to be aware of an upcoming change to yellow and perhaps slow down, rather than speeding up to "make it".

    This is particularly useful at an intersection I drive through every day on my way to and from work, which has a red-light camera.

  • by trentfoley (226635) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:21PM (#31824420) Homepage Journal

    I got busted by a red light camera a few weeks ago.

    I received a letter in the mail showing two photos of my car. The first showed my car approaching the red light. The second showed my care turning right at the red light. Of course, I assumed that I had come to a complete stop at the red prior to turning right. I was all ready to fight the ticket on grounds that the two photos did not prove the city's case.

    However, reading the entire contents of the letter led me to an http link where I could see the 'complete evidence' available to the city. Sure enough, I go to the provided website, enter a string of letters/digits and I am presented with a video showing my car rolling through the light without stopping.

    I had no idea that they were capturing motion video as well as still pictures. Nevertheless, I was bummed.

    But, even then, my wife, who is an attorney here in St. Louis, advised me against paying the ticket. It turns out that the ticket is issued by a 3rd party that operates the cameras, and not by the city police. There will be no impact on my driving record. The worst that can happen is it will be turned over to collections and placed on my credit report. At that time, I will simply hand it over to my wife and she will challenge the reporting agencies to provide proof that it was me driving the car, and that the debt is mine. Being unable to do that, they will be forced to drop it from my credit report.

    Sometimes it is helpful to have a wife that specializes in US Bankruptcy law.

    • by Game_Ender (815505) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:40PM (#31824700)
      But in this case you are just using the legal system in the worst possible way: To screw someone out of a legitimate outcome. If you were fighting an illegal ticket, or something the company legitimately did wrong it would make more sense.
      • by ChaosDiscord (4913) * on Monday April 12, 2010 @08:20PM (#31825182) Homepage Journal
        The city is using the camera not for safety, but for profit. The third party law enforcement doesn't give a rats ass about safety, just the profit. Fuck 'em. If you can weasel out of it, more power to you!
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

        But in this case you are just using the legal system in the worst possible way: To screw someone out of a legitimate outcome. If you were fighting an illegal ticket, or something the company legitimately did wrong it would make more sense.

        Wow! The same legal system that would fuck him if he just bent over and took it can also be used to fight back? What blasphemy! He plays by THEIR rules and still he's the bad guy?

        Ever consider that 100% enforcement mechanisms are inherently illegitimate in the first place? Society runs on slack, the less tolerance of slack the less life is worth living (and the less efficient everything is too). Yeah, 1 out of a million times someone gets killed because the slack was used when it should not have been.

      • by Angst Badger (8636) on Monday April 12, 2010 @08:37PM (#31825346)

        But in this case you are just using the legal system in the worst possible way: To screw someone out of a legitimate outcome.

        New to the legal system, are we?

        But yeah, he should pay the ticket. It's not like he got snared by a rigged light, as happens to a lot of people. He made an illegal right turn. End of story.

    • by hobo sapiens (893427) <STRAW minus berry> on Monday April 12, 2010 @09:54PM (#31826034) Journal

      you're taking a lot of heat for your post, but I have to thank you! I just paid my $100 to the city of STL for the same thing. I actually debated it back and forth quite a bit, and ended up paying it because I don't have a lawyer for a spouse.

      I made a right turn on red at manchester and kingshighway. I did not stop. Why? Because I didn't know that was the law. In MO, it's legal to make a right on red unless a sign prohibits this. I googled for the traffic code, and what I found was appalling: full stop on red is required before making a right, and this was added in the same bit of the traffic code that added the provisions for red light cameras. So the city criminalized formerly legitimate behavior, banking on the general populace's ignorance of this change, all for profit.

      I made the right without a stop. But I didn't know the law had changed. What, am I and other motorists supposed to know where to find changes to the traffic laws and know when they change? Preposterous. The law is out of reach of the common man, and this is precisely what these evil corporations who set up the lights are banking on. Had I blatantly run a red light, I'd shut up and pay. But here the law is dubious.

      I read that they are issuing arrest warrants for failure to pay. On one hand, if they were to arrest my wife, I'd hire a lawyer and sue them for false arrest (because she was not the driver at the time). On the other hand, my wife might be arrested while driving, so that's ultimately why I grit my teeth and paid up. There is a class action lawsuit against the city. I wonder how I could become a party to this? http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/dailyrft/2010/02/plaintiffs_seek_class_action_lawsuit_against_st_louis_red_light_cameras.php?page=2 [riverfronttimes.com]

      The biggest problem I have is that the red light companies have a share in the revenue and thus have a vested interest in "convincing" the city to play by their rules. So you are basically getting buttraped by some corporation and since the government has a share in the profit they fail to protect citizens against this tyranny. It's becoming a new form of oligarchy, or more precisely, corporatocracy.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Sorry to break it to you, but I lived in Creve Coeur in the early 80's and you've always had to stop before making a right turn on red there, and everywhere I've lived. In the case of a right turn a red light is like a stop sign.
  • by John Jorsett (171560) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:22PM (#31824446)

    San Diego had this problem. The city either deliberately chose lights that already had short yellows or it set the yellows short after the cameras were installed. That was just one aspect of the fiasco that was the red light camera program. Some attorneys found that many tickets, which were originated by the red light camera company but supposedly "reviewed" by an officer, had in fact been issued without the review. The cop had gone on vacation and presigned a bunch of the "reviews" so people were in effect being ticketed by Lockheed. People who went to court and attempted to subpoena the red light camera design, software, and installation documents (so that they could assess whether the cameras were operating correctly when the alleged offense occurred) were threatened by Lockheed with a lawsuit for attempting to access trade secrets. There were many other questionable things that went on in the program that I've now forgotten about, but suffice it to say that the whole thing smelled so bad that the city terminated the program. It's since come back, but with major changes.

  • by Anonymous Freak (16973) <<moc.cam> <ta> <revird.suirp>> on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:29PM (#31824560) Journal

    At least in Oregon's system, it takes two photos. One just before you enter the intersection (it assumes you're going to run it based on measured speed,) and one when you are already in the intersection. The photos have the date/time stamp, as well as a "light red for x seconds" note.

    In addition, each monitored intersection also has a video camera that records 10 seconds before, and 10 seconds after the still cameras trip. This way, there is indisputable video evidence of your run, as well. (Yes, I've gotten one. I tried to fight it under the grounds that what I did wasn't technically "failure to obey a traffic control device", but rather "improper right turn on red"; only to find out that under Oregon law, they carry the exact same penalty...)

  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Monday April 12, 2010 @08:52PM (#31825474) Homepage

    I got a ticket for a right turn on red maneuver, which came down to the fact that the light turned red a fraction of a second before I made my turn.

    I asked for a hearing and requested information which would verify the accuracy of the timing of the light, including technical specifications, testing data, etc. The city attorney sent me a response claiming to have the information available at his office, but when I went downtown to peruse it, all they had was some details on the contract between the red light camera company and the city and a few tests of the light's vehicle speed reading against a radar gun. Nothing at all about the actual timing of the light.

    When I went to attend the hearing, the 'testifying officer' (some guy who had watched the recorded video) could not cite for me how long the light was supposed to be yellow (although he did bring up some non-legal recommendation) which was something I couldn't find even after reading all the apparently applicable state and local traffic laws. He also was only able to roughly count out the length of light being yellow rather than providing a specific measurement.

    Despite their not being able to show that the equipment was working properly (to within the relevant margin of error) or in compliance with legal specifications, nor providing me with the information I had requested which may have allowed me to firmly ascertain my own innocence, I was declared "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" of having committed this trespass of a fraction of a second. I could have requested to bring it before a judge but I was told the court fees would be more than paying the fine, and without legal aid it simply did not seem worth the effort.

    It also irked me that it took them ~4 months after the fact to send me the notice of the violation. By that time I didn't even remember being at the intersection in question, so I was effectively deprived of my own witness (were there mitigating circumstances? had I loaned my car to someone else that day? I have no idea).

  • by pongo000 (97357) on Monday April 12, 2010 @09:39PM (#31825914)

    I read somewhere once about a scheme to make intersections safer by marking a "point of no return" line prior to an intersection. The idea is that if the light turns yellow (or is yellow) prior to the point of no return, you have room to stop (assuming you're going the speed limit). If you've passed the marking, then it would be more dangerous to stop (and end up in the middle of the intersection) rather than continue through the intersection.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by russotto (537200)

      I read somewhere once about a scheme to make intersections safer by marking a "point of no return" line prior to an intersection. The idea is that if the light turns yellow (or is yellow) prior to the point of no return, you have room to stop (assuming you're going the speed limit). If you've passed the marking, then it would be more dangerous to stop (and end up in the middle of the intersection) rather than continue through the intersection.

      Said point would be good for exactly one sort of vehicle under

    • by T Murphy (1054674) on Monday April 12, 2010 @11:14PM (#31826804) Journal
      I would appreciate such a line, but I expect there would be too many problems with it. People going too slow would go through stale yellows when they shouldn't, others would speed up figuring they were close enough to still make it. Plus, the line would be hard to adjust for weather and road conditions. The concept is good for teaching people to judge what to do with a yellow light, but implementing it probably won't solve any problems, just change them. Longer yellows and longer all-red times would probably do more good.
  • by Zero_DgZ (1047348) on Monday April 12, 2010 @09:53PM (#31826018)

    In my state, they DO need two pictures to prove that you ran the light. All of the red light cameras around here overtly take two pictures (with flash, even during daylight hours!) and you're "supposed" to receive the pictures along with your ticket in the mail. And, yes, nearly all of the camera equipped traffic lights here have noticeably and demonstrably short yellow lights, where the state mandate (and possibly federal DOT, 'do it this way if you want your highway grants') is three seconds, some of the camera-lights in town are as short as one second!

    The process is highly automated and it's fairly obvious that there is no human oversight. The enticement not to contest the ticket or call the state out on anything is the (frankly, highly illegal) practice of my state demanding court costs up front if you take the ticket to court, to be refunded if you win. I'm fairly sure that violates the innocent-before-proven-guilty clause in both state and federal constitutions.

    Story #1: I stood behind a gentleman in line at the DOT one day who was (this is important for the story) a fairly dapper black man who owned a very nice Harley, which I admired out in the parking lot. I saw him ride it up. He brought with him his mailed-in ticket, showing both pictures of someone on a bike running a red light. A skinny white man, with no helmet, wearing a wife beater. On a street bike (think crotch rocket, not a Harley). After pointing out his bike and skin color to the clerk (and I vouched for him; I saw him ride the bike up) the ticket was quietly erased. Obviously, no one had looked at the photos and even the computer system had gotten the license plate number wrong.

    Story #2: I got "nailed" by a traffic light camera that I KNEW had a short yellow light, from watching other people get caught by it. Instead of going through the yellow, I stopped at the line and let the light turn red. A full three seconds or so after the light went red, the camera flashed me twice. I anticipated the stupidity well in advance, and was not surprised when a ticket turned up in the mail nearly a month later. It contained ONE photo. I contested and took it to court, to discover the "court costs up-front" policy mentioned above... I demanded to see the second photo, as the camera clearly and obviously took two. The state clerks were very cagey about this, first claiming it was "not necessary" and then claiming it "didn't exist," there was only one photo. To his credit, the judge pointed out that it was the law to present both photos, and he would decide what was bloody well "necessary" for the proceedings. The second photo was produced... Showing my car in exactly the same position, stopped well behind the white line, as it was in the first photo. Oops! In this case, clearly there was some human oversight which decided to lie about the evidence.

    No one from the state was punished. I got out of the ticket (obviously) but it took them nearly four months to return my court costs.

    Story #3: A friend of mine, who is somewhat cheeky, reported getting out of his automated camera-ticket by demanding to confront his accuser. As there was no paper trail as to who (if anyone) reviewed the ticket or entered the complaint to the court, the case was dropped. (This is why when a cop writes you a ticket it has a lot of flowey language to the effect of "I, [name of officer] do duly swear under oath of perjury that I observed, etc., etc." The cop is acting as your accuser, and entering the charge as TESTIMONY to the court, which is important. A camera can not testify, only a person can testify about what the camera captured.) I imagine this loophole will be legislated around as soon as someone tries it in every state.

  • by BitterOak (537666) on Monday April 12, 2010 @10:10PM (#31826210)

    If you are in the intersection before the light turns red, you have not run it, even if it takes a little while to clear it (say to yield to an unexpected obstacle). Wouldn't you need two pictures — one just before the light went red showing you are not in the intersection, and another after the light went red showing you in the intersection?"

    The purpose of the photograph isn't to prove you ran a red light. The motion sensors, and in some cases underground magnetometers, can detect if your car enters the intersection on a red. The only purpose of the photograph is to record your license plate so they know who to send the ticket to. The photograph is one, but not the only, piece of evidence.

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