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The Courts Government Software Transportation News

Italian Red Lights Rigged With Short Yellow Light 353

suraj.sun writes with an excerpt from Ars Technica which brings to mind the importance of auditable code for hardware used in law enforcement: "It's no secret that red light cameras are often used to generate more ticket revenue for the cities that implement them, but a scam has been uncovered in Italy that has led to one arrest and 108 investigations over traffic systems being rigged to stop sooner for the sole purpose of ticketing more motorists."
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Italian Red Lights Rigged With Short Yellow Light

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  • by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @11:41PM (#26747897) Homepage

    reducing the yellow will probably make the intersection more dangerous.

    From a theoretical point of view, it shouldn't make the intersection more dangerous, it should just increase the ticket revenue.

    According to traffic laws across lots of countries, a yellow light doesn't "push the accelerator and try to make it through as fast as possible".
    A yellow light means, "try stopping if you can, because the light will turn red soon - if you can't stop, only then you should cross" - with a yellow light you're supposed to stop anyway (just like with a red one) if you still have enough braking distance to stop.

    If a driver sees a yellow light from far away, no matter how short the duration of this light, still has enough time and braking distance to come to a stop before crossing.

    If a driver sees a yellow light really near, right before crossing, that means that the drivers hasn't the necessary braking distance to stop before crossing. Therefore the driver should be allowed to cross.
    A normal traffic light stays yellow long enough to let the driver reach the other side of the crossing.
    A yellow light shortened way too much means that the driver can't escape the ticket : the light turned yellow too late, at a moment when the car can't be stoped before crossing and is forced to continue. But as the light turns red too fast, the car still hasn't reached the other side of the crossing and can be ticketed by the camera.

    The other traffic light won't turn green simultaneously (there's always some safety margin). Thus no car will come crash sideways against the tricked driver.

    So in theory, there's no additional risk of collision, only the risk that the driver won't be able to make through the crossing before the red light in case the driver couldn't brake in time.

    But, yes, in practice, lots of drivers will probably slam their accelerator even harder, and this increase in speed will probably bring more accidents.

  • by markw365 ( 185614 ) on Friday February 06, 2009 @12:12AM (#26748135) Homepage

    I think the crooks running the city of San Diego originated this. They had the redlight cameras shut down in 2001 for doing it. They put them at intersections where there was a high percentage of people that would pay the tickets and not at "Dangerous" intersections. Then they tweaked the timing on the lights and started raking in the dough. Read about it here. []

  • Re:whine... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mundanetechnomancer ( 1343739 ) on Friday February 06, 2009 @12:28AM (#26748233)
    why not rely on brakelights to prevent rear end accidents? because if i need to slow down, i downshift, you don't see brakelights unless i'm slowing down REALLY fast
  • Re:News Flash! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lysergic.acid ( 845423 ) on Friday February 06, 2009 @12:40AM (#26748311) Homepage

    ok, you got me there. =P

    actually, i stayed in Melrose Park, a western suburb of Chicago, one summer with a tattoo artist friend of mine. it was a predominantly Italian town that, as i understand, was run by (or at the very least had close ties to) the mob. needless to say, the local police were a bit corrupt. the cops also didn't seem to mind that we were smoking pot or doing lines of coke in front of them since my friend and his family were well known in the community.

    coincidentally, a few weeks before i left their entire police department was raided by SWAT teams and the FBI. apparently the police chief had been busted for--supposedly--embezzling over a hundred million dollars (how he did that as a police chief of a small suburb i have no clue). but still, that did make the news and wasn't something that happened everyday.

  • by uncqual ( 836337 ) on Friday February 06, 2009 @12:45AM (#26748329)

    I think the problem is that people try to stop more quickly than is prudent in fear of getting nailed by the camera and the result is an increase in rear end collisions from tailgaters behind them or skidding out of control into other cars/objects.

    Although, of course, one should not tailgate the car in front of them, they have no control over the car behind them. At times when someone is tailgating me in heavy traffic, I've made a decision to not stop at a yellow light that I could have stopped at. The reason being, I felt that given normal signal timing, if I didn't stop, I would still enter the intersection on the yellow but if I did stop, I would get rear ended. I placed my obligation to avoid an accident higher than the slight risk of a "fast yellow" set to the theoretically shortest possible timing and confident that if a cop happened to be watching, he might nail the guy behind me instead of me (as, the second guy entering on a red is somehow "more guilty" IMHO). If I know there's a red light camera at the intersection, sorry, I assume that the yellow is as short as possible and I stop even if it increases the risk of being rear ended (his insurance company pays for my car repairs, he doesn't pay for the red light ticket). In fact, I had a couple of close calls (guy behind me smoking squealing tires, skidding etc. while I stopped safely behind the limit line without fanfare) at a local intersection that I drive through regularly -- and was annoyed when I read in the paper much later that the cameras had been turned off at that intersection for over a year!

    When someone is tailgating you in heavy traffic, you have few options to stopping that behavior quickly - changing lanes isn't always an option, slowing down may just make the problem worse if you're approaching a signal which may turn yellow suddenly since the distance between yourself and the following car - i.e. the margin of safety - is reduced (because the gap is shorter and you're going slower so actually stop more quickly) if the tailgater doesn't take heed of your speed change before you decide to stop for a yellow.

    Even with all this care, twice I've been rear ended by a tailgater when I stopped quickly - once for a yellow light, another time for another reason. One of these times, three cars behind me ended up hitting each other also. The car behind me was lighter, more fragile, and had a lower bumper than my car (his was a small Fiat I think) so his impact on my bumper just scuffed the underside of my bumper cover but his bumper, grill, lights, and hood were seriously trashed. (After determining I had no damage I cared about, the officer noted that there was only room for three cars on the standard accident report he had to fill out so, unless I needed the report for my uses, he would just leave me off and I could go on my way -- I always wondered how the guy behind me explained to his insurance company how his car had thousands of dollars of damage and the car he hit didn't even exist on the accident report).

    Stopping "as quickly as you can" is just a bad idea unless it's necessary and safe.

  • Re:whine... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by uncqual ( 836337 ) on Friday February 06, 2009 @12:50AM (#26748367)
    And that general strategy is what got me rear ended once! A truck had cut in front of me blocking the signal, so when I could again see the signal it was yellow and I had no idea how long it had been so. I didn't enter the intersection - cost the insurance company of the guy behind me a bunch of money! In fact, I could have easily made it into the intersection before the light turned red, but I didn't want to risk a "running red" ticket so made a split second decision to risk an accident because of a tailgater behind me instead.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 06, 2009 @12:55AM (#26748391)

    Where I live (Plano, TX) they've blanketed red light cameras across the entire city. Sure, T-Bone blown red light accidents have gone down, but whiplash due to getting rear ended because the driver behind you had no intention of stopping has shot up. Seeing as I ride a motorcycle a lot, it's actually just as dangerous now as it was before. I just get the joyful thought of being tossed out in to the intersection by a driver not paying attention or not concerned about the cost of a red light ticket. Goodie.

  • Why not do this... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Megatog615 ( 1019306 ) on Friday February 06, 2009 @01:11AM (#26748455)

    I had an idea a little while ago that involved adding an LED timer right next to the stoplight that counts down to red when the light turns yellow, to tell people exactly how much time they have before it turns red.

    Why hasn't something like this been added yet?

  • Re:whine... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 06, 2009 @01:13AM (#26748467)

    they might slam right into you.

    All these drivers (read: Freakin' morons) slamming into others simply because somebody slowed down in front of them shouldn't be on the road. When an adequate distance is maintained between the two vehicles, if the one in front slows or stops there's no reason the one behind shouldn't physically be able to do the same thing. The distance should be adjusted accordingly. If it's wet or slippery, the distance should be increased. As the speed goes up, the distance should also go up. It's just common sense. But unfortunately I see a lack of common sense every day. Some people think it's NASCAR out there and they have to draft the vehicle in front. Unfortunately (speed x reaction time) > distance between vehicles.

  • Re:whine... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 06, 2009 @01:31AM (#26748549)

    I once had a car really close to me in a dangerous street, and I couldn't seem to shake him (couldn't change lane, he wouldn't take the hint). Luckily I remembered something my father had told me, about racing cars of yore, that they would hit the brake lightly without releasing the throttle, so that the lights would go on without decreasing speed by much.
      It scared the shit out of the car behind me and he braked hard, hopefully he learnt a lesson. And had I had to brake hard at an intersection later on (it's a long road with intersections every 100 metres), it would have probably saved my life.
      Sometimes the best defence...

  • In the USA (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GigsVT ( 208848 ) on Friday February 06, 2009 @02:16AM (#26748753) Journal

    These people could use your money and support: []

  • by Holistic Missile ( 976980 ) on Friday February 06, 2009 @02:57AM (#26748937)
    Here in the Chicago suburbs, a red-light camera made the news recently. It is at the entrance to a large and very busy mall. In its first month of operation, over 7000 tickets were mailed out. Many of the tickets were people legally turning right on red. These people shouldn't worry, though. Here in the USA we have the right to face our accuser...oh, never mind.

    In my town, they claim that the camera tickets do not count against the point system on our licenses; I don't know if that is statewide, a local ordinance, or just false. The village officials were saying anything to try and quiet the public outcry when the cameras started appearing about 6 months ago. Funny how the ticket sticks as far as paying a fine, but the rest of the official law doesn't apply. It really is all about the revenue.

    As a person who detests the abuse of the laws like this, it really bothers me. As a driver, it doesn't matter as much to me - I am not one of the yellow-light hotshots. Driving fast on open roads is more my thing.
  • Specifics (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Demonantis ( 1340557 ) on Friday February 06, 2009 @07:58AM (#26750225)

    On top of it all, red light and speed cameras have been known to be wildly inaccurate at times, which is why some teenagers have taken to pranking their enemies by masking their cars with fake license plates and speeding through lights so that they get caught on camera.

    I know in Canada a car can't be charged with running a red light. The driver must be charged. How does issuing the tickets work if people can be falsely charged?

  • Re:whine... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by khchung ( 462899 ) on Friday February 06, 2009 @08:47AM (#26750467) Journal

    If the driver behind you cannot see you are slowing down (with brake lights coming on) and stopping, and slammed into you instead, he has no business driving a car.

    The idea that because someone is tailgating you so you cannot slow down is stupid. I always slow down when someone tailgates me (slowly! just pull up your feet from the gas pedal and let the car coast, press very lightly on the brake to light up the brake lights at the back), both to give more reaction time for both of us in case the car in front stops, and to agitate him so he will switch lanes and pass me ASAP.

  • by eth1 ( 94901 ) on Friday February 06, 2009 @11:41AM (#26752545)

    When someone is tailgating you in heavy traffic, you have few options to stopping that behavior quickly -

    You do have options, though. My rule of thumb is a 4-second following distance between cars. If the guy behind me has less, I slow down to add the difference in front of me. Then I can react more slowly to give the guy time to notice me stopping.

    Also, prefer the center lane. This lets you jockey for a position where you have enough space one or both sides to change lanes instead of slamming on the brakes (won't work for traffic lights, but will work if the guy in front of you stops fast).

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.