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Government Transportation

Red Light Cameras Raise Crash Risk, Cost 499

concealment writes with news of dissatisfaction with a pilot program for stoplight-monitoring cameras. The program ran for several years in New Jersey, and according to a new report, the number of car crashes actually increased while the cameras were present. "[The program] appears to be changing drivers’ behavior, state officials said Monday, noting an overall decline in traffic citations and right-angle crashes. The Department of Transportation also said, however, that rear-end crashes have risen by 20 percent and total crashes are up by 0.9 percent at intersections where cameras have operated for at least a year. The agency recommended the program stay in place, calling for 'continued data collection and monitoring' of camera-monitored intersections. The department’s report drew immediate criticism from Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, who wants the cameras removed. He called the program 'a dismal failure,' saying DOT statistics show the net costs of accidents had climbed by more than $1 million at intersections with cameras." Other cities are considering dumping the monitoring tech as well, citing similar cost and efficacy issues.
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Red Light Cameras Raise Crash Risk, Cost

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  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:39PM (#42111529)

    There have been a number of scandals [nationaljournal.com], including in New Jersey, where installation of cameras was found to coincide with, or be followed shortly thereafter by, shortening the yellow-light duration, presumably to make more money from the resulting tickets.

    This article implies that the cameras themselves are at fault, but I wonder if the shortened yellow-light duration is actually the primary culprit.

  • Re:Why not (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @08:46PM (#42111633)

    This actually did happen [expathell.com] in Korea several years ago:

    Float back several years in time with me for a moment. There was once a time in Korea when the government got really serious about curbing traffic violations. This was probably due to ranking highly on all sorts of international statistic lists for traffic fatalities.

    Anyhow, the Korean government’s solution was to implement a reward system whereby normal citizens would receive a monetary reward for submitting photos of other drivers violating the law. Brilliant idea right? Yeah, and it failed brilliantly too. Wanna guess why? The Korean government failed to take the following into account:

    1. The number of false reports and staged photos was absolutely through the roof.

    2. People began CAUSING traffic violations in order to profit. For example, they’d block a street momentarily so that an intersection would get filled up with cars during a red light, and then they’d have a friend photograph all the cars stuck in the intersection.

    3. People began blackmailing each other. Instead sending the photos into the police, they started trying to sell the photos to the drivers of the cars being photographed while breaking the law, and it turned out to be even MORE profitable.

    4. Korean people began quitting their jobs, buying expensive camera gear, and setting up elaborate photograph traps in areas where they knew they could make money. That’s right, people actually quit their day jobs because blackmailing or turning in their fellow citizens all of the sudden became more profitable than working in an office.

    5. The government didn’t consider that they would receive hundreds of thousands of photographs, and without some type of standard or rules set in place, would be obligated to pay out insane amounts of money to the thousands of amateur photographers who suddenly materialized across the peninsula. The profits generated by traffic fines went to pay off the photographers, which means no profit for the government.

    6. Traffic violators would see another person photographing them, and then they’d get out of the car and beat the shit out of the cameraman.

    7. Men would take pictures of women violating traffic laws, and then demand sexual favors in exchange for not submitting the photos to the police.

    Thus the “turn in your poorly driving neighbor” policy was scrapped almost as quickly as it started. And no, this isn’t fiction. Ask a Korean about it.

  • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:03PM (#42111827) Journal

    There's a movement growing rapidly in Europe to reduce traffic signs and lights, and they are finding that removing signs and lights can cause a rather dramtic reduction in accidents. A number of cities have done away with traffic lights and signs entirely [spiegel.de] with surprisingly good results. (EG: average trip times drop dramatically, accident rate plummets, people report greater satisfaction, etc)

    I'm not saying that we should do away with all signs everywhere, but there is sufficient evidence available that the "common sense" utility of the traffic sign or a traffic light is clearly unproven.

  • by alcourt ( 198386 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:26PM (#42112029)

    They are also correlated (according to the state transportation official I talked to who was pushing one in my area) with higher car on pedestrian injuries, and are more likely for new drivers to have loss of control accidents compared to more traditional intersections. These loss of control accidents often end up with the vehicle striking the very areas pedestrians are expected to stand, waiting for minutes for a break in traffic to safely cross.

  • Re:Cost vs injury (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:34PM (#42112103)

    Here's how speed cameras used to work in the UK when I lived there:

    Road would have a big crash when there hadn't previously been one for years.
    Government would install a speed camera.
    Police collect fines from people driving past the camera who don't know it's there.
    Locals either take a different route away from the camera, or hit the brakes just before the camera, then accelerate back to their normal driving speed just after it.
    No more crashes. Wow, it worked! Except in most previous years there hadn't been a big crash at that spot either.

  • Re:Cost vs injury (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:35PM (#42112113) Homepage Journal

    No, what is needed are not cameras. What is needed are some combination of:

    • Stripes on the pavement to indicate that at the speed limit, you should not stop if you are past this point. This reduces the guesswork that currently makes it difficult to assess whether to enter a light or not.
    • Countdown timers on lights to indicate how long the driver has before the light changes to yellow. Again, this reduces the guesswork.
    • Longer yellow cycles. Studies consistently show that above a few seconds, drivers do not ever adjust to longer yellow cycles. Thus, lengthening the yellow cycle by only a couple of seconds reliably and reproducibly reduces red light violations to near zero.

    Any one of these would result in a far, far greater reduction in traffic light violations and the resulting collisions than any camera system possibly could. The combination of all three would almost (if not completely) eliminate the problem entirely.

    The whole rear-end collisions thing is bunk with respect to the cameras. The at-fault is always the driver who is following too closely to the vehicle in front of them so they can't stop in time for the braking vehicle--not the stationary red light camera.

    Technically, yes, but the fact of the matter is that increasing the probability of a driver slamming on his or her brakes increases the probability of a rear-end collision, which is a simply inexcusable thing for law enforcement to be doing, given that there are so many better ways of solving the problem in question that do not result in such a negative side effect.

    Therefore, given that red light cameras are significantly less effective than alternative techniques, the only real reason to consider them is revenue generation. And if that's the government's only purpose for enforcing traffic laws in a given community, its leaders should resign.

  • Re:Light Counter? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:37PM (#42112135)

    This. I've been wondering the same thing since they introduced LEDs.

    One change I'd suggest is to make it some sort of a progress indicator, rather than an actual countdown using numbers, that way it's more understandable to everyone and more discernible from a distance. For instance, light the LEDs in a filled circle at the center of the yellow light, that way people can always tell it's a yellow, but then have the unlit outer ring of LEDs get filled up in a sweeping motion that goes around clockwise, that way we can tell both how quickly it is going and how much time we have left, without having to making out the number or parse it. Doing that would make it easier to see at a distance, and it'd also mean that even if you missed the first half of the yellow, you could still tell how fast it's going, giving you an idea of whether it's a fast or a long yellow light for future reference.

    I'm not sure that I'd do it with greens, however, since I know plenty of intersections that stay green for several minutes at a time (making both of our ideas a poor choice), and I'm pretty sure I've even seen some at night that default to staying green until they detect a car at the cross street, meaning that a countdown or progress indicator would be irrelevant.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:43PM (#42112211)

    Roundabouts are a bit like transistors. When a heavy flow starts in one direction, the side directions are blocked indefinitely until the flow lightens, but both directions of flow stop or slow down before entering because they are unsure as to the behavior of the car in the circle (is it going to exit? continue around?). Thus they act as bottlenecks.

  • by homey of my owney ( 975234 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @09:48PM (#42112271)
    The City of Albuquerque recently cancelled its Red Light camera program after a vote resoundingly said to get rid of them.
  • by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @10:06PM (#42112437)

    So the real problem is people approaching the intersection too quickly. Before cameras, they just went right through, causing right-angle collisions. Now they scared of the fine and breaking quickly, causing read-end collisions.

    I'm not comfortable with having 1/10th of a second to decide if I need to decelerate my vehicle from 45MPH to zero or if the 0.25s it takes me to approach the intersection is too long for me to proceed through the arbitrary length of the intersection before the unknown duration yellow light changes to red and nails me with a $200-$400 ticket.

    Now, my only options when I see a yellow light are:
    1. Too close to stop safely: ACCELERATE to avoid taking too long
    2. Unsure of yellow duration: STOP NOW ASAP don't want to risk going slightly past that white line.

    Before I had the option:
    1. Too close to stop safely: Decelerate and proceed cautiously. If it turns red, that's ok because I have enough room, and I'm taking my time to make sure no pedestrians are crossing against the light. I'll also be out of the intersection before opposing traffic starts so I'm not inconveniencing them.

    2. Unsure of yellow duration: Stop the car, using care not to decelerate too quickly. I may stop just slightly beyond the white line, but I'm not in the plane of traffic, so no one is impeded. The car behind me could also decelerate safely.

    If I made a mistake on 1 or 2 in the non-traffic camera situation, there is always the potential for a police officer to pull me over and let me know it was too far out of bounds. Strangely enough though, that has NEVER happened. Why, it's almost as if I'm a cautious driver, without a single citation for running a redlight or a speeding camera despite living in DC, yet the cameras have modified my behavior to be much less safe (for you), but much safer for my wallet.

  • Well-established (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Curunir_wolf ( 588405 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @10:10PM (#42112467) Homepage Journal

    This seems like pretty old news at this point. Red-light cameras are put in place by private companies promising revenue. It was never about safety, and study after study has shown increased hazards at intersections where they are installed.

    As usual in these cases, people need to remember to follow the money [kmov.com]. One person you've never heard of, but should be thanked for exposing this issue, is Shawn Dow of Arizona. He has been all over the country teaching activists how to fight these things and make local legislators afraid of the people, instead of kow-towing to the rich lobbyists. He's been beating up on politicians (figuratively) for years, and winning.

"We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Phone Company."