Red Light Cameras Don't Work

Interesting: the solution to one problem causes another.

“The rigorous studies clearly show red-light cameras don’t work,” said lead author Barbara Langland-Orban, professor and chair of health policy and management at the USF College of Public Health. “Instead, they increase crashes and injuries as drivers attempt to abruptly stop at camera intersections.”

Comprehensive studies from North Carolina, Virginia, and Ontario have all reported cameras are associated with increases in crashes. The study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council also found that cameras were linked to increased crash costs. The only studies that conclude cameras reduced crashes or injuries contained “major research design flaws,” such as incomplete data or inadequate analyses, and were always conducted by researchers with links to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS, funded by automobile insurance companies, is the leading advocate for red-light cameras since insurance companies can profit from red-light cameras by way of higher premiums due to increased crashes and citations.

And, of course, the agenda of the government is to increase revenue due to fines:

A 2001 paper by the Office of the Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives reported that red-light cameras are “a hidden tax levied on motorists.” The report came to the same conclusions that all of the other valid studies have, that red-light cameras are associated with increased crashes and that the timings at yellow lights are often set too short to increase tickets for red-light running. That’s right, the state actually tampers with the yellow light settings to make them shorter, and more likely to turn red as you’re driving through them.

In fact, six U.S. cities have been found guilty of shortening the yellow light cycles below what is allowed by law on intersections equipped with cameras meant to catch red-light runners. Those local governments have completely ignored the safety benefit of increasing the yellow light time and decided to install red-light cameras, shorten the yellow light duration, and collect the profits instead.

The cities in question include Union City, CA, Dallas and Lubbock, TX, Nashville and Chattanooga, TN, and Springfield, MO, according to, which collected information from reports from around the country.

Posted on August 25, 2008 at 12:19 PM162 Comments


Carlos Gomez August 25, 2008 12:29 PM

That confirms my own limited personal observation. A few years back on a trip to Edmonton, AB, I saw cars screeching to a halt at intersections, and didn’t understand why until I realized that the city had recently implemented red light cameras and the drivers were trying to avoid getting fined.

BMurray August 25, 2008 12:34 PM

This is all consistent with governments elected to balance their budgets instead of to legislate intelligently and usefully. Blame the voter — the governments are doing exactly what we asked.

aikimark August 25, 2008 12:47 PM

Woo-Hoo!! Let’s give a shout-out to the responsible engineers at NCDOT and VDOT. Thanks, guys.

Alpha Prime August 25, 2008 12:48 PM

Does anyone know what the yellow light timing should be? I know that it takes one second per ten MPH to stop safely without causing tire squeal and that seems to match with the timing used on the lights in my area. IOW, for a 45 MPH speed zone, the yellow should be 4.5 seconds in order for the stop to be safe.

If the yellow timing is shown to cause an unsafe stop, can the ticket be dismissed?

aikimark August 25, 2008 1:07 PM

@Alpha Prime

The federal guidelines are 3-6 seconds with the longer intervals reserved for higher speeds. Actual intervals are set at state and local levels. If you travel through an intersection with a too-short yellow interval (duration), contact your local DOT office engineer and ask for it to be increased due to conditions (posted road speed, actual traffic speed, slick or irregular road surface, etc.)

Michael Ash August 25, 2008 1:12 PM

If safety is the goal, then it seems to me that the best solution would be some sort of countdown timer in addition to the green/yellow/red lights, AND a traffic camera to enforce the red. The timer will let you know far ahead of time whether you can make the light or not, so that nobody gets surprised by the yellow and has to come to a sudden stop. And then the camera catches people who try to take advantage of the timers by squeaking through instead of stopping when they can.

Where I live there are timers on a lot of the crosswalks and they are very helpful. I think it’s time to put them on the stoplights as well. Yellow lights are just too tricky. If the light happens to change when you’re in just the wrong position, you’re faced with a choice between overly aggressive braking and trying to beat the red when it’s still far enough to be uncertain.

bob August 25, 2008 1:20 PM

I bet life was exciting back when they only had red/green and no yellow. Especially since that was before 4-wheel brakes were common. I wonder who decided red would mean stop and green go?

In Austria, the green starts flashing when there is (some small amount of) time remaining to warn you its about to end. VERY handy.

Nicholas Weaver August 25, 2008 1:21 PM

The one thing I don’t like about the blurb is “injuries”, what is the relative damage, separating out different classes of injuries?

A rear-end collision does a lot less damage than a T-bone, both in terms of energy involved (relative speed) and energy dissipation (length of the car to crush before you hit human).

However, it IS primarily about revenue, when you consider the fraction of such tickets that are actually “right on red” violations.

ndg August 25, 2008 1:22 PM

What these excerpts (I have not read the full study yet) do not address is the cost trade offs. Are the increased accidents less costly (in terms of dollars and human life) than the accidents they are replacing? Generally with red light cameras you are trading fewer very severe accidents, with more frequent far less severe accidents. I have not yet seen a study that addresses both. The studies tend to start on the premise that red light cameras are good or bad and design the study to prove the point. One good thing that has come out of many studies (and more than one court case) is the point that to many cities adjust the orange light timing to maximize revenues.

Davi Ottenheimer August 25, 2008 1:23 PM

I’m having a hard time finding anyone trustworthy who gives a thumbs up to the red light cameras.

What metric has been proposed that justifies them, aside from a new tax on motorists? I mean where does the support come from, other than from those who plan to collect revenue from sales and usage?

As I mentioned back in 2005, a judge in San Diego was forced to overturn all red light camera tickets due to unethical management:

There is a really troubling back-story to the officials in Lubbock, Texas who supported the cameras:

“Controversy erupted in February when local television station KCBD documented the short yellow times, including one intersection with a 2.9 second timing, below the minimum required under federal law. The revelation delayed the program so long that the city, depending on $2 million in expected ticket profit, was forced to impose a hiring freeze to maintain solvency.”

Forget the cameras, I see this as officials in Texas using TRAPS for MORE MONEY.

This is not really an indictment of a type of technology itself but rather a case of graft and corruption in the US among those who have been trusted to manage public safety.

Citizens in Philadelphia have documented the exact link:

“…the red-light-camera program has created more jobs for Republican ward leaders, committeemen and their families. […] More than anyone else, the [thousands of dollars of] contributions have flowed to state Rep. John Perzel, the Northeast Philadelphia Republican who engineered a GOP takeover of the Parking Authority in mid-2001.”

In other words, the real story is that corruption of elected officials, and lack of power balances, has led to massive fraud and graft under the guise of security programs.

George August 25, 2008 1:24 PM

Don’t forget the public-private cooperation. Red light cameras are installed and operated by private companies that get a percentage of the revenue from each ticket. So not only is there the potential for abuse from cities looking to raise revenue without raising taxes, but from private companies whose executives and shareholders profit from each violation.

And on top of that, here in California the Legislature recently doubled the fines for red light violations. The city, county, and state divide half the revenue (i.e. the normal fine amount) according to the normal formula. The other (new) half goes directly to the local police department to use as they see fit. It’s supposed to provide a strong incentive for police to make a priority of enforcing red light violations so that the lives of precious children will no longer be tragically extinguished by red light runners. As soon as you utter the magic words “precious children,” all questions about revenue abuse and conflicts of ingerest are extinguished.

David August 25, 2008 1:30 PM

I’d be wary of these articles based on phrases like “tax on motorists.” Charging people who break a certain law in a way designed to discourage breaking of that law is not a tax on motorists, but an economic incentive.

Opponents of such things have taken to calling them “a tax on ___” to try to make it sound scary. To the pro-highway lobby (whose words the Republican House Majority Leader’s office was almost surely parroting), anything that might make driving anything other than faster and easier at all times is a “tax.”

It’s wrong for municipalities to shorten yellow-light timings , but the solution would be not to do that, or to shame those that do (as these articles have done).

As others have pointed out, there are serious questions about whether red-light cameras increase the frequency of minor accidents but substantially decrease fatalities by motorists and by pedestrians.

tomd August 25, 2008 1:32 PM

Is it possible that the shortened yellow times are more responsible than the cameras themselves? We’ve had red-light cameras in Australia for years, and I don’t recall any hysteria about them causing an increase in accidents. But then we don’t have police forces at a lower level than those funded by the states (ie no city or county level ones), and I believe that any revenue generated goes into general revenue and not the police force budget, so they have no incentive to increase the number of crashes.

Out of interest, when do people get fines in the US? I’m pretty sure that in Australia you only get a fine if you enter the intersection after the red light kicks in. But stories of people slamming on the brakes makes it sound like they’re scared of being in the intersection at all when the light goes red. If that’s the case, then the way these cameras have been implemented is unsafe.

SecureApps August 25, 2008 1:40 PM

It is amazing how things get twisted..

The arguments I hear against RLC:
1) It causes more “stop short” accidents – this is not the fault of the Red Light Camera, this is the fault of the driver who rear-ends the person in not following a safe distance. You hit someone from behind, it is your fault.

2) More income for “state”. Well, you are breaking the law. Don’t run the red light. And I believe there is a slight delay in activation of the camera and the light turning red to allow for that indecision period.

3) Indecision points. They still exist without the red light camera. If a cop is sitting at the intersection, the problem stil exists.

I suppose everyone would be against speed enforced cameras as well?

I believe insurance companies cannot raise rates because there are no points and no proof who the actual driver is. The owner of the car is responsible for the fine because they are responsible for the car and who is authorized to drive it.

Now, if the issue is management of timings, funds collected, etc, I can agree there needs to be oversight.

Davi Ottenheimer August 25, 2008 1:46 PM


the opposite.

1) controls are tuned to create more accidents

2) increased accidents generate more revenue

3) more revenue is redirected to officials responsible for control management

4) officials claim “mission accomplished” and ask for more time/support to finish the job

look familiar?

it should.

consider these cases:

“…recent [traffic] law enforcement tactics in McBee have sparked a criminal investigation and renewed criticism from local residents. The state grand jury last week indicted McBee’s police chief and town judge on public corruption charges.”

“Oklahoma has been cracking down on municipalities that generate a disproportionate share of revenue from traffic tickets. Several months ago, Shamrock police were stripped of the authority to issue traffic citations.”

“A notorious Tennessee speed trap may find itself losing every penny collected from its major source of speeding ticket revenue. According to a city court judge’s ruling last week, because Coopertown had no jurisdiction to issue tickets on Interstate 24.”

there is nothing wrong with trying to use red light cameras as a security control, per se, but an absence of accountability is being manipulated by unscrupulous corporations and their ruthless political lackeys for personal gain, to the detriment of the public.

don’t blame the camera.

Alan Porter August 25, 2008 1:47 PM

Last year, when I was in China, I noticed that they had countdown timers on the stoplights in Beijing. It was great feedback, whether the light was red or green.

Don’t play sneaky… show when the lights are changing! Why would you want to hide that information?

Andy August 25, 2008 1:51 PM

I suspect that we are not trading serious accidents for minor ones. The serious T-bone accient is not caused by someone slipping through at the end of the yellow. At that time:

There is a two second clearing delay before the other light turns green

The other traffic is stopped and needs time to accelerate into the flow.

The other drivers can see the car in the intersection right in front of them

The serious accident is caused by a driver passing a light that is already red with the other traffic proceeding through a standing green. That doesn’t seem to be the target of the cameras.

Anonymous August 25, 2008 1:55 PM

You hit someone from behind, it is your fault.

That stupidity is mostly a US rule. Elsewhere you can and will be assigned part blame if you slam the brakes for no reason for reasons you ought to have predicted.

sooth sayer August 25, 2008 1:59 PM

“If you torture data enough, it will tell you whatever you are looking for”

Nothing works — let’s gaze at our navels and contemplate a new universe — may be it will have fewer idiots in it.

Come on Bruce, you know this – most of these studies are stupid.
I can bet you that Bimbo who did the study got a ticket and now has a crusade going — thanks to tenured professorship.

How can you say it doesn’t work? if we kill a few dozen nuts who stop abruptly on on intersection; I am sure it is sign it’s working.

Scote August 25, 2008 1:59 PM

//That stupidity is mostly a US rule. Elsewhere you can and will be assigned part blame if you slam the brakes for no reason for reasons you ought to have predicted.//

The same is true in the US. If you negligently slam on the brakes you can be found to be at fault.

SecureApps August 25, 2008 2:00 PM

“That stupidity is mostly a US rule. Elsewhere you can and will be assigned part blame if you slam the brakes for no reason for reasons you ought to have predicted.”

Since when is stopping short at a yellow-light no reason?

Fred P August 25, 2008 2:06 PM


“As soon as you utter the magic words “precious children,”…”

I have a former friend who resembles that remark.

However, I don’t think that a red light camera would have slowed down the person who hit him while allegedly high on crack. I also doubt that any fine from a camera would be considered worse than the consequences that the offender got from the crash (death).

Matti Kinnunen August 25, 2008 2:06 PM

In Helsinki, Finland, there is an on-going experiments with red light / speeding cameras in the city centre. During the first three months of operations, accidents were reduced by 67%.

Of course, things may change, but it seems that in some case cameras may indeed have some positive effects.

Jason R. Coombs August 25, 2008 2:07 PM

I concur with Andy. I find the cost to society of the additional control and clutter and complexity to outweigh any benefits. The automated enforcement is unnecessary, and although it enforces laws by punishing offenders, those laws were created before automated enforcement existed. In other words, the laws were crafted with an understanding that they would not be enforced 100%.

I personally feel the pre-existing incentives were sufficient to control red-light running:

  • risk of detection by police (resulting in fines + points + higher insurance costs)
  • scrutiny by peers (passengers and other drivers)
  • risk of personal injury or liability for other damage.

Through many years of driving, I have personally observed only one or two instances of truly dangerous red-light running.

Let’s keep life simple and try not to introduce additional means for potential corruption and complication.

Dav August 25, 2008 2:16 PM

I suspect that we are not trading serious accidents for minor ones.

I agree, the whole premise of red light camera’s is flawed. They always cite statistics of how many serious accidents are caused by red-light runners. But it seems to me these could be divided into 2 groups.

  1. Those who see the light and miss the yellow by a second or two.
  2. those that miss the light completely due to inattention, alcohol etc.

I would wager nearly all the serious accidents are caused by #2. But the camera is an attempt to retrain habitual drivers in category #1, it does nothing for drivers in category #2.

Davi Ottenheimer August 25, 2008 2:17 PM

@ David

“an economic incentive”

you miss the point.

your idea is great, but not the reality we face.

red light cameras can be deployed as a way to tax motorists, and so they have been.

that is not how it should be done, i agree. but that is how elected officials in america often work when given the opportunity.

note the collusion between judges and sheriffs in the case of south carolina.

note the tennessee case where mayor stands accused of telling his “police officers to ‘ticket soldier boys’ from nearby Fort Campbell in addition to focusing on out-of-town and [hispanic] drivers.”

this is not about incentives for drivers:

this is taxation

“pecuniary burden laid upon individuals or property to support the government […] any contribution imposed by government […] whether under the name of toll, tribute, tallage, gabel, impost, duty, custom, excise, subsidy, aid, supply, or other name.”

++Don August 25, 2008 2:22 PM

@tomd: Laws in the US vary from state to state, but here where I live (Texas), it is a violation to have any part of your car in the intersection when the light turns red. I suspect that this is the case in many, if not most, other states because they work together to harmonize their traffic laws.

We recently started getting red light cameras here in Austin, with our wonderful city council spouting all the requisite platitudes about how they’ll improve safety.

Jason R. Coombs August 25, 2008 2:22 PM

Regarding “slamming on the brakes” for red light intersections:

Although typically a driver is looking ahead when entering an intersection, it is unreasonable for a driver to be expected to be gazing at a stoplight at the precise time the light changes to yellow. He may glance away from the light to monitor the speedometer, check a rear or side-view mirror, or for other purposes. When his perception refocuses on the light and determines it is yellow, he must make a judgment call based on insufficient data. Should he brake more rapidly than normal, risk shifting cargo and startling (possibly sleeping) passengers, or proceed through the intersection cautiously although perhaps somewhat late?

Conventional wisdom and personal experience tell me that proceeding through the intersection is the most logical choice, as it presents minimal risk.

With the advent of red-light cameras, this experience is no longer valid. In order to avoid the unrelenting scrutiny of the red light camera, one must assume that as one gazed away that the light immediately changed yellow and that the amount of time remaining is not sufficient to safely traverse through the intersection.

The only remaining legal choice is to slam on one’s brakes, creating a disturbance, and rapidly altering the status quo (potentially inducing an accident).

While it is fair to expect all drivers to maintain a reasonable following distance, it is often not the case that this is done in practice, and furthermore, if red lights increase the probability of rapid stops, it should follow that a reasonable following distance should be larger when approaching such an intersection.

For example, I increase my following distance when in an unfamiliar neighborhood or when in a situation where there is a reasonable likelihood of increased disturbances to traffic flow (such as near a park or school).

Red light fines would be much more useful if they were pro-rated based on the amount of potential damage they have contributed to the situation. For example, a person who leaves the intersection immediately after the light turns red contributes minimally to the disorder of the intersection. On the other hand, someone who enters the intersection after the light has turned red has much more significantly disrupted the order. Our red lights cameras don’t distinguish between these cases. Both receive fines.

Red Light Cameras as deployed should be abolished.

Stephen August 25, 2008 2:26 PM

Don’t work?

They provide an easy revenue stream for the cities that implement them, without having to devote any expense for police patrols.

They are working exactly as intended.

Oh, wait, you had this silly notion that they had something to do with safety?

Anonymous August 25, 2008 2:26 PM


“It causes more “stop short” accidents – this is not the fault of the Red Light Camera, this is the fault of the driver who rear-ends the person in not following a safe distance. You hit someone from behind, it is your fault.”

If pre-RLC there were X accidents, and post RLC there were Y accidents, and Y > X, then we can say that the RLC has caused the increase in accidents (assuming other factors have been controlled).

That you wish to blame one person or another for the accident doesn’t erase the fact of the accident.

“And I believe there is a slight delay in activation of the camera and the light turning red to allow for that indecision period.”

You can believe whatever you want to believe, I guess. That there is more than one place playing Stupid Yellow Light Games is good evidence this is an abuse of otherwise normal law enforcement mechanisms.

“If a cop is sitting at the intersection, the problem stil exists.”

Then park a cop at the corner and have him write tickets. They do this with normal speed control, so why not red lights?

rageahol August 25, 2008 2:26 PM

jason coombs:

you may, as a driver, think that few cases of red light running are dangerous.

i, as a cyclist, find all instances of same incredibly hazardous.

davi ottenheimer:

freerepublic link = epic fail

Lewiston August 25, 2008 2:28 PM

… traffic law in some districts in Kansas used to consider even ‘Yellow’ light penetration of an intersection as a formal violation { legal difference between Red or Yellow lights}.

Government bureaucratic rules are often irrational. Bureaucracies inherently develop their own agendas, independent of their official mission & common sense … visit a U.S. airport & TSA if you doubt this.

Dan Hill August 25, 2008 2:35 PM

Implementation matters (a lot).

I worked on implementing red light cameras in Australia in the early 1990s. Independent (university) studies showed they were effective in reducing accidents (and resulting injuries). But the devil is in the detail.

First, traffic light configuration is regulated at the state level. Local authorities could not fiddle the timing to create ‘red light traps’.

Second, the configuration was incredibly generous. You had to ENTER the intersection at least 2 seconds AFTER the light had turned red for the camera to activate.

Third, we used a deterrence strategy, not a revenue optimisation strategy. Only 10% of the boxes contained a camera at any time, but because the rotation was randomised (using a computer program) the boxes had the same deterrent effect whether empty or containing a camera.

Unfortunately the US doesn’t have a strong culture in government of looking at overseas experience, so I don’t ever expect these practices to be reflected here.

Team America August 25, 2008 2:36 PM

I don’t understand the incentive for the insurance companies, if the cameras don’t actually reduce accidents, but makes the public feel safer.

An insurance company would prefer to invest into the opposite case, i.e. something that reduces the cost of actual accidents, but makes people feel unsafe.

Maybe the liberal arts majors in the PR departments got suckered into and are trying to avoid taking the blame by staying wrong with a vengeance and hoping that nobody finds out the truth.

Todd Knarr August 25, 2008 2:40 PM

Alpha Prime: I always figured yellow-light time this way: take the slowest-stopping vehicle expected on the road, and calculate the shortest safe stopping distance for it, assuming it starts out travelling at the speed limit, that doesn’t involve unacceptable risks. Then from that calculate the time needed for that braking. Then add about 2-3 seconds to that to allow for an attentive drive to notice the yellow and begin braking. That should give you a yellow that’s just long enough to safely stop in.

Michael Ash: that’s what the yellow light’s supposed to be.

Todd Knarr August 25, 2008 2:57 PM

Correction: on the light timing, I was thinking of another situation. Minimum timing should start with that same maximum minimum safe stopping distance, then you compute the time needed to completely clear the intersection if you start travelling at the speed limit starting from that distance. Logic: when the light turns yellow, the driver has to decide whether he’s got enough distance to safely stop before he enters the intersection. If he doesn’t, he needs sufficient time to get through before cross traffic enters. If you set the yellow time lower than this value, you set up a situation where a driver travelling at a legal speed can’t safely stop if he starts braking as the light goes yellow yet also can’t safely continue through. I consider it unreasonable to set up a situation where a driver behaving legally has no safe options.

bob August 25, 2008 3:05 PM

@Team America: The conflict of interest on the part of insurance companies stems from the fact that they raise insurance rates when you get a TICKET, not just have an accident; that is a win-win for them, more revenue and no outlay. In fact GEICO purchased a laser speed gun manufacturing company and GIVES AWAY laser guns for free to cities with the EULA that they HAVE TO use them to issue tickets every day, and they are not allowed to give warnings.

@tomd: The root cause of the problem here is politicos (on either side of the aisle) doing things to increase revenue RATHER THAN benefit the people whom all their (the politicos’) actions are supposed to benefit.

In this case they sign contracts with private corporations who benefit financially from issuing tickets; although I have never personally seen one of these contracts, I have heard from several sources that a normal contract will have a provision which sets a MAXIMUM time the yellow/amber light is allowed to be on; in other words to maximize ticket revenue, the direct OPPOSITE of maximizing safety (their professed goal).

I am firmly of the belief that if yellow/amber lights were set at a MINIMUM time of 3.5 seconds (for up to 35 mph zone, 4.5s for higher speeds) that almost the same amount of red light reduction would occur as with a camera, that rear enders would NOT increase unlike a camera and citzens’ money would NOT be sucked away in BS tickets.

elgeebar August 25, 2008 3:08 PM

“> You hit someone from behind, it is your fault.

That stupidity is mostly a US rule. Elsewhere you can and will be assigned part blame if you slam the brakes for no reason for reasons you ought to have predicted.

Posted by: Anonymous at August 25, 2008 1:55 PM”

Stupid? Are you nuts… nope, just a dangerous driver!

1/ That is exactly how it works here in the UK and I’m glad to hear it’s the same in the US. I hope it’s the same in every other country around the world.

2/ If you have not left a safe stopping distance between yourself and the car in front and you drive into the back of them, it’s your fault.

3/ Let’s take our “Precious Children”, one of whom steps out into the road in front of the car your driving behind. The driver slams on the breaks. We call that an emergency stop (BTW here in the UK that scenario is part of the driving test). You rear end the car… Who’s at fault? You or the kid? That’s right, you because you were driving to close.

4/ The car you’re driving behind suddenly breaks hard for no reason. You rear end it… Who’s at fault? That’s right it’s still you because you were driving to close.

Here endeth the driving lesson.

pfogg August 25, 2008 3:10 PM

@Team America:

It took some thought to figure out how an insurance company could profit on a system that produced more accidents, and resulted in increased premiums due to more expenses (paying off claims), but I thought of two ways:

First, if otherwise safe drivers tend to be incorrectly labeled ‘unsafe’ by receiving inappropriate tickets, that would allow insurance companies to charge higher premiums where there is no increased risk. Competition would mean this savings would go to lowering the premiums of the drivers lucky enough not to be caught in the ‘traps’, but lowering prices tends to expand the market, and profits would go up (perhaps on the sale of optional extras that people would otherwise not feel they could afford).

Second, if the automated system tends to correctly identify unsafe drivers who are normally not identified until the get into accidents. This means that they get charged the higher rates more appropriate to the actual risk of letting them drive, and the cost to sell to regular drivers goes down. Competition would again bring down the premiums to regular drivers, and profits would go up.

Both of these are stretches though, if there is a net increase in property damage and health costs associated with these lights. Insurance companies would normally back whatever resulted in fewer valid claims.

Mike August 25, 2008 3:18 PM

I believe Sacramento, CA can be added to the too short yellow light list.

And just to add from personal experience, I also received a red light ticket there. I don’t know wether the yellow light at that intersection was set too short (I don’t believe it was one of the intersections Sac got caught shortening). But I’ll assume it was not and that the company and the city, each of whom make a profit from every ticket, would not offset the timer (i.e. so the camera reports the light changing a fraction of second or more before it actually does) or rig the process in anyway. The output shows me entering after by less than a tenth of a second after the light changed to red. Given my assumptions, I was absolutely breaking the law. But I’m not that good, there is no way my reactions and judgment will be good to a tenth of second. Frankly, I doubt my responsiveness is going to be good to within a whole second.

The way I see it there are several problems with red light cameras. The foremost is that the political architecture for determining their use is flawed. The people involved all profit either financially or politically from generating more tickets. Because of that, generating more tickets will becomes the eventual goal regardless of whether anyone initially involved truly desires safety. The second problem (my experiential bias), with the technological advent of automatic enforcement, our ability to enforce laws surpasses our ability to follow them.

SecureApps August 25, 2008 3:19 PM


You are still igonring the point that none of the cases are the RLCs fault. An accident caused by a driver following to closely and someone stopping for a yellow light is still the follower’s fault. Whether the person stopped short because there is a cop there or a camera.

Are you concerned because you gun through yellow lights and are worried about misappropraited timings and usage of funds? I will agree there needs to be control over that. No question. But that does not make the cameras bad..

Chuck August 25, 2008 3:21 PM

Some of you people are quite entertaining. You put forth eloquently worded arguments all aimed at justifying breaking the law.

It’s all a conspiracy to separate you from your money…. The police are in cahoots with the technology providers… Mr. Coombs even places a priority on startling sleeping passengers, and he’d like to pro-rate the fine for running a red light based on the damage such action might cause.

Here’s a novel concept: LEARN HOW TO DRIVE, AND LEARN THE LAW. If you enter an intersection on the red (regardless of how many people are asleep in your car), you are breaking the law and placing the rest of us at risk. If you don’t think you can adequately control your vehicle because you’re too busy second-guessing when the light changed from green to yellow, then take a bus. Seems a pretty safe bet the rest of us would be safer if you did.

Either way, take responsibility for your own actions and stop trying to blame a camera for your lack of driving skills and/or care for the saftey of those around you.

bob August 25, 2008 3:33 PM

OK, heres the theory behind traffic lights. As you approach one examine the light and:

1) if it is green AND you can exit the intersection before it turns red (ie the subsequent light is not backed up), then pass through the intersection. If there is no place for you to LEAVE the intersection, then stop with your ENTIRE vehicle behind the line until an opening corresponds to a green light again EVEN IF IT MEANS YOU DONT “MAKE” THIS GREEN LIGHT.

2) If it is yellow and you can safely stop without excessive braking, then stop fully behind the line.

3) If it is yellow but you can not stop before the line, then proceed through (note you already validated that there was a way for you to exit in #1 above)

4) If it is red, stop fully behind the line.

Note: for this system to work effectively, the yellow light has to be long enough to allow a vehicle to pass completely through the intersection at a normal speed, plus a reaction time.

Michael Ash August 25, 2008 3:41 PM


“I suppose everyone would be against speed enforced cameras as well?”

I am against all forms of automated law enforcement. Have humans enforce your laws, or don’t bother enforcing them at all. These systems which detect speeding, read the license plate, and mail the supposed perpetrator a ticket are simply broken, and indicate a government which has ceased to serve its citizens.

@Todd Knarr

The yellow light is binary information only. You make a sudden change from “you may proceed” to “if you can stop safely, do so”. This forces the driver to make a sudden decision and carry it out effectively in very little time. Having an explicit, visible timer (in addition to the yellow) would allow the driver to know well in advance whether he can proceed through the intersection or will need to stop.


Laws exist to serve society. If a law is a net detriment to society, then it should be changed. If red-light cameras cause more harm then good, then their use should be changed or stopped altogether. The fact that some cities have been caught changing their yellow light timing to increase ticket revenue (and decrease safety!) should show you that the current policies are broken.

Skorj August 25, 2008 3:42 PM


That’s all fine and dandy if the yellow is of reasonable length. I do believe that RLCs can increase safety if implemented properly. But in the US, they don’t because they aren’t.

As soon as the local authorities reduce the yellow to an unsafe length to increase revenue, the net result is less safety. And they do, quite often, as shown statistically by this study and a great many newspaper articles about specific cases. Here in CA cities are often caught will yellow lights shorter than allowed by CA law, but only at intersections with cameras.

Alex August 25, 2008 3:51 PM

All this talk about automated traffic enforcement being flawed is just plain and simple BS by people who flaunt the laws. As others have said, drive legally and you and your money won’t be separated. Break the law and you will have to pay a fine. We have a problem near an intersection by our house where there are stop signs and there are accidents in the intersection. Gee, guess why there are accidents… because people blow through the stop sign without stopping! Go figure!

I’m tired of the belly aching of people who can’t take the time to drive safely. I look forward to the day when every intersection and mile of roadway is camera equipped and all you losers who can’t drive within the limits of the law get whats coming to you and separated from your hard earned money. Especially those of you speeding in construction zones.

No need to speed folks. No need what so ever.

Chuck August 25, 2008 4:02 PM


If your theory of local municipalities reducing yellow-light length to “unsafe” times is accurate, wouldn’t that result in enormous spikes of traffic accidents and/or red-light-camera tickets at these intersections? I’m not talking about 10 or 25% increase – I mean 200% or better (given that most cameras are installed at high risk intersections in the first place).

In our area, reconfiguring traffic lights is not something that is undertaken on a whim: a formal traffic study is required, the results of which are reviewed by a Traffic Advisory Committee (which includes personnel from various law enforcement agencies as well as elected officials). These decisions are all recorded in meeting minutes. If the TAC decides to deviate from the traffic study results, they must have findings for doing so. And “reduce yellow light times to unsafe levels to increase revenue” would not be a satisfactory finding.

Then there’s the liability aspect of your theory: if city officials really are knowingly creating unsafe situations at all these intersections, they are placing themselves and their jurisdictions at enormous risk from lawsuit.

I think in this case “minimum” would be more accurate than “unsafe,” where “minimum” would be defined as that amount of time required for the average driver traveling at the average speed to bring his vehicle to a stop. It would NOT include accomodating those drivers who are deciding whether it would be prudent to alarm sleeping passengers, being inattentive while approaching an intersection, or account for those drivers who disregard the law and ignore the yellow light.

Philosopher August 25, 2008 4:05 PM

Most comments have noted that orange light timing should be based on (1) the time it takes to traverse the intersection at normal speed, and (2) the time it takes to stop.

There is one other scenario. If waiting at a green light for a space to open up on the far side of the intersection, the driver will begin to move when a space opens up and the light is still green. If it turns orange immediately after the driver enters the intersection, there should be enough time to move across and stop immediately on the other side. This will usually be much longer than the time to cross the intersection at normal speed.

David August 25, 2008 4:18 PM

For all of you who have been assigning blame for rear-end collisions, a question: Have you ever been rear-ended?

I was, last year, and the fact that I was 100% not to blame really didn’t make any difference. I had as much lingering back pain as if it were all my fault. I still had to get my car fixed.

Therefore, I am against anything that increases the chance that somebody’s going to rear-end me. I don’t care if the accidents are theoretically less damaging and dangerous. I don’t care who’s fault it is. I don’t want to have that back pain again.

Chuck August 25, 2008 4:22 PM

Philosopher – In such a scenario the red light camera will not issue a ticket – they are smarter than this. They don’t look for cars exiting the intersection – they look for cars entering when the light turns red. AND they know how fast you are traveling when you crossed the limit line.

By law, you are not allowed to enter an intersection unless you can get all the way through it without stopping. Even if you entered at the exact moment the light turned yellow, you would be well away from the limit line (ie., obviously already in the intersection) when the light turned red: hence no photo, no ticket.

Adrian Lopez August 25, 2008 4:53 PM

“1) It causes more “stop short” accidents – this is not the fault of the Red Light Camera, this is the fault of the driver who rear-ends the person in not following a safe distance. You hit someone from behind, it is your fault.”

For the purposes of this discussion, it is completely irrelevant whose fault it is. If the figures given are correct, you can’t get around the fact that adding red-light cameras leads to higher accident rates by blaming the driver.

The driver is to blame for his decision to stop, but there’s no denying that red-light cameras may be a significant factor. A driver faced with a red-light camera has a choice between either stopping short and possibly causing an accident, or not stopping short and possibly getting a ticket. That’s hardly a fair situation.

Michael Ash August 25, 2008 5:21 PM


I suppose you have never broken any law? Never jaywalked, exceeded the speed limit by any amount, never forgot to use your turn signals until after the legally required minimum distance, never forgot to turn on your headlights when it was raining?

Laws are simply too complex for automated enforcement to be reasonable.

Davi Ottenheimer August 25, 2008 5:29 PM

@ Alex
You say “No need to speed folks. No need what so ever.”

Your support of enforcement seems to be based on the fact that you confuse speed with safety — the slower someone goes the more secure. This reasoning has many flaws:

First, we know that you are wrong in the case of emergency response. They have a well-known and agreed-upon need to speed in order to increase safety.

Second, we know that you are wrong in that the law requires a minimum speed in many cases, so there is often enforcement of speed to maintain safety.

Third, your post belies hatred and distrust towards fellow drivers. This reveals a serious logical flaw. Traps are illegal. If you favor traps, especially for certain profiles, then you no longer support legal driving, but instead are advocating for illegal enforcement measures.

2SecondPastRed2Serious August 25, 2008 5:39 PM

Great article. Good comments. Very important to have discussion on this, because many numbnuts on councils would vote this in.
In my city, unamed, we had a close vote over RLC. Luckily, our good mayor took a stand before the vote and said he would veto it.

Automated enforcement is dangerous, it can cause riots and civil problems, because you KNOW that tings will never be fair and such powers will be abused.

For some intersections, having a longer Red Red time would really help. Sometimes people have to blow a yellow/red light… It happens enough. Better that a SMART light system takes into account some things, rather than blank check power abuses.
SMARTer traffic lights in general would also helps some traffic flow, and help deal with red light blowers.

Incentives, where I live, there used to be a light, where you really needed to blast it, and break speed limit, get through light, make all the lights and avoid screwy traffic patterns. Point, traffic flow matters a lot. Other Point, this pattern was probably on purpose, helps for those who need to be exceptional sometimes, like to a hospital.
Life is gray, make it black and white with green tax, and everything goes FUBAR.

Mark August 25, 2008 5:48 PM

I am amazed no-one has mentioned one of the biggest dangers of all: that the government will be tempted to use the cameras as part of a total surveillance network of the entire road network, ostensibly for ‘safety’ but in reality to monitor citizens for any sign of dissent (and by changing light timings, deploying police strategically etc., be able to nip it in the bud.)

Maybe that’s a tad ambitious in the US maybe, but they’re already trying it here in the UK.

Anonymous August 25, 2008 5:59 PM

@SecureApps: “You are still igonring the point that none of the cases are the RLCs fault.”

Are you being deliberately dense?

Let’s just say that the people are in fact driving too close together, at great risk to themselves and others.

If you install something that INCREASES the likelihood of converting this risk into reality, then by all that is rational, you have created a problem.

For example, the government can dig potholes in the road and sidewalks, in an effort to slow people down. If this causes accidents instead, is it the accident victims at fault for failing to notice the holes (or those who are braking to avoid them) or the nitwit who dug the holes in the first place?

George August 25, 2008 6:01 PM

I have no problem with enforcing traffic laws to promote safety and to punish unsafe drivers. I do have a problem when cities become reliant on revenues from traffic violations (or parking tickets). I have an even bigger problem when private corporations and their executives profit from traffic violations.

In those cases, the potential for abuse becomes so significant that I have to assume that all parties who profit from this revenue are putting that profit ahead of everything else, and are using “safety” (and, yes, those precious children) as a shield that renders them impervious to scrutiny and criticism. This is especially likely with automated enforcement devices whose settings can easily (and covertly) be manipulated to maximize revenue (possibly at the expense of safety).

It’s easy enough to end the potential for abuse. Pass state laws that send all the the revenue from traffic tickets into a general fund at the state level, removing any reason for cities to operate speed traps or other abuses. Similarly, make all contracts with companies that operate automated enforcement devices flat-rate per year, removing any incentive to jigger the parameters to increase the number of tickets. And regularly audit the devices to ensure that they operate within standard parameters.

Officials and politicians who are genuinely concerned about safety and “protecting precious children” should welcome reforms that remove revenue and profit from enforcement. Reforms would let police focus on genuine safety problems instead of meeting revenue quotas, and also promote public respect for police integrity. But I suspect that they’d be ranting and raving hysterically if anyone ever dared to propose any such reforms in the Legislature.

John August 25, 2008 6:18 PM

I’m not taking a position on cameras until I learn more about them and criticisms of them.

But I disagree with an unspoken recurring theme in these comments. To wit: A yellow light means “hurry up, the light is changing to red.”

NO, dammit! A yellow light means “Stop. The light is changing to red.”

If the light is yellow before you get to the intersection, stop, unless it isn’t safe to stop. The few seconds of grace is just for this purpose. The grace seconds are NOT to let you beat the red.

Texas drivers drive me crazy.

Anonymous August 25, 2008 6:20 PM

@Alex: “I’m tired of the belly aching of people who can’t take the time to drive safely. ”

I’m sick and #(*$&’ing tired of bureaucratic lapdogs like you who think they can tell me or anyone else what is “safe”.

On the scene judgment is more important than the dictates of law. This judgment follows not from slavish adherence to regulation, but from using your head and applying lessons learned from experience and training.

Automatic law enforcement strips all the essential context from a situation. This This isn’t just a cop not testifying truthfully, or your inability to testify (both are used regularly anyways), but that the evidence simply isn’t collected in the first place.

It is the ultimate reason why it is fundamentally unjust. No evidence, no argument: bend over.

But by-the-book bureaucratic nitwits like you will never understand this. They believe — truly, with all their being — they can legislate common sense, so they try. Not realizing that the net effect of these kinds of laws or the enforcement mechanisms actually deny the application of simple common sense.

The current case — RLC’s that cause accidents that would otherwise not have occurred — is but one of a legion in the general trend. With so many BS laws on the books these days, if you sent me enough data about you, Alex, I’m fairly certain I could land you in jail for a few days.

Anonymous August 25, 2008 6:23 PM

@John: “NO, dammit! A yellow light means “Stop. The light is changing to red.””

John, as I explained to Alex, we don’t need to be told what a yellow light is.

We are not infants.

Nick August 25, 2008 6:46 PM

Having lived in quite a few locales I can definitely say I’d take Texas drivers over virtually any others in the US, at least. I have a great, possibly pathological, affection for Guatemala and several other Latin countries that appear to have no enforced traffic laws and yet people manage to not wipe out entire neighborhoods every day.

As many have mentioned, the primary “problem” with the yellow light phenomena is that you have no idea how long a yellow light is — the newer “countdown” signals are so much better because drivers can make much more informed decisions about how much time they have. Most US drivers seem to weigh the odds of taking a minute longer to get there against a fresh yellow in favor of not stopping. These profit-oriented responses are not going to change that, they’re going to take advantage of it to entirely unrelated ends.

It’s anecdotal but I’ve never seen nor known anyone involved in a yellow-runner collision. I’m sure they happen, but in my personal experience the far more serious problem is people have 10 lights or stop signs in close proximity and developing contempt for them. The “annoying, mostly pointless” stop signs are the ones that always seem to have a wreath by them for the one time in five thousand that it mattered to look the direction that “no one ever comes from.”

But fixing traffic design and the desire to throw more signs, lights, warnings, lane reflectors, and cameras at an intersection would seem to be diametrically opposed. Ounce of prevention, pound of cure?

Mmmmmwright August 25, 2008 6:49 PM

Many years ago I was in Lubbock, TX and the big thing was a bumpersticker that read: “Happiness is Lubbock in your rear view mirror”. This story kind of gives a new meaning to that bumpersticker.

Skorj August 25, 2008 7:52 PM

@ Chuck

Here’s just one example (i have it handy because I live close to the city mentioned). Union City of course claimed that “the yellows were always that short”. Either way, it shows that there is no formal system of review in place.

The real problem here IMO is that most tickets (77% in that case) are given out within 1 second of the light turning red, which is great for revenue geenration, but the wrong choice for safety.

The guy who blows through the clearly red light after the cross traffic has had time to start moving is the menace to public safety. The cars that piggyback on the stream of traffic past the red are merely (quite) annoying.

John David Galt August 25, 2008 8:07 PM

I have no problem with obeying red lights if I’m given enough advance notice to make it safely possible (no shortened yellow), but not so much that everybody else is going to run the red (then it’s entrapment).

In my view the main problem here is the incentive trap created by allowing local police departments to profit from ticket revenue. That should never be allowed for ANY law (and I include the drug forfeiture laws as an even more egregious example) because it gives the cops an incentive to frame the innocent. Which is exactly what’s happening with these camera rackets.

As far as I’m concerned our traffic death rate is quite acceptably low already. But if you feel it needs reducing, here’s a suggestion that I think will reduce it MUCH more than camera tickets: Require all “traffic violator schools” to take their students on a visit to the local morgue on a Saturday night, when the results of drunk driving are brought in.

Steve August 25, 2008 8:09 PM

Of course, if you pay attention to your driving (which means staying off the cell phone, among other things) and drive at the speed limit, you won’t have to worry about red light cameras because you’ll have plenty of warning when the light changes and will be able stop in time without jamming on your brakes.

Just a thought.

supachupa August 25, 2008 8:16 PM

I recently got a ticket from one of these red light cameras, although I would never run a light on purpose and would never previously slam on my brakes to stop for a light. After my ticket I ended up slamming on my brakes for a light that would have turned red as I crossed through. And guess what? I almost lost control of my car!

I think it’s time to do a ‘cool hand luke’ to all of these things. They are there just to generate mulah and the safety of people is not the main concern, even if we are told that.

Neighborcat August 25, 2008 8:23 PM

Driving is dangerous. Period. Pick whatever behavior you want that increases that risk incrementally, be it drunk driving, cell phones, running red lights, etc… and eliminate it 100% by whatever means necessary, and…guess what….Most accidents are caused by sober, non cell-phone using, non red light running drivers. Driving is still dangerous.

And expensive… Expensive far beyond the fees and fuel we pay for in this country, and expensive socially as well as monetarily.

This topic has touched a nerve. Many anti-regulation types are in evidence. Automated enforcement…I don’t like it either. Red light cameras…bad idea. 12 billion per month spend in Iraq I like less. Even worse idea.

You want to gripe about our government? Consider for a moment what could be done for public transportation for 12 billion a YEAR. Hell, we could spend January through March on infrastructure and public transport, April through May on our schools, June up to November on entitlements, defense and interest, and then drop schools and hospitals on Iraq for the month of December and STILL come out ahead.

Take a close look at what you claim matters to you, and then observe what you actually do. Seems sort of silly to get so worked up about driving being a little more expensive if you put it in perspective.


crossbuck August 25, 2008 9:04 PM

Yes, Sacramento, CA was another city caught jiggering the lights (they actually put the sensors in the road too close to the intersection IIRC), and had to throw out a bunch of tickets. This was some years ago.

Cyclists are the worst offenders when it comes to traffic laws I have ever seen. They do not stop at stop signs (even with cross traffic at 4-way stops) nor do they stop at red lights if they can get away with it. They should be licensed like automobile drivers, even if their vehicles have no motor, and be ticketed for offenses like the rest of us in motor vehicles. My city could make far more money just doing that in my neighborhood than with the red-light cameras.

Kanly August 25, 2008 9:28 PM

@Carlos_Gomez. Yeah. Me three. I do my best to drive safely, but when you’re hit with an amber light even at 60 km/h, you have to slam on the brakes to stop quickly. Only a matter of time before someone runs up the back of me. To the government bureaucrats who came up with these red light cameras, to hell with you. Like speed cameras (which only pick up a moment of instantaneous speed) or cops that hide radar traps at the bottom of hills, this isn’t real policing. It’s revenue raising.

I remember one TV ad a few years ago that showed a cop in a cruiser detecting some speeding with their radar. The cop writes it down but doesn’t move. Later the car is in a crash. The guys wife confronts him “I just got a ticket for you in the mail! You were speeding!” Well, maybe the lazy cop should have stopped the guy instead of mailing out tickets – the height of laziness.

Mark J. August 25, 2008 9:33 PM

“I am amazed no-one has mentioned one of the biggest dangers of all: that the government will be tempted to use the cameras as part of a total surveillance network of the entire road network, ostensibly for ‘safety’ but in reality to monitor citizens for any sign of dissent (and by changing light timings, deploying police strategically etc., be able to nip it in the bud.)”

@Mark –

Alex would be fine with that level of monitoring, obviously, because “does nothing illegal” and therefore “has nothing to hide.”

Frank August 25, 2008 9:40 PM

Red light runners are those drivers who enter an intersection AFTER the light turns red. They interfere with traffic by using up the time that drivers have to clear the intersection going the other way. Red light cameras should only target those drivers.

If no car should ever be in the intersection after the light turns red, how would drivers ever make a left turn at the many intersections where the opposing traffic has no openings for a left-turning driver and there is no advanced signal?

@elgeebar – if a car suddenly “breaks”, there surely has to be a reason. Perhaps you mean “brake”?

@alex – one does not “flaunt” the law in this case, one “flouts” it.

2ClearRunStopIssues August 25, 2008 9:56 PM

Sure would be interesting to have video/gps/car computer info to track down bad yellow/red lights, and legislate for changes. Even a simple database website submission could be built up. Doesn’t cost much to have video of intersections, perhaps even with cheap radar units for bad RLC. A fantasy, but would be great to access live sat from government and process footage. Google_Traffic anyone?
After reading this blog, it made me think and pay more attention to lights. I found a too short yellow while getting off highway, with a complex intersection. Sure had the wrong assumptions about speed and stopping distances, GRR, ugly when wet or winter. Wonder if yellows are being changes to try to influence RLC as a preventive measure. Wouldn’t surprise me.
RLC open up a city to lawsuits and expensive settlements, and possibly federal investigations. Really stupid RLC, causes more problems than they solve, and only elevate corruption and manipulation of systems.
The future, everybody is fighting for negotiating power, and everything is for sale and exploitation. Grr, the worst danger to the the USA, is not the terrorists, but corruption and negative sum markets.
Hopefully, some will read Schneier’s blog, and start to think and learn, before the next stasi society is FULLY built.
Hopefully, this blog will be used in some meetings to keep things together.
Keep up the good work Bruce, some are getting it, although it sure takes a lot of work and time.

Anymouse August 25, 2008 10:36 PM

When I come to an intersection that has an red light camera, I slow down and stop EVEN THOUGH THE LIGHT IS GREEN. Then I patiently wait for it to turn yellow, then red then green again before continueing over the intersection.

We and servral others do that at every such intersection until the the trafficflow guys notice and promtly remove those red light cameras.

And I agree with other commenters:
fines from RLC should only be paid to the states/country general fund.

Harry Johnston August 25, 2008 11:14 PM

Has anyone done any studies on the feasibility of ticketing drivers who speed up on a yellow light? From what I’ve read in the past, this is the main cause of red-light accidents, because when the light turns red the car is going too fast to stop. (This would probably have been local reporting, so might not be true in the US.)

Is it still true that traffic lights in the US are only placed on the far side of the intersection, not the near side? If so, anyone know of any studies on the safety impact of this layout?

Sean August 25, 2008 11:23 PM

This was an interesting article in Wired magazine about a year ago on a traffic study they did in Europe where they removed all signals and road signs->
With no distractions on the road people actually paid attention to the road. Imagine that…

Agreed red light cameras are a disgusting sham to bring in revenue under the guise of safety. Municipalities have been caught shortening the yellow lights to boost ticket revenue- maddening. Here’s my creative answer for how to cope:


Professional driver August 25, 2008 11:35 PM

Deciding whether to stop: As you approach, check the
traffi c light. If it’s red or yellow, look around, check your
mirrors and begin to slow down well in advance. If it is green
(unless you have seen it change to green), be prepared. It could
be a “stale” green light — one that’s about to change to yellow.
Ease up on the accelerator or cover your brake in case you
have to stop.
Note: If the intersection has pedestrian signals, use them to
help you. If the “Don’t Walk” signal is flashing or on full, the
light may be about to change.

I copied this straight out of the ICBC guide for new drivers. When you are driving you should be looking ahead as far as you can see, and picking up a stale green is child’s play unless you’re texting Rush Limbaugh or gazing longingly at your sleeping passengers.

If you insist that you ‘must’ make this green light, and enter the intersection on a yellow or red and get caught, it’s your fault. Give yourself more time to get there, don’t get caught up in the rush. If you have to pay a fine, it’s not a tax, it’s a penalty for not behaving in a civil fashion.

The government is doing my bidding when it is encouraging the population to drive in a safe manner and punishes those who do not.

Michael Ash August 25, 2008 11:56 PM

@ Professional driver

Your advice does me no good when I come up to a traffic light that is hidden behind a hill and a curve until relatively close, has no pedestrian signals, and has a fairly short yellow for the 40MPH zone that it sits in. I encounter this scenario several times a month, and people who live in that area must encounter it daily. I always let up on the accelerator and cover my brake as I come over that hill, but even so there is definitely a fairly large area where a changing light presents the uncomfortable choice between an overly rapid stop and risking the red light.

Basicbob August 26, 2008 12:07 AM

C’mon we can’t expect our cities and states to go after real crime unless it has to…it doesn’t make them money like costs them money! A guy won a lawsuit here about running yellow..then the lights were moved out of the center of the street and to the other side of sometimes who knows 70 foot intersections. A cop followed me for 8 miles at 25..he wouldn’t pass…

Basicbob August 26, 2008 12:17 AM

All right tell me Chuck and Profesional Driver you want me to jerk it in reverse when I see yellow or you want me to stop on green? Be forewarned about my neck.

iworms August 26, 2008 3:46 AM

When I approach a green light with cameras, I stare at the light fearing it would turn yellow. No checking speed, no checking mirrors, no checking road ahead. But I feel victorious after passing the intersection.

Patrick Mueller August 26, 2008 7:46 AM

Interesting take in today’s Raleigh News and Observer on Raleigh’s camera program: .

  • 11 cameras installed in Raleigh, focused on busy intersections where there have been many “T-bone” collisions in the past

  • cut down on T-bone crashes; from 337 crashes in 4 years before the cameras to 58 in 4 years after the cameras

  • 15% increase in rear-end collisions

  • note that read-end collisions typically cause less damage and injuries than T-bones

  • $50 camera tickets do not affect driver’s record or insurance

  • proceeds to company that operates cameras, with some money going to schools. Camera company got 3 year contract for $800K.

  • 89,000 tickets given out since 2003

SecureApps August 26, 2008 7:57 AM

@Michael Ash:
“I am against all forms of automated law enforcement. Have humans enforce your laws, or don’t bother enforcing them at all.”

That’s like umpires/refs being against instant replay because they are afraid it will make them look bad. If things are enforced correctly, then it doesn’t matter whether it is automated or not.

@Anonymous at August 25, 2008 5:59 PM
I’m being as dense as you are being illiterate. I’ve said before, there are issues w/ the implementaiton of the camera and there needs to be a threshold delay for which the cameras don’t fire (i.e.: not active on immediate turn on red, but a second delay or something) and I’m all for the countdown timers that are showing up for when the light will turn yellow. But these are managable and the usage of the funds is handled by oversite.

rip August 26, 2008 8:08 AM

Camera traps do not discriminate, they also catch the police, and the mayor and bigdog republicans getting trapped by the same method, however the camera only reports data, that data goes to an imprenetrable opaque undemocratic power structure that will filter out who will be fined and who will be forgiven.
The real problem is the power structure which does not believe in transparency. This is the future, corruption growing exponentially under the republicans.

Crane August 26, 2008 8:29 AM

Boy, did Bruce strike a nerve with this topic. From scanning the responses there seem to be two camps here; those who believe you’re accountable for your actions and those who believe it’s all a conspiracy.

My moment of enlightenment on red light cameras came as I sat eating lunch in my car watching an intersection in Tampa that recently had one of the cameras installed. There were also three patrolmen on motorcycles at the intersection monitoring traffic. It struck me that even if there was no camera at the intersection, some motorists would still jam on their breaks when they saw the patrolmen. Applying the assumptions from the USF study, it would be logical to conclude that cops should be prohibited from waiting on street corners in plain view due to the risk of increased rearenders.

‘Nother point – keep in mind USF issued this report. The university is located in Tampa, a town with a disproportionately high population of people who believe the law is there to be manipulated not followed. Recent case in point – 24% of mortgage frauds occur in Florida.

So I sit on the fence. I do believe I’m accountable for how I drive and I make sure I stay well behind the driver in front of me when I go through traffic light intersections. But I also suspect that USF is part of the subtle conspiracy in this part of Florida that condones a renegade approach to the law.

Flat Pepsi August 26, 2008 8:39 AM

My biggest problem with red light cameras is that they identify CARS – not PEOPLE. The camera may know that my car ran a red, but there’s a big assumption about who it was that was driving.

It’s the exact same issue at play with sending RIAA subpoenas to an IP address. You (probably) know which computer, but not the person behind it.

Making such assumptions is frequently incorrect, and a violation of due process, IMHO.

bob August 26, 2008 8:41 AM

@Alex , d: Y’all are just flat wrong. If the city sets the yellow light to only last 1/2 second there is no way in hell anyone is going to be able to stop in time. And how about if they set the Interstate speed limit at 13 mph? Will you still blindly obey it just because they tell you you are safer that way? Learn to think for yourself!

Presumably you must be a big fan of TSA because they are making you safer – after all they say they are, and what could be more objective than a massive monolithic government bureaucracy attempting to justify its budget.

Governments at all levels (in the US anyway; I have no personal experience of Russia, China or Cuba for example) have shown a complete inability to avoid stealing from their citizens with one hand while showing them smoke and mirrors with the other and claiming its for safety.

Basically its like the advertising stickers on commercial products that say “As seen on TV!” but are a code phrase meaning “This is crap!”. Whenever a politician says he is doing something “for your safety”, “to fight drugs”, “protect families” or “fight terror” – then keep an eye on them and a hand on your wallet.

Anonymous August 26, 2008 9:49 AM

@SecureApps: “I’m being as dense as you are being illiterate.”

Now you are being intellectually dishonest.

You said that the RLC’s are not the cause of accidents: people driving too close are.

The irrelevancy is pointed out to you.

You repeat it.

Again, it is noted to you that “If you install something that INCREASES the likelihood of converting this risk into reality, then by all that is rational, you have created a problem.”

Now it’s all about “manageable problems with the implementation”. Or something. Anything, I guess, to help you forget your attempted defense of the indefensible.

Paul August 26, 2008 9:57 AM

This reminds me of back when I was learning to drive. A light close in front of me went to yellow and I did what I thought was right: stopped rather quickly to make sure I didn’t run the light.

Did I ever get a telling off from my instructor for that! The reason? Safety, of course. I could have caused a pile-up.

Yes, this would be less of a problem if people didn’t tailgate and paid attention to the road and signals instead of their coffee or cellphone conversation. Yes, it would be their fault if they rearended me when I stop suddenly at the lights, but that doesn’t compensate for the annoyance and bother of dealing with such a situation.

There are some junctions near here which have advance warning lights. If they start flashing just as I reach them, I know I’m safe to continue at the posted speed limit. If they start flashing well before I arrive at the junction, I’ll just let the car coast along or even slow down sufficiently if I think I can time it to arrive just after the light returns to green.

I’m always amused by how people will go around me, blast up to the already-red lights at full speed then slam on the brakes to a complete stop, only to have me cruise past them when the lights go green, I’ve arrived at the junction still doing 20mph and they’re at a standstill.

I don’t have a problem with the red light cameras as such, if they really were intended to improve safety. The trouble is, some greedy official always figures out that they can be used to make extra revenue and you get shortened yellows and enforcement from the instant the light goes red. I call that entrapment, and it does nothing to make people drive more safely.

crossbuck August 26, 2008 10:02 AM

@Patrick Mueller
Do you think that red light citations cost $50 everywhere in the country? They’re over $350 in my city. Besides which, I have serious doubts how T-bone accidents can be reduced by a red-light camera. Logic dictates that the person who would run a red while there was cross traffic would be sufficiently inattentive (or impaired) to run a red no matter what. Perhaps those T-bone accidents have just been moved from the monitored intersection to another that is not monitored. Either that, or they started counting those type of accidents differently (a typical way of manipulating statistics, call an accident one thing before the monitoring equipment was installed, call it something else afterwards). I don’t buy it, and would have to see monitoring done by an impartial agency to believe the statistics that government has a self-serving motive to manipulate. I have had ex-cops tell me horror stories about how victims for tickets are chosen and what kinds of citations were given, and how many were expected from each officer. One thing it told me was that it had nothing to do with traffic safety, and everything to do with fee collection.

Anonymous August 26, 2008 10:10 AM

@Crane: “The university is located in Tampa, a town with a disproportionately high population of people who believe the law is there to be manipulated not followed. Recent case in point – 24% of mortgage frauds occur in Florida.”

Other irrelevant facts about Florida:

  • there are no polar bears in Florida
  • almost all the oranges grown in the USA are grown in Florida

put all of this together and I think we have an unassailable case against this study.

Jess Austin August 26, 2008 10:14 AM

Cyclists do not absent-mindedly accelerate tons of steel through crowded urban areas. They should not be regulated as if they do. While a pedestrian or cyclist may occasionally be injured in a bicycle accident, automobiles are inherently many times more dangerous. If you’re just popping down to the store, why on earth are you driving in the first place?

Jared Lessl August 26, 2008 10:14 AM

The problem isn’t the RLC’s, it’s the fact that municipalities can profit directly from their use and abuse. As long as installing an automated ticketing system = instant revenue, safety aspects and effectiveness will be a complete externality to the guys calling the shots.

What we need is to divorce the traffic enforcement from the profiteering. I’ve suggest before taking all money from traffic citations and dumping it into a state-wide pool, which is then redistributed back to the cities and counties based on population or some such. Sure, Waldo can ticket everyone that comes through, but being a small Florida town they won’t see but a fraction of a percent of that excess revenue. New Rome can put RLCs at every intersection and drop the yellow light duration to 1 microsecond, but the only result from their POV would be an increase in rear-endings.

By and large it wouldn’t even reduce city ticket revenues. What it would do would make any attempt to game the system for their own benefit (and at the citizenry’s expense) unprofitable. It would discourage traffic ticketing for its own sake and encourage “do it where it’s necessary and beneficial”.

Michael Ash August 26, 2008 10:37 AM

@ SecureApps

Unlike baseball, real life is not a game. Automated law enforcement is detrimental to safety and it’s detrimental to respect for the law. Laws are not automatically good, and breaking the law is not automatically bad.

Team America August 26, 2008 12:02 PM


I think you are missing the point. Higher speed means higher risk, so if you are caught speeding GEICO wants the information to adjusts the premium to your personal risk.

The question is, would GEICO still give away laser guns, if the drives would lose control and hit someone after being ‘fired’ at.


I think it is a stretch, too. But, who says that all insurance companies are rational? I think it is safe to assume that some of them have executives, who are as dumb as the rest of the public, and don’t understand the incentives of police departments.

SecureApps August 26, 2008 12:09 PM

Judgement is still judgement. Regardless of sport or law. And ask many sports teams that have lost championships (and thus players that have lost bonus money) as a result of judgement and you’ll find it is very much real life.

The argument I am making is simple: A camera at an intersection is no different then a cop at an intersection. You manage the thresholds of activation appropriately and you have the same “leeway” that a cop will give you. You cannot argue a camera vs no cop because that’s an unjust comparison since a cop at an intersection will cause the same reactions as a camera.

Anonymous August 26, 2008 12:30 PM

@SecureApps: “You manage the thresholds of activation appropriately and you have the same “leeway” that a cop will give you.”

No, you won’t. A police officer will exercise his judgment in the dispensing of tickets. He has presumably witnessed the entire episode, aware of the general environment, and so on.

Basically, cops are not robots.

Incredibly, not thirty minutes ago I witnessed a vehicle charge a red light. I mean, flat out, floor-it.

Any cop who observed this would have pursued and issued a ticket. Doubly so given cross traffic was just beginning to move, and at least one pedestrian (ie, me) had stepped onto the road.

That is a fantastic exception though (my first in some years). Much more regularly — on a daily basis — I see other people sail through old yellows, and even trespass on reds. Any sensible cop would look at this kind of thing and move on to more productive work.

This not “leeway”. This is not some kind of detailed algorithm. This is pure, unadulterated, human judgment at work.

You see exactly the same behavior when it comes to speed control too. I pass cops going +15km/h over the limit on the highway on a regular basis: near as I can tell, as long as you aren’t making an idiot of yourself, they simply don’t care. Nor should they.

The “people” know this — hell, they expect it — so we can safely predict that having a cop at a light will not have people slamming on the brakes to avoid a ticket that will not be written in the first place. About the only observable effect would be catching absolute crazy people who blow through reds at full throttle. Not many of those, hence why you don’t see many cops at lights…

Jared Lessl August 26, 2008 12:45 PM

It must be nice to live in your world, SecureApps, where public officials never make stupid decisions based on marketing pitches or outright screw over the general public for their own gain.

A camera can’t make judgement calls. A camera can’t tell who is actually driving. A camera can’t object when the intersection it is monitoring is modified to maximize income and minimize public safety.

The use of a RLC at all is extremely dodgy to begin with. But when they start rigging the intersections so to get the most money out of them at the expense of their official purpose, that crosses the line into outright extortion. Forget your “Rules are rules and must be obeyed” claptrap, they are changing the rules to make common, sensible, or unavoidable practices illegal.

SecureApps August 26, 2008 1:06 PM

Jared: As a registered owner of the car, that person is responsible for the car. No different then a home owner being responsible for the home even if they are not home.

And last time I checked, human judgement is an algorithm factoring in numerous parameters to make the decision. So I guess you guys are claiming artificial intelligence is not possible? Computers cannot learn?

bob August 26, 2008 1:59 PM

The purpose of public roads is to provide a means for people in a vehicle to move themselves, passengers and cargo reliably, safely and quickly from point A to point B in almost any weather.

Anything that taxpayer dollars are spent on that does NOT facilitate the above mission is FWA. Any public official who participates in the control of traffic lights and allows or directs them to have the yellow shortened in order to generate ticket revenue (and I cant imagine any other reason to do so) should be fired, prohibited from ever holding public office again and just for good measure put on the registered sex offender list.

@SecureApps: And no, computers can only learn when they are programmed to do so. And in order to do so they have to have some sort of feedback mechanism which enables future modification of behavior based on the results of current actions. RLCs do not have that ability. They are configured to a specific behavior by people.

I dont have a problem with obeying laws – that were enacted from some reasonable scientific basis. In fact I think its the way we should all live. But setting low speed limits or short yellows because a politician says so is just as wrong (albeit to a lesser degree) as putting japanese-looking citizens in a concentration camp because a politician says so. Even soldiers are not required to obey unlawful orders.

And finally, speed != risk. I would bet that the average German driver is safer (ie less likely to cause an accident or be a danger to themselves or others) at 100mph than the average Ohio driver is at 35mph. And statistics show that they are definitely safer drivers overall (stipulated that this is because they are required to know how to drive in Germany and that would never be tolerated by the auto industry here, thats got nothing to do with RLCs and I have never seen anyone run a red light in Germany [they tend to the other extreme, starting before the green is actually on, rather than stretching the yellow]).

And of course we could do away with the whole argument by using roundabouts/traffic circles, which decrease fuel consumption, emissions and toxic brake dust – swapping both rear endings and t-bones for lower-intensity sideswipes.

Harry Johnston August 26, 2008 3:08 PM

@bob: speed may or may not significantly increase the chances of an accident, but it certainly increases the risks involved when an accident does occur.

2manyDetails August 26, 2008 3:14 PM

When is blowing a red light a correct interpretation?
There are intersections with traffic lights where serious errors of where the stop lines are and how the traffic light detects cars/motorcycles. This happened to me.
Point: if a camera wrongly assumes you never have to cross the line [say kids figure out a new way to have fun…] to activate the light changer. This is easy on a motorcycle to NOT want to cross the line when perpendicular traffic turns left in front of you, worse on hills and curves, that are busy. Ther are times when you have to go too far into the intersection and then back up to be safe! I bet a camera would get this wrong. Heck, the design of the layout and light were all wrong! Blowing a red light here might be safer when nobody is around. Add winter/rain/weather, etc conditions.
Point: reasonable and prudent breaking of laws sometimes is the right thing to do. Cops tend to know this and be more understandable, and a better system than the courts, insurance, etc.
Ride a motorcycle, it might change you understanding of RLC and automated enforcement.
The same might also apply to older/poor people in cars, who can not afford to be hit.
It really cracks me up how SURE some people are about general laws and enforcement, they real power in being blind to critical details. < Qualifications for some political types.
I wonder when kids start to paintball the RLC cameras, expensive waste there, especially if the kids load the balls with epoxy paint.

Kevin Peterson August 26, 2008 5:46 PM

San Bruno, CA is considering red light cameras tonight at a city council meeting. Nothing notable, except that they have actually admitted it’s all about the benjamins:

“Talk of a red light enforcement program in San Bruno began in 2007 during a budget study session.”


I’d like to see an appropriate incentive structure to keep city councils from pulling these shenanigans. My solution would be to require that all fines levied without a court appearance would be sent directly to the state rather than the city.

Michael Ash August 26, 2008 7:39 PM

@ SecureApps

The owner of a car is NOT responsible for what the driver does with it. If you borrow a friend’s car and speed, run a stop sign, or break traffic law in any other way, YOU are the one who is responsible and who gets a ticket.

If your friend gets a ticket in the mail for something you did while you borrowed his car, I’m sure that would be a perfectly adequate defense in court. Of course that just means that you are likely to be getting a ticket for the infraction instead, once he does this.

Filias Cupio August 27, 2008 2:58 AM

Anecdotal evidence from New Zealand: there was an intersection I regularly traversed as a pedestrian, which was very bad for red light running, and often made me feel unsafe. It improved hugely when a red light camera was installed.

While I don’t mistake “anecdote” for “data”, the sense I’m getting from this discussion is that the problems in the US are due to abuse of RLCs by local government, rather than a fundamental flaw in what they do.

The Raven August 27, 2008 3:02 AM

Y’know, this is a sound-bite from a biased source. Maybe we should, like, read the actual report, if we can ever find it. Caw!

-ac- August 27, 2008 9:36 AM

Please stop staring at the light and give consideration to situational awareness. This mess is turning driving into more of a high stakes “game.”

crossbuck August 27, 2008 9:36 AM

@Jess Austin
In our state a vehicle is a vehicle, whether it be a bicycle, a scooter, a car, or a semi with double trailers. Within those limits, ALL vehicles must follow the traffic laws, including stopping at signs and lights and signaling turns. Few bicyclists do this, and it has gotten them a bad reputation. They actually act as if they should be treated as fast pedestrians, which they are most assuredly not.I actually have a bicycle (and stop at stop signs, which makes other bicyclists look at me like I’m insane), but because every store within a mile of my house has been closed (due to ridiculous zoning restrictions caused by our city council), I have no choice but drive to go to the store for groceries.

If you wish to lobby for an exception for non-motorized vehicles to traffic laws, you are welcome to do so. I don’t see that getting very far, considering that your typical ten-speed can do around 20 mph just cruising, and may go faster when pushed.

Note: Some bicyclists also have the nasty habit of riding on the sidewalks as well.

When this society becomes (happily) less car-dependent, then we can deal with these issues, but until that happens, you should stop at stop signs, lights, and signal your turns. You would expect no less of me.

crossbuck August 27, 2008 9:45 AM

Indeed. If we were in a different thread, I would be mentioning how often laws are written by lobbyists, only then to be carried by a congressman, to be voted on by other congressmen who have been given large donations by the same lobbyist (or his lobbying group), for the expectation to vote for this “law”. This “law” is invariably not in the publics interest.

Unfortunately, it’s somewhat off-topic for this thread.

Bitsy August 27, 2008 10:09 AM

I live in Chicago, which I understand has the largest number of red light cameras for any US municipality. Notwithstanding the comments above, I believe it has generally been a good thing for the following reasons:

1) Certain intersections were notorious for people running through the intersection on red with impunity, that’s where the cameras went in first.

2) Some Chicago drivers would also run red lights whenever and wherever they could. I’ve seen people stop for the red and then pull through it when the cross traffic clears rather than wait for the light. That’s not what you are supposed to do! And the red light cameras have stopped that.

3) In Chicago, the camera compay is paid a fee to maintain a certain number of cameras, they don’t get a percentage of the ticket revenue. The revenue goes to the City.

4) For those worried about the fact that the ticket identifies the car, not the driver, they are treated as parking violations not moving violations. So people don’t get points on their license or anything like that. They just pay the fine.

Erik V. Olson August 27, 2008 10:31 AM

Also in Chicago, adding:

5) Yellow lights in the city of Chicago are already very short, I can’t tell any difference between camera stops and non-camera stops.

6) The “Chicago Left” is still supported (because many of these intersections don’t have protected lefts.)

7) I still see idiots running red lights — including stopping then running the light.

8) Chicago police are starting to crack down on cyclists who refuse to follow the law. As a cyclist, I support this. Right now, it’s at the “You know, we could ticket you for that. Stop for the light.”

Mike M August 27, 2008 12:37 PM

I worked as a delivery driver in Dayton Ohio and worked 3rd shift. At a particular intersection with hardly any traffic, I timed the red lite over 10 minutes. This was around 2 AM and people constantly ran it. I would have them drive around my semi to run it. I didn’t because my fines and repercussions would be much more severe. But the city governments play with those things and they should be banned.

TRO August 27, 2008 12:39 PM

They had them in Germany and they worked just fine. On those city roads that had them stationed here and there for speeding, it really kept traffic at the legal limit. And on the three intersections I went through daily, I never in four years saw a guy run a red.

Of course, the Germans really know how to drive (six month course and age 18 to get your license) and do obey the traffic laws unlike here in the US. Over here we seem to think it is a right to drive through a yellow light, but over there they actually slow down when they see them instead of speeding up to make it through.

They may be putting these things it for revenue and if they are shortening the yellow light times that is obviously wrong and unsafe, but it’s bull to say cameras increase accidents. What increases accidents is morons who are used to running yellows having to actually worry about getting caught and slamming on the brakes instead of rolling on through.

Obey the traffic laws and you have no problem whether it is a camera or a cop.

SecureApps August 27, 2008 12:41 PM

@Kangaroo: Great intellectual response, parents must be proud.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that comptuers don’t “inheritently” learn (hence the inclusion of AI), but it is POSSIBLE for software to be written such that conditions are recorded and actions adjusted based ont hose conditions. I know, it’s a large step to take to make that leap from the comment I made. At least that’s what I learned to do with LISP.

With regard to the cameras themselves, comparing accidents at an intersection without cameras and no officer is pointless. It’s comparing apples to oranges because one is the as is environment, the other is an attempt to solve the issue (ie: stop red light runners). To know whether or not cameras are worth it show me:
1) # of accidents at the intersection with a cop sitting there.
2) # of tickets issued with the cop sitting there.
3) # of invalid tickets (light was yellow, officer) issued.

That’s my comparison. I don’t care about those that don’t have something there to try to stop the red-light runners. I don’t think RLCs are perfect inheritent of other controls and other mechanisms. But then again, I don’t think locks on a front door are inheritently going to stop someone from breaking into my house either.

seguin August 27, 2008 12:42 PM

The issue isn’t even really the red light cameras. It’s the combination of red light cameras and shortening the yellow times in order to get money. Dallas just started removing lights because they didn’t produce enough revenue. They even admitted that was the real reason. The only proven way to reduce accidents is to lengthen the yellow, but then our local cops wouldn’t get their precious money…seriously the revenues from fines should go somewhere else – maybe the Sheriff’s office, since you can vote them out, or maybe somewhere else entirely.

Anonymous August 27, 2008 12:45 PM

“While it is fair to expect all drivers to maintain a reasonable following distance”

Apparently no one here has driven non I-35 in Austin Texas. As my daughter says when we come to vist -“remember to drive lika e Texan” .

Anonymous August 27, 2008 1:05 PM

What would work is to install two speed cameras, spaced apart, and fine drivers that cover the distance between the two at too short a duration, for excessive deceleration.

OK, three cameras, then, since you still have to catch the ones that cross the line.

Dusty August 27, 2008 1:11 PM

“I’d be wary of these articles based on phrases like “tax on motorists.” Charging people who break a certain law in a way designed to discourage breaking of that law is not a tax on motorists, but an economic incentive. ”

No! When I get hit by somebody else, that’s a tax on my time and energy. If they are an illegal without insurance, that’s a direct tax on my wallet. When I hit somebody else and pay repair bills, that is a hidden tax beyond the fine.

Mike K August 27, 2008 1:21 PM

Costa Mesa CA is a notorious example and has been sanctioned once by the court when it was caught reducing the yellow below legal minimums. When told to refund the fines, the city only refunded those paid by motorists who had plead not-guilty.

Studies have shown that increasing the yellow by less than a second reduces citations by 95%. But we can’t have that, of course. The mis-use of the cameras is a national scandal.

CDO August 27, 2008 1:26 PM

Say what you will about those ruthless robot red-light cameras that send you $50 traffic tickets with photographic proof that your car ran a red light.

New numbers in Raleigh say that, thanks to red-light cameras installed at 11 bad intersections five years ago, we’re sending fewer people to the hospital these days.

Right-angle “T-bone” crashes have fallen by 83 percent at the intersections since 2003, when Raleigh installed cameras to catch drivers who run red lights there.

The crash count fell from 337 in the four years before cameras to 58 in the four years after.

Vance August 27, 2008 1:39 PM

Here’s a thought… let’s replace the red light camera with a shotgun. Each time someone drives through and the camera catches them, the gun will shoot and kill the offending driver, and the state gets to take all of his assets.

Yes, it’s hyperbolic, but really, how often does the ‘this draconian and selfish law is okay so long as you don’t break it’ really make sense? It’s a BAD law, it’s a BAD procedure, and it’s a BAD system.

The government, at any level, should never be about collecting money, and definately not at the cost of the public’s safety.

Anonymous August 27, 2008 2:09 PM

CDO: “The crash count fell from 337 in the four years before cameras to 58 in the four years after.”

Then why isn’t the government raising the fine from $50 to $500 or even $5000?

Anonymous August 27, 2008 2:15 PM

@TRO: “Obey the traffic laws and you have no problem whether it is a camera or a cop.”

I have a better idea: use your head. Accept that the law as guidance and general wisdom, not a completely specified computer program. It’s point safety, not slavish obedience.

Anonymous August 27, 2008 2:19 PM

@Bitsy: “For those worried about the fact that the ticket identifies the car, not the driver, they are treated as parking violations not moving violations. So people don’t get points on their license or anything like that. They just pay the fine.”

Why? I don’t want the lego-mumbo-jumbo BS either, I want to know why we should not install camera systems with face recognition, that matches the violator with known driver license image data and makes the automatic link-up, notifies the insurance company and issues a $1000 ticket.

Why not?

hound August 27, 2008 2:28 PM

The idea that enforcement of red light laws causes accidents should cause any intelligent person to pause and laugh. This is true on its face, of course, as it’s entirely obvious that enforcing red light laws will lead to fewer red light violations, which will in turn lead to fewer accidents caused by red light runners. The reference to “studies” and what they purport to show is another telltale sign of libertarian polemics placed over facts. No studies are necessary, not only for the above reason but because hundreds of cities have been using red light cameras now for thousands of aggregate years of expeience, and the data show conclusively that accidents are reduced. Studies are unnecessary, as the facts have long since been in. Let’s do a “study” to see whether enforcement of laws against, say, armed robbery, leads to fewer armed robberies. Only an idiot would entertain the notion that it does not.

Helldigger in Phoenix August 27, 2008 2:52 PM

I recently was mailed 2 red light citations 24 hours apart, same time of day, same infraction.

I decided to fight the tickets and began a research project from every angle.

This is in Arizona USA, so it may not apply to you.

First of all, there are Federal studies that came to the same conclusion that local studies did. Red Light Cameras decrease angle accidents, like T-Bone crashes but the increase of rear end accidents increases exponentially. The net Result in property damage and loss of life is increased regardless that angle accidents are more likely to be deadly.

Most intersections that are chosen for Red Light Cameras predominantly go in above mean income demographics.

Why put in a system where poor people live, they can’t pay the fines.

Yellow intervals are set at minimum legal requirements but are often still below standards set at the state level.

Indeed, camera companies insist and require those intervals are at the minimum and if the city raises them, the city is in breach of contract and these contracts pose penalties on that party that does so.

DOT standards no longer apply:

When an intersection is chosen, the city’s engineering department turns over the responsibility and all liabilities to the local police department.

Once the police have that authority, they make the rules and the rules only depend upon what they say they are.

If the police are not granted that authority then it would be prohibitive to install cameras because DOT standards stipulate 2-5 year studies are certified before the changes the police make, can take place.

An example: In the intersection I was photographed at, there is an 8 inch red band of striping laid down where the police determine the intersection actually begins. This line is identified as a stop bar. That line can be as much as 15 feet further than the crosswalk line that most people believe is where the intersection starts. The camera needs this line to prove you are behind it while the light is red, to prove your violation.

DOT standards require a 2 year study and approval to add striping to any intersection.

DOT standards do not define any line as a “Stop Bar”.

DOT standards do define a “Stop Line”. A stop line is 18 inches wide, and it has to be white. As a matter of fact red lines are not an approved color by any striping standard. All DOT approved “Stop Lines” are placed before the crosswalk, not out where the actual intersection begins.

The net effect of these red non-standard “Stop Bars” adds additional 2-3 tenths of a second to the time most people believe they are already in the intersection.

Over 85% of all red light camera tickets occur in the first 4 tenths of a second after the light turns red.

Federal, State and even Local Studies prove increasing yellow intervals by 6-9 tenths of a second decrease red light running by as much as 60% where no cameras are located.

But if that occurred what would happen?

First, there is a breach of contract with the camera company.

Second the decrease in red light violations makes the need for them mute.

Third, the revenue stream would then be unprofitable.

If they are unprofitable then the police department and the camera company have no reason to keep them at all.

Ya ya Ya, its about safety…. as long as millions of dollars bolster the coffers of municipalities and camera companies.

You think so far, its a scam, wait until you go to court.

Court systems reduce these violations to civil infractions.

That means the judge is also the jury and executioner and the prosecutor is your accuser.

Your 4th Amendment rights go out the window, rules of evidence do not apply, no lack of foundation can be protested, you have no right to discovery and that makes for an unfair advantage by any standard.

Lucky for me, I fought my ticket and the equipment in court was not working correctly and so my case was dismissed.

There is so much wrong with this profit generating taxation without representation, I could write a book about it.

The bottom line is simple. Expect every light to have a camera and pay attention to your driving. Expect the yellow interval to be set at 3 seconds and be prepared to stop, even if you are in or just past the crosswalk if you have to. Stop before the bogus Stop Bar. Or… be absolutely sure you can make it at least 8 feet into the intersection under the yellow. If you are rear ended, be prepared to fault the police department and the camera company.

The absolutely most important thing to do is to fight your ticket. If enough people fight these things then the court has to give you a speedy trial and will soon be overwhelmed. You might get lucky like me and have a technical angle to win or even the prosecutor might not show up. If you cave in and pay the fine, you might be done with it, but if you get another one within 2 years, you either fight or get 2 points on your license and your insurance will go up as much as 1000.00 a year times 3 years.

If your ticket is within the first 4 tenths of a second, you probably have a good case anyway to fight the ticket.

Good luck…


Anonymous August 27, 2008 2:56 PM

“This is true on its face, of course, as it’s entirely obvious that enforcing red light laws will lead to fewer red light violations, which will in turn lead to fewer accidents caused by red light runners.”

And yet SDO, above, provides a reference to an “unnecessary” study that shows that the number of accidents at an intersection remains “about the same”. The only effect is to push some blood and guts around the plate: instead of N people with broken legs, arms, or hips, with head and neck injuries, we now have N people with ‘only’ head and neck injuries, with (maybe) a few broken ribs.

Tell us again, hound, why people who are obeying the law should be punished with the extra risk of being hit from behind?

Luke Welling August 27, 2008 3:23 PM

I have no opinion on the basic premise, but the fact that the article says “insurance companies can profit from red-light cameras by way of higher premiums due to increased crashes” leads me to believe that they don’t understand insurance or economics.

More crashes lead to more claims leads to lower profits.

Do the same authors contend that supersized fast food is a conspiracy by the health insurance industry since “insurance companies can profit from 40oz sodas by way of higher premiums due to increased health problems”

Helldigger in Phoenix August 27, 2008 7:42 PM

“More crashes lead to more claims leads to lower profits.”

More claims would lead to lower profits if that were the only determing factor.

In reality, hundreds of tickets a day at multiple locations might not result in any crashes but could increase points on people’s records at an alarming clip.

That means big profits for insurance companies becasue as points are added, premiums rise.

At the intersection I was cited at, there was an average of 75 tickets a day written but no collisions the entire year.

Do the math.

The fine is 214.00.

The state gets half.

The camera company gets 33.00 for each ticket they send.

The Police department gets the rest.

Multiply that by the number of intersections with red light cameras and the truth starts to creep in.

The insurance companies profit. The camera company profits, the police profit and the drivers most often just pay the fine.

If that is all about safety, I am the man in the moon.

crossbuck August 27, 2008 8:03 PM

Remember that not every red-light camera was installed for the same rationale. The first red-light camera installed in my city was done because a number (say between 3-8) left-turn drivers at a heavily-traveled intersection (the left-turn drivers were headed for the freeway into downtown) would go through even after the red had turned. It was an annoyance, but there were no large number of T-bone or other serious accidents, just delay of green traffic.

Now, the city is planning to put in a video camera to catch people who turn right on a red light (which is legal in intersections except those that have more than two streets crossing). They will change the law to keep drivers from turning right on monitored intersections. No reason other than to get more fees. Nothing to do with pedestrians (there are few at the intersection it’s to be first used on – the same one that the first red-light camera went on). Right turn on red when the cross street is clear has been legal in California even before I started driving in the ’70s. Now, to collect revenue, they will make that illegal, too.

I see a lot of defenders who bring up specific intersections, but not overall principles. BTW, since I seem to have to reiterate this, the tickets here ARE NOT $50, THEY ARE OVER $350. Please explain that vis-a-vis deterrence over revenue collection, if you will. I’ve seen many risk a rear-end crash to avoid such an expensive ticket, and I bet most here would slam their brakes if they thought they were in danger of such an expensive ticket.

Of course, in places where there are a lot of lousy drivers (it seems Chicago and Raleigh are two, according to the writers above), it may make sense to put the cameras in, but where there are less than a certain number of accidents at an intersection, there should be no serious reason to put in the cameras for other than greed.

Dave E. in Tucson AZ August 27, 2008 9:49 PM

In my case I am guilty of having slightly poor timing. I saw the yellow light and determined that if I tried to stop I would have ended up stopped in the intersection so I made a judgment call and went through the intersection only to receive a citation in the mail from photo enforcement. I don’t view this as a way to stop flagrant red light runners. If the goal were to catch flagrant red light runners the intersection line would be further back, yellow lights would be longer, and a flashing green would help let the driver know that the light is about to turn yellow to aid in reaction time. Tucson also famous for green turning arrows that follow the red light instead of a much safer leading turn arrow.

Jason August 27, 2008 10:52 PM

The biggest problem with automated enforcement is an issue with the way traffic laws are written in the first place. The vast majority of traffic violations are examples of victim-less crimes. For instance, getting caught speeding on a deserted road. Or, as here, crossing an intersection a few moments after the light has turned red. No one is harmed by these incidents, and thus the only rationale to promote enforcement in these situations is that of the nanny state.

Enforcement of traffic violations should happen at the point at which failure to follow traffic regulations leads to hazard (or incident) with one’s fellow drivers. Ie, if you speed and hit someone, or drive unsafely on a busy road and cause problems for other drivers, then by all means you should be stopped and fined (severely). But so long as your misbehavior impacts no one else, the state should leave well enough alone.

2FineBreakLifeBothWays August 27, 2008 11:13 PM

RLC in poor areas are especially evil and bad for society. Scalping on purpose.
Who say we all want to get along? If you can fine somebody, you can put them into debt, take their home, take their freedom and make them your slave. P O W E R.
Control of people is P O W E R for everthing, votes, representation, jobs, etc, you get the picture.
RLC can easily discriminate. Thus, illegal enforcement. Sure makes some angry, which can cause riots, and more strain on a city.
Some really do not care, they want their rent paycheck, and other have to suck it up, be slaves, move out, or die. Some really think this is management. Some really hope for disasters to profit.
RLC and other predatory practices, like lending, empower pure evil. I would advise those poor to consider better cities that respect their people and sustainability to move when they can.
Do you want TSA style traffic handling?
USA is seriously in decline with wrong leadership and values.

DrivingSucks August 28, 2008 11:20 AM

All these people who say “Obey the law” are missing the point here. Clearly all stoplight intersections could be huge revenue producers by simply reducing the yellow interval sufficiently to basically randomly select the last car of every cycle. The motorist has a responsibility to obey the laws. The municipalities have the responsibility to make the laws obeyable. I got “caught” by a camera going through a light in the same way I would have if I had known there was a cop behind me.

hound August 28, 2008 11:54 AM

Anonymous, think it over for just a moment. Why does an intersection have a traffic signal in the first place? Answer: to stop deadly side collisions. As soon as you signalize an intersection you are going to require people to stop, which means that you are going to have some number of inattentive drivers then run into the car in front of them. But you are going to have a lot fewer of the far more deadly side collisions that kill thousands of people every year at intersections. If your argument is that enforcing the legal requirement to stop at a red light is a bad idea because in some number of cases inattentive drivers will hit the rear of the cars that stop, you might as well argue for doing away with the signal altogether and we can all play chicken at every intersection. Not much of an argument. In any case, there are many dozens if not hundreds of intersections where the deployment of red light cameras has not increased rear collisions at all, or actually decreased those collisions along with side collisions.

Michael Ash August 28, 2008 1:06 PM

@ hound

What a nonsensical argument! In one case, you moderately reduce one type of accident in exchange for greatly increasing another type. In another case, you greatly reduce one type of accident in exchange for moderately increasing another type. You can’t just state that they are equivalent and anyone who advocates for one must necessarily advocate for both.

hound August 28, 2008 1:51 PM

No, Mr Ash, you miss the point; perhaps my fault. Let me try to state it more flatly: The argument that we should not enforce red light violations because doing so might cause cars to stop, then some number of poorly driven other cars therefore to hit the stopped cars, is a lousy argument — truly “nonsensical,” if you like — and you certainly could make the same argument about signalizing intersections in the first place. (It would be equally lousy, by the way, as applied to either live-officer enforcement or automated enforcement.) It’s lousy on its face, because rear crashes notwithstanding, red light running is extremely dangerous driver behavior, especially when coupled with excessive speed, as it often is, and it must be contained with enforcement. But it also turns out to be lousy in light of data gathered by cities all over the world, which shows either a decrease in rear crashes at enforced intersections, no change in rear crashes, or a small increase in rear crashes not nearly significant enough to diminish the clear safety gains that come from enforcing the law and containing red light running. Like anything else, it’s also true that the longer the enforcement is in place the more driver awareness and behavior will be changed, resulting in greater safety benefits over time.

Enforcement is effective in containing / reducing prohibited dangerous behavior. Rants against against enforcement of red light violations are easy to produce; sound arguments, not so easy.

Jeff P. August 28, 2008 6:20 PM

The fact is that driving requires a lot of judgment and discretion. I don’t think our system would function if people obeyed the law perfectly all the time.

I remember reading that if all the traffic laws were actually obeyed, as written, then traffic would be in constant grid-lock. How many people follow too closely, how many people speed, how many people change lanes without proper signaling? Who is a legally perfect driver?

People brake the law all the time, especially with regard to driving. The way it actually works is that if you don’t brake the laws too badly, then you wont get busted very often. But a certain amount of rambunctiousness is to be tolerated. I think the red-light traffic cameras w/short yellows take advantage of this unwritten “contract”, and abuse it.

Helldigger in Phoenix August 28, 2008 8:30 PM

If I run a illegitimatly timed red light due to reduced yellow interval timing and an extended stop bar, because the camera company, the state and the police department profit, then my right of expectation is violated.

When I go to court and my 4th amendment rights are violated, there is no discovery and no foundation argument allowed and the judge is the jury, that violates my right of expectation.

When 85% of citatioins are under 4 tenths of a second, that violates my right of expectation.

When the state imposes taxation without representation, thats a travisty.

Red light cameras and reduced yellow timing is a farce.

When they increase the yellow interval, the intersection becomes unprofitable and the camera program is abandoned.

Moderator August 28, 2008 8:35 PM

Everyone: please keep the thread civil and do not insult other commenters.

Anonymous, feel free to repost your latest if you rewrite it without the insults. Also, please pick a name.

Medic3 August 28, 2008 11:15 PM

@Davi O:
Thanks for mentioning emergency response as a valid reason to exceed posted limits. While this is true, 80% of our responses do not greatly exceed the limits because of the physics of accelerating out vehicles and getting them able to stop at intersections with cross traffic.

“NO, dammit! A yellow light means “Stop. The light is changing to red.”” Actually, it means that it is time to safely clear the intersection BEFORE the light turns red. Sometimes that means speeding up to go through, sometimes (more often) it means stopping. A driver’s judgment can be faulty with this decision, but that is only one of many occasions. =P (More job security for me.)

Anyway, my biggest beef with RLCs is that people have stopped clearing intersections for us, slowing response times. My jurisdiction uses RLCs but is too cheap (no revenue, you see) to use a Priority Green type system. As such, where motorists used to clear a pathway for us, including moving into and through a red light after cross traffic had stopped, now the cars at the stop line remain stubbornly in place, delaying our response for the duration of the red light.

RLCs, intelligently programmed and applied with leeway, can be a good deterrent to red light running, but they are simplistically programmed (with limited sensors) and applied to maximize revenue in most US jurisdictions where they have been installed.

Similar thoughts with speed cameras, although that complaint from me is people tend to fail to yield when all traffic is moving the same speed except for us. Toss RLCs and speed cameras into the list of traffic control devices (with traffic circles and speed bumps) that delay the arrival of emergency services. Most of my department makes it our goal to trigger the speed and RL cameras any time we can while running emergency…just to force the company to do the extra work of weeding us out.

15 year FF/paramedic

Your Mileage May Vary
I Am Not A Lawyer (thank god)

bob August 29, 2008 8:17 AM

Lets get rid of stop lights (almost) altogether and get roundabouts. Cheaper, faster, safer and less pollution.

Grey Bird August 29, 2008 10:09 AM

First, let me say that Knoxville, TN got in trouble for shortening the yellow lights. I don’t agree with shortening the lights, or paying the camera company based on how many violations their equipment catches. However, if you run a red light you should get a ticket. If you don’t agree with red light cameras or speed limits, then you are not justified to violate them. Get the law changed to what makes sense, don’t just decide that you don’t have to follow the law because you don’t agree with it.

@ Anonymous 8/26 09:49 As for the cameras causing the rear end collisions: that is pure and simple nonsense and you know it. That’s like saying that a pedestrian stepping into the intersection caused the rear end collision. It just ain’t so. The cameras may be contributing to the increase of rear end collisions at those intersections, but if the drivers are following at proper intervals and paying attention then the collisions will_not_occur!! Regardless of whether there are cameras or not.

@Michael Ash 8/26 19:39: I can’t say for other cities, but I know that when my step daughter got a ticket from one of those cameras, the form had on it a spot where the car owner can indicate that they weren’t the driver and fight the ticket. Despite what some people may think it is the car driver who is responsible for violations of the vehicle, not the owner!

7db August 29, 2008 10:42 AM

What is causing these crashes is bad driving.

At least the new crashes are occurring between two bad drivers (the one who brakes hard to stop, and the one who is following too closely), not between one poor driver and one innocent one (who is crossing the intersection.

Furthermore rear-end shunts of stationary vehicles tend to be less serious impacts than t-bones where both vehicles are moving at full speed.

RedLight August 29, 2008 8:17 PM

The city of Davenport IA put in red light cameras. They eventually got sued, lost, appealed, won the appeal, and the cameras go back on (maybe). Like others, it was posed as a safety measure but became a funding issue. More big brother coming, like the RFID in tire pressure monitors.

Jess Austin August 30, 2008 2:34 AM


I’m acquainted with this line of reasoning that “a vehicle is a vehicle”, and it’s a convenient fiction since most drivers would rather not have me on the road. Sure it’s the law, but the fact that you are criticizing the red light cameras means that you perceive that laws are not sacrosanct and must be judged against reasonable standards. In this case, let’s say our standards are safety and convenience, municipal budgets be hanged.

Imagine that some enlightened state were to decide that cyclists should be allowed to “controlled-roll” through stopsigns, as you have noticed we all do. Let’s say we’re also allowed to trackstand-look-both-ways-and-go at red lights. What would the results be? Well, more cyclists would die. And more I’d-like-to-drive-but-the-damn-cyclists-are-in-the-way motorists would be inconvenienced. (Please note that since we’re talking about some change in behavior, I’m assuming without proof the existence of law-abiding cyclists.)

Now let’s say we also rollback all these RLCs. Results? More redlight-running drivers would die, more innocent T-bone victims of all modalities would die, and more I’d-like-to-go-straight-as-soon-as-the-light-changes-but-the-damn-left-turning-cars-are-in-the-way drivers would be inconvenienced.

I’m biased, and of course there are no actual numbers here, but the first change makes more sense to me than the second, especially when we factor in the large differences in awareness and maneuverability between the bicycle and the automobile. I’d just like to convince some driver to imagine there might be a different way of doing things.

As for my expectations, I fully expect every automobile on the road to try to kill me. Since I’m on a bike and my head’s on a swivel, they haven’t done it yet.

I’m with you on the excessive fines in California though. Almost as excessive as the taxes. (I lived in LA a couple of years ago.)

Stephen Carpenter September 15, 2008 10:30 AM

Its amusing that this has essentially moved the roving effect of visible police right into stationary intersections. I say this as it reminds me of an amusing anecdote. A FOAF had become a police officer.

It was her first day driving a cruiser on her own. She saw the light turn yellow and expected to flow right through it with the car in front of her.

Being inexperienced she didn’t expect what happened next. The man in front of her knew he had a cop behind him, he knew if he ran that light he was likely to get pulled over… so he slammed on the breaks…. and BANG. Rookie cop had her first at fault accident in the cruiser.



Roger September 15, 2008 3:19 PM

I have screeched to a stop at those intersections. I even stopped on a stale green once.

With all of the news reports, they never tell you where exactly your car has to be by when in order to avoid a ticket.

James Brown September 15, 2008 7:12 PM

@Alpha Prime & aikimark

There is an ‘indecision’ period where the driver has to decide whether to stop or not. Let’s add up the times …
Reaction time: 2 seconds (generally accepted human reaction time).
Indecision time: 1 second (minimum)
Stopping time: 1 sec / 10mph.

So, for a road posted at 30 mph, the minimum yellow time should be 6 seconds.

Many newer lights (and some retrofitted older lights) now have sensors to detect cars in the ‘indecision zone’ and actually lengthen the green to help eliminate sudden stops.

Drew September 18, 2008 5:17 PM

I got one of these tickets in Longview, Texas and I remember the morning well. Light rain that morning and the roads were slick and I came up on the handcuff light. At first I hit the brakes to slow down quickly in a 50 MPH zone, but my back end slipped a little and I was forced to careen through the red light. That initial break attempt cost me $75 bucks and I was barely ahead of the line when red hit, according to the picture.

Problem I have now though is this; I am now gunning through every yellow light like a teenager.

Richard September 18, 2008 10:08 PM

Say what? I live in Nashville; there are no red light cameras in Nashville (although such are in use in some cities in Tennessee, including Knoxville.)

Mike Hearn October 6, 2008 7:27 AM

RLC are good things, Speed cameras are good too. But not for revenue generation.

I don’t know about the US – but in the UK you get points on your licence for speeding, etc. Too many points = Ban.

So if you want safety – keep the points for breaking the law, and drop the fine. Then the system is truely a safety measure. With no income from the camera, there is no bias towards trying to ‘catch people out’ – sneaky placement, adjusted timings on yellow, etc.

crazyteendriver January 6, 2009 11:38 AM

Obviously RLC is just a scam.
Unconstitutuional too, do your research.
I blow through yellow lights because, quite frankly, I can’t afford any tickets because I’m paying to go to school.
I fought my last red light ticket and lost.
I was so surprised when it came it the mail, but I remember the incident well and I still swear on my life that the light was yellow until it left my vision.

Do I like blowing through yellows?
Absolutely not, it is unsafe, but actually somewhat more responsible these days.
Even worse is RLC at a stoplight where there is another stoplight 200-300 ft further down the road.
I frequently find myself in a position where I clearly have inadequate time to brake so I go through, but then have to slam my brakes on due to backed up cars at the next light.
Any law that causes safety-minded drivers to knowingly participate in unsafe actions is unfair, unconstitutional, and absolutely corrupt.

Richard N April 15, 2009 9:50 AM

I absolutely agree as to the problems this can cause. Here in Fresno, CA, it is very typical that if you run a yellow, that as many as 4 cars will be right behind you. It would be extremely dangerous to attempt to stop. Especially if you have terrific brakes and fast reflexes. I still run a ‘hard’ yellow, even if I know there is a camera there. I’d rather risk a ticket than get rear-ended by someone who is accelerating hard.

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