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Cities Tampering With Traffic Lights To Generate Revenue

ScuttleMonkey posted about 6 years ago | from the hey-we-don't-have-to-pay-the-hospital-bills dept.

Government 736

Techdirt is reporting that there has been a rash of reports indicating that red light cameras are being used to generate revenue rather than to promote safety. "Time and time again studies have shown that if cities really wanted to make traffic crossings safer there's a very simple way to do so: increase the length of the yellow light and make sure there's a pause before the cross traffic light turns green (this is done in some places, but not in many others). Tragically, it looks like some cities are doing the opposite! Jeff Nolan points out that six US cities have been caught decreasing the length of the yellow light below the legal limits in an effort to catch more drivers running red lights and [increase] revenue."

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736 comments

Grounds to contest? (5, Interesting)

EllisDees (268037) | about 6 years ago | (#23038576)

Would these sneaky moves be grounds to contest the validity of all of the tickets given by traffic cameras in these cities?

Re:Grounds to contest? (3, Interesting)

Skynet (37427) | about 6 years ago | (#23038598)

Moreso than that, I think it would be grounds for a class action lawsuit.

Re:Grounds to contest? (3, Interesting)

ivan256 (17499) | about 6 years ago | (#23038656)

Or an insurance industry lawsuit complaining about the increase in rear-end collisions due to unexpectedly short yellow lights resulting in drivers slamming on the brakes.

Re:Grounds to contest? (5, Interesting)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | about 6 years ago | (#23038934)

Yep. That's one of things under consideration here in Florida. They want to install traffic cameras at more intersections, but a state law prohibits their use to pass out tickets because, currently, a cop must see you running the red.

The insurance industry and several other groups are opposed to eliminating the state law because they think there will be more rear-end collisions resulting from traffic cameras, precisely because studies done in other cities with traffic cameras actually bear this out. People don't want a ticket, so they slam on their brakes to stop, short yellow or no. OTOH, the studies show that there would be fewer T-bone collisions, which are the most common types of accidents involving intersections and amongst the most lethal.

So, they could always just use the fewer "T-bone" accidents as an excuse, and I think this is, in fact, what many cities have done in order to get the traffic cameras.

Welcome to 1984, citizen. Big Brother is watching you.

Re:Grounds to contest? (2, Insightful)

Collapsing Empire (1268240) | about 6 years ago | (#23038650)

No. The law is clear - if you run a red light, you broke the law. You had the choice not to run the light.

I agree with the story though. The reasoning cities use for installing these cameras is safety but the real reason is just to make more money. The safety claims are dubious, especially in comparison to the option of doing what the story suggested.

Re:Grounds to contest? (4, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | about 6 years ago | (#23038726)

You had the choice not to run the light.

Really? Suppose I'm used to yellow lights lasting 6 seconds, and I know I can get through the light in 5 seconds. Now the city changes the yellow light length to 3 seconds, without warning. Do I have a choice then?

I really really hate people who run red lights. But I hate entrapment more.

Re:Grounds to contest? (2, Interesting)

omeomi (675045) | about 6 years ago | (#23038788)

Now the city changes the yellow light length to 3 seconds, without warning. Do I have a choice then?

What's more, the city made this change illegally. If they set the duration of the yellow light below the legal limit, and you've run a red light right as the light changed to red, I would imagine you'd have a pretty good case in court. Assuming the cop actually shows up to court, and your case isn't just thrown out because he's not there.

Re:Grounds to contest? (2, Informative)

tinkerghost (944862) | about 6 years ago | (#23038972)

What's more, the city made this change illegally. If they set the duration of the yellow light below the legal limit, and you've run a red light right as the light changed to red, I would imagine you'd have a pretty good case in court. Assuming the cop actually shows up to court, and your case isn't just thrown out because he's not there.
Where do you live? Here in MA you have to show up 3 times with the cop as a noshow before they toss it. Worse, they don't always require the cop who wrote the ticket to show up --- any cop will do, as long as he has the ticket book w/ the notes.

Re:Grounds to contest? (1)

omeomi (675045) | about 6 years ago | (#23039054)

I live in IL. The one time I took a ticket to court, everybody who didn't have their cop there had the case thrown out of court...except for me. Another cop came and said that my cop had been injured in the line of duty, and they were requesting a continuance. The judge granted the continuance, so I went back a month or so later (it was actually September 11, 2001, oddly enough), and the cop still wasn't there so they threw it out. In IL, the person who was manning the radar/laser gun is required to be in court. At least, that was what I was told at the time. I'm hardly an expert.

Re:Grounds to contest? (3, Interesting)

Collapsing Empire (1268240) | about 6 years ago | (#23038982)

Yes, you have a choice. You're supposed to stop on yellow, if you can manage it reasonably. Being used to gunning your engine through a yellow light isn't a valid defense. If you believe otherwise, we might as well ditch the yellow light altogether.

Re:Grounds to contest? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23039004)

Yellow doesn't mean keep going if you think you can make it. It means stop if able to do so safely. But since you are such an idiot you are probably speeding too, so you can't stop safetly. In the end it is still your fault because you don't know how to drive and are an egotistical jackass.

Re:Grounds to contest? (5, Interesting)

piojo (995934) | about 6 years ago | (#23039016)

You had the choice not to run the light.

Really? Suppose I'm used to yellow lights lasting 6 seconds, and I know I can get through the light in 5 seconds. Now the city changes the yellow light length to 3 seconds, without warning. Do I have a choice then?
It's worse than that. If a yellow light is short enough, you will neither have enough time to break, nor to make it through the intersection. If the light is shortened sufficiently, anybody without powerful breaks or who is going a few MPH over the speed limit will have to run the red light.

Re:Grounds to contest? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23039036)

Suppose I'm used to yellow lights lasting 6 seconds, and I know I can get through the light in 5 seconds...
Entirely irrelevant. If you see the yellow and you can safely stop, you stop. Don't complain that the city is hurting your opportunity to game the system with your prior knowledge.

The only valid complaint here is if the yellow is short enough that one is forced to run the red in order to be safe. It looks to me that this is what TFA is claiming, but like any good anonymous Slashdotter, I haven't read it.

Re:Grounds to contest? (1)

harrkev (623093) | about 6 years ago | (#23038738)

Not if you get 0.5 seconds between yellow and red. That is sort of like saying "I will tell you when you break the law. Ooops, you just did."

I did not know that there were legal limits on how long a yellow light could be. TFA (and TFA that TFA linked to) did not actually state what the length was. Anybody know?

Re:Grounds to contest? (1, Flamebait)

Collapsing Empire (1268240) | about 6 years ago | (#23038772)

Yellow means be prepared to stop, not to floor it through the intersection.

Re:Grounds to contest? (5, Informative)

Bryansix (761547) | about 6 years ago | (#23038868)

Yes, this is true. But for certain values of time that the yellow light is on the laws of physics dictate that you cannot stop in time. This is THE POINT of the yellow light. It it to allow people who cannot physically stop their cars in time to clear the intersection before the light turns red.

Re:Grounds to contest? (1)

Qzukk (229616) | about 6 years ago | (#23038968)

The yellow light phase is supposed to be long enough for a person driving the speed limit to come to a complete stop in a vehicle with functioning brakes and a normal human response time before the light turns red. If they are reducing the yellow light phase to the point where it is physically impossible to stop before the light turns red, then what?

Re:Grounds to contest? (1)

xs650 (741277) | about 6 years ago | (#23038776)

That depends on where you live. Some US states if the traffic device is defective, then you have a valid defense.

As in all cases, court is a crapshoot, so what the law actually says might not help you.

Re:Grounds to contest? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23038778)

If you'd bothered to RTFA and the links [leftlanenews.com] in it, you'd have seen the following:

In one case, the local government was forced to issue refunds by more than $1 million to motorists who were issued tickets for running red lights.


So I'd say that the GP has a fair point.

Re:Grounds to contest? (1)

Collapsing Empire (1268240) | about 6 years ago | (#23038924)

If there is a law that says the lights should be timed to a certain specification that doesn't change the fact of "what" a yellow light means.

A yellow light means you should stop, not try to gun it through the intersection. The purpose of it is to give a 'grace period' for drivers who do not have enough stopping distance to stop before they reach the intersection. In most places, entering the intersection before it turns red is OK.

Re:Grounds to contest? (1)

Psmylie (169236) | about 6 years ago | (#23038798)

It depends on how quickly they snap from green to yellow to red, I think. It's possible to make it happen fast enough that even people who would stop if possible would still end up running lights. This is the Roscoe P Coltrane method of generating revenue through law enforcement, and I wouldn't be surprised to find it happening in some towns.

Re:Grounds to contest? (1)

Ctrl-Z (28806) | about 6 years ago | (#23038946)

There are generally limits on the minimum duration of yellow lights. Even so, it's hardly fair to make the yellow lights the bare minimum at intersections with cameras and longer elsewhere.

In this specific article, it is revealed that six cities have been caught reducing their yellow light durations below the minimum allowed by law.

Re:Grounds to contest? (5, Funny)

hal2814 (725639) | about 6 years ago | (#23038952)

"This is the Roscoe P Coltrane method of generating revenue through law enforcement"

Hey! Show a little respect. Roscoe has to get his revenue money somehow. He goes through 5 to 10 cop cars a day. You think after a while he'd start to notice those pre-fabricated ramps someone keeps putting all over the roads in Hazard County.

Re:Grounds to contest? (1)

spun (1352) | about 6 years ago | (#23038804)

If they have reduced the duration of yellow lights, it can be argued that you did not in fact have a choice. Showing an increase in rear end accidents, you can claim that stopping would have been more dangerous. We still have jury trials, I think most juries would be so appalled to hear of this practice that they would find the defendant not guilty. Whatever the judge and prosecutor said about only judging the facts, they would likely judge the law itself as unfair.

Re:Grounds to contest? (1)

harrkev (623093) | about 6 years ago | (#23038996)

I believe that in all states (I know for certain in most states), you don't get a jury trial for traffic infractions. If it could land you in jail, jury. If it will cost you $20, no jury.

Besides, can you imagine a jury trial for traffic tickets? Unless they were going 30 over or endangering lives, "not guilty," "not guilty, "not guilty", etc.

Re:Grounds to contest? (1)

seanadams.com (463190) | about 6 years ago | (#23038808)

No. The law is clear - if you run a red light, you broke the law. You had the choice not to run the light.

You'd be surprised. Have you ever actually read any of your state's traffic laws? There are tons of exceptions and extenuating circumstances which can get you of the hook for most things, particularly speeding, perfectly legally. Usually it just takes a little homework.

In this case I have no doubt that if I were to go before a judge and prove that the orange light timing had been tweaked to _below the legal requirement_ that I'd have no problem getting it dismissed. I don't know the specific code off the top of my head but I'm sure I could find something. I've had tickets dismissed on much less. IANAL but I expect there is something on the books that trumps traffic code here, i.e. where the one law has been broken by the police/govt in order to force you to break another.

Re:Grounds to contest? (1)

Derekloffin (741455) | about 6 years ago | (#23038818)

Considering there is physics involved, choice is not a given. If you are approaching a green light, see it turn yellow, and you expect a certain length of time for it to turn red, because that time is legally required, that means you make your choice at that moment. Your vehicle doesn't magically stop faster due to the faster yellow, so your choice is contingent on the light's known length, which they are messing with.

Re:Grounds to contest? (1)

Ctrl-Z (28806) | about 6 years ago | (#23039048)

The length of the light shouldn't enter into your mental equation. The thinking should be something like this: you see the light turn yellow, you gauge the distance between your car and the intersection, and you gauge the distance required for you to stop at your present rate of speed. If the stopping distance is less than the distance between your car and the intersection, you stop; otherwise, you do not stop.

The duration of the yellow light should be a function of those factors, but as long as it has been set reasonably, it should not be a concern for you, the driver.

Re:Grounds to contest? (1)

plague3106 (71849) | about 6 years ago | (#23038966)

The law also dictates that traffic control devices be set according to safe, proven engineering principals. The argument can be made that if the government had followed the law, you would not have broken any laws.

http://www.motorists.org/speedlimits/home/safety-setting-speed-limits/ [motorists.org]

IN the first paragraph is mention of a federal law which lays down this requirement. I think it applies to ALL roads, not just federally funded ones.

Bastards (5, Funny)

protolith (619345) | about 6 years ago | (#23038590)

I guess I will have to drive faster to make those yellow lights, You know, lights timed for 35 mph are also timed for 70 mph.

Re:Bastards (4, Funny)

scubamage (727538) | about 6 years ago | (#23038632)

Your theories intrigue me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter!
(ps: don't forget 105 mph, and 140 mph)

Those Duke Boys! (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | about 6 years ago | (#23039002)

105mph? In that case why not put a ramp ahead of the intersection and jump it. Crash problem solved! I plan on getting a copy of the General Lee [myfreewallpapers.net] if they ever implement this.

Re:Bastards (1)

moxjake (557231) | about 6 years ago | (#23038706)

While the lengthening the yellow makes sense, I have to disagree with adding delays between red and green. Doing so causes more congestion and makes it much more difficult to sequence lights to avoid stop-and-go which wastes significant amounts of fuel.

Re:Bastards (1)

spun (1352) | about 6 years ago | (#23039010)

No, it's just acknowledging the fact that people are still going to be in the intersection when the light turns red. If your front bumper is an inch into the intersection when yellow, in most places it's not running a red light so most people try to take advantage of that when they can. It won't change congestion because people are already acting as if there is a delay.

I personally think those people and the people who accelerate like maniacs away from the light deserve to run into each other.

Re:Bastards (3, Informative)

adonoman (624929) | about 6 years ago | (#23038812)

Unfortunately it doesn't work like that - lights timed for 35 mph are timed for 17.5 mph and 7.75 mph. But unless you're getting a full light cycle between one light and the next, going 70 mph will get you there long before the light turns green.

Not only that, but since you'd have to stop at each light, you'd be backing up traffic that was going the speed the lights are timed for.

Re:Bastards (1)

spun (1352) | about 6 years ago | (#23038820)

Sorry, those cameras are also speed triggered.

Red Shift (2, Funny)

protolith (619345) | about 6 years ago | (#23038980)

Then I will have to travel fast enough that the red shift causes the reflection of the yellow light off my windshield to appear green.

Should screw up the radar too.

the pause between llight changes (1)

hkgroove (791170) | about 6 years ago | (#23038602)

No, then you just have the result where cars jump the light knowing that there is a pause.

Doesn't this already happen in Boston?

Re:the pause between llight changes (1)

Otter (3800) | about 6 years ago | (#23038716)

Actually, the Boston practice is to use that interval to "bang a left" if you're the first car at the red light. Sometimes even if you're the second car, and the first one is going straight. (Yes, that's as insanely dangerous to out-of-towners as it sounds, especially since the distance from Boston within which suburbs share that custom is unpredictable.)

Re:the pause between llight changes (1)

omeomi (675045) | about 6 years ago | (#23038828)

(Yes, that's as insanely dangerous to out-of-towners as it sounds, especially since the distance from Boston within which suburbs share that custom is unpredictable.)

And it's not as if driving in Boston isn't already confusing enough. Last time I was there, I gave up and either walked or took a water taxi everywhere I went, which was actually extraordinarily pleasant. Especially if you're going to/from the airport.

Re:the pause between llight changes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23038734)

Well, the correct thing to do is to set up the cameras AND the delay, then A) people who obey the law are made safer from those who don't, and B) people who don't, get tickets that will hopefully convince them to start.

Re:the pause between llight changes (2)

NekSnappa (803141) | about 6 years ago | (#23038890)

Where I live they already have a gap before cross traffic gets the green light. And I often sit at a green light waiting for 2-3 cars to go through the intersection.

Re:the pause between llight changes (1)

plague3106 (71849) | about 6 years ago | (#23039052)

Well, that's because people have learned that traffic signs are meaningless, because of speed limits being set arbitrarly to generate revenue. So it starts with learning that even though the limit says 55, you can easily do 80 safely. So you start thinking other signs are meaningless.. this cycle has been shown in various studies.

http://www.motorists.org/speedlimits/ [motorists.org]

Check out the second to last question on that page.

Not news (5, Interesting)

longacre (1090157) | about 6 years ago | (#23038604)

Quite simply, if they were there for safety, cities would put warning signs up at intersections that have cameras, people would slow down, less people would run lights, and less accidents would occur. I have never seen a warning sign at such an intersection, so their financial motives are pretty clear.

Re:Not news (1)

Raineer (1002750) | about 6 years ago | (#23038680)

Quite simply, if they were there for safety, cities would put warning signs up at intersections that have cameras, people would slow down, less people would run lights, and less accidents would occur. I have never seen a warning sign at such an intersection, so their financial motives are pretty clear.

This is exactly the case. I actually have seen the warning signs at extremely dangerous intersections, and they do wonders for the running (legitimate) light problem.

However, we all have seen many places where there is no warning sign, and the obvious reason is the almighty dollar.

maybe different in your city (1)

BitterAndDrunk (799378) | about 6 years ago | (#23038688)

But in Chicago the lights that are monitored tend to have notices indicating that fact.

At least on Armitage and Ashland; I think Irving Park and Western is unmarked.

Re:maybe different in your city (1)

AndGodSed (968378) | about 6 years ago | (#23038770)

In South Africa (where I live) it is law that if traffice enforcement (speed traps or light running) is done via camera there have to be a warning sign a certain distance before the camera to warn drivers.

Re:Not news (1)

PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) | about 6 years ago | (#23038752)

If there were warnings at every intersection, then people would ONLY stop when they saw a warning. Ideally, people would be charged infrequently, but they'd never know the time or place - and so they'd drive responsibly all the time.

Its basic psychology - reinforcement schedules - the irregular ones are much much more effective in generating learning (studied in rats, dogs and children).

Depends on where you live.... (4, Informative)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about 6 years ago | (#23038762)

In all the cities near me, there are yellow diamond signs with a picture of an old brownie camera in black in the middle on all approaches to intersections with cameras.

The biggest solution to decreasing accidents at intersections is actually not to increase the amber light and provide more delay before the cross street's green -- the biggest solution is to decrease the number of light cycles per day. The fewer cycles, the fewer accidents per day, even if the same number of accidents occur per cycle.

The trick is to measure the volume of through traffic on both streets per hour on weekdays and weekends and adjust the light timings accordingly, finding the "sweet spot" between causing congestion due to long waits and causing accidents due to short waits.

The long amber and green light delays are only an aid that can help tweak the system once these other factors are accounted for.

Of course, in many cities, the amber light is referred to by drivers as the "go faster" light -- having a long amber actually promotes speeding through intersections in such cities, and results in more pedestrian injuries and deaths.

Re:Depends on where you live.... (1)

mrchaotica (681592) | about 6 years ago | (#23039050)

The trick is to measure the volume of through traffic on both streets per hour on weekdays and weekends and adjust the light timings accordingly, finding the "sweet spot" between causing congestion due to long waits and causing accidents due to short waits.

Highway engineers already have enough trouble as it is trying to find the "sweet spot" between causing congestion due to long waits and causing congestion due to short green durations. Adding another constraint is likely to make the system unsolvable.

(Note: I am a civil engineering student, and I have taken a course on this.)

Re:Not news (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23038774)

Not necessarily true. I live in an Atlanta suburb that uses these cameras and also marks the intersections with signs telling drivers they are there. I know someone that works for the city who tells me they are a -major- source of revenue, this is true. But they cause many accidents as well, since overly cautious drivers will stop abruptly on a yellow light for fear of the cameras, causing them to be rear-ended by the unsuspecting driver behind them...

Re:Not news (1)

fbartho (840012) | about 6 years ago | (#23038784)

What if they can't put cameras up at all lights, due to cost reasons. Is it justifiable to use uncertainty as a deterrent and hope that people will stop speeding everywhere after the word gets out that there are cameras *somewhere* in the city?

Just playing devil's advocate.

As the quote goes... (5, Interesting)

Naughty Bob (1004174) | about 6 years ago | (#23038608)

"In the 1980s capitalism triumphed over communism. In the 1990s it triumphed over democracy."

So there in a nutshell is the difference (2, Insightful)

museumpeace (735109) | about 6 years ago | (#23038612)

between a bureaucrat's understanding of technology and a technologists understanding of technology.

Who's surprised? (1)

svandoren (1076277) | about 6 years ago | (#23038614)

Speed traps exist to generate revenue. Parking tickets have always existed as a way to generate revenue. If cities actually wanted to stop speeders and parking violators, they'd make the financial burden too much (i.e., raise the fine associated). This will be old news when more cities decrease the length of the yellow light and it becomes as much a matter of common fact as is the speed trap and the "you may only park here for 2 hours" areas.

4 times (1)

bhima (46039) | about 6 years ago | (#23038620)

Where I live, the yellow light blinks 4 times for the change between green to red. Seems a much better system.

It won't help much. (1)

khasim (1285) | about 6 years ago | (#23038766)

In downtown Seattle, the pedestrian crosswalks have a digital countdown now. So the pedestrians can SEE that they only have 2 seconds remaining to cross the street.

Now, do you want to guess how many times my light goes green and there are still pedestrians in the middle of the street?

Systems such as this only keep the honest people honest. If you were the type to just go and depend upon everyone else to over-compensate for you, then you'd do it no matter what.

Which is what the cameras were ORIGINALLY pitched for (and revenue from those people). Now it seems that the accidents (rear-end collisions) have removed a portion of that population and the revenues are dropping. I can live with fewer jerks on the road.

Red-to-green (1)

Otter (3800) | about 6 years ago | (#23038634)

...and make sure there's a pause before the cross traffic light turns green...

My impression is that this is a regional difference in the US: it's the norm in the East and a rarity in the West.

Re:Red-to-green (1)

XanC (644172) | about 6 years ago | (#23038690)

I've lived in New Orleans and Austin. Austin does the pause, and New Orleans doesn't. I think that can be generalized to Texas and Louisiana, but of course I haven't been everywhere in either state.

Re:Red-to-green (1)

nuzak (959558) | about 6 years ago | (#23038912)

Lived in Denver and San Francisco, and I've never seen a light without the delay. Hell, downtown Denver is where they coined the "Denver Stop", where all the lights go red to allow for pedestrian crossing in all directions. SF only has a few of those. Of course it also has Clement st, where at the avenues it's more of a loose intermingling of cars and people in all directions at all times.

More revenue? (1, Insightful)

pclminion (145572) | about 6 years ago | (#23038638)

I think the cash flow will ultimately come out worse, as the city is forced to pay out wrongful death and dismemberment lawsuits to all the people injured or killed at these intersections, which they are deliberately making unsafer.

Accidents increase (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23038648)

It has also been shown that those intersections have more rear-end collisions. Why? People jamming on their brakes to avoid red light tickets.

Also to be noted is that it isn't necessarily the cities who are tampering with the light timing. Many cities have contracted out the stop light camera enforcement to private industry. They are in business for a profit ... I leave the rest to you as an exercise.

How about personal responsibility? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23038668)

If you don't run red lights, don't pay any fine at all.

Re:How about personal responsibility? (2, Insightful)

noidentity (188756) | about 6 years ago | (#23038746)

Where I live, people are apparently colorblind, because they treat a yellow light as green. Routinely people are still going through as the light turns red, with the cross-traffic having to wait, even while it has a green light. Bring on the fines, I say.

Re:How about personal responsibility? (4, Funny)

gbjbaanb (229885) | about 6 years ago | (#23039020)

I am colourblind you insensitive clod!

you mean drivers speed through as the light at the top turns grey whilst all the others have to wait at the grey light?

Where... I know (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23038674)

Corner of Ironwood and Jefferson Blvd, in South Bend, Indiana. Same city with Notre Dame... You know the fighting irish? Them. I guess they're also trying to find drunken football fans.

Or the old Trick (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about 6 years ago | (#23038686)

Put no Turn on Red Sign. Be sure to place them just out view of the Red Light for the person who is stopped in front of the line, even if they are infront of the line. Then have someone honk their horn behind you and make some jesters to to. You check both ways see no cars and go... Then a cop pulls up and tickets you.

This sounds familiar (1)

techpawn (969834) | about 6 years ago | (#23038696)

Yeah, I knew it did [slashdot.org]

Is it a question of people slamming on their breaks because it "suddenly" turned red or them slamming on their breaks because they realized they "couldn't beat it". Yellow means: caution, Light is going to change. Slow to a stop. Now if the City is not allowing enough time on the light for breaking that is a public safety problem.

The Six Cities are... (4, Informative)

Chibi (232518) | about 6 years ago | (#23038698)

Article is pretty worthless. It contains more hyperlinks than a Slashdot story. Here are the six cities (which are not in the linked article, but a hyperlink), in case you're interested:
  1. Union City, CA
  2. Dallas, TX
  3. Lubbock, TX
  4. Nashville, TN
  5. Chattanooga, TN
  6. Springfield, MO

Actual story is at Motorists.org (5, Informative)

DocJohn (81319) | about 6 years ago | (#23038708)

After jumping through two blogs (neither of which are the actual story), you'll come to Motorists.org -- the National Motorists Association -- and find the story, dated March 26, 2008 (3 weeks ago). Reading the story, you'll see they cite six different local newspaper articles, some dating back more than a year ago:

http://www.motorists.org/blog/red-light-cameras/6-cities-that-were-caught-shortening-yellow-light-times-for-profit/ [motorists.org]

So while indeed this is interesting, it is not particularly "new" nor "news." Cities have been doing this for over a decade, and they occasionally get caught, but more often than not, they do not. They will continue to push for the cameras since they generate virtually "free" revenue (free in the sense of little manpower and little initial investment cost).

Re:Actual story is at Motorists.org (1)

sholden (12227) | about 6 years ago | (#23038894)

Not always: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23710970/ [msn.com]

"""
But they do it by reducing red light violations, by as much as 29 percent from month to month at particularly busy Dallas intersections.

[snip]

So last week, the city turned off about a quarter of the least profitable cameras
"""

Doesn't surprise me (3, Informative)

jimicus (737525) | about 6 years ago | (#23038714)

Here in the UK we've had cameras of some sort looking over traffic for years. Initially they were speed cameras; today there are also red light cameras.

The entire system is set up to make money and it's as clear as day. When a speed camera is placed at the bottom of a steep hill or in the middle of a 2-mile straight, clear stretch of road (with a tree hiding it), it's pretty unrealistic to claim they're purely for safety reasons

Re:Doesn't surprise me (1)

Apotsy (84148) | about 6 years ago | (#23038810)

Slashdot and several other major sites that I used to read every day are succumbing hard to this. Seems like these days half the stories they post are things I already read about a week, a month, or even several years ago, often with a very heavy slant added to the writeup, and several levels of blogspam you have to jump through to get to the actual story.

Re:Doesn't surprise me (1)

Apotsy (84148) | about 6 years ago | (#23038826)

Crap! How did that end up attached to the wrong comment? I meant to reply to this [slashdot.org].

Re:Doesn't surprise me (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | about 6 years ago | (#23038974)

actually, that's the bets place to put it - how many kiddies are going to speed down that straight, lose control at the bottom of the hill and crash and burn. Speed doesn't just kill on corners.

Now, I hate cameras as much as he next phsycopathic driver, and most of them really are placed in stupid places, but occasioanlly they are placed correctly. Besides, on a long straight you can see them in plenty of time to slow down.

changing yellow/red delays don't work (1)

rritterson (588983) | about 6 years ago | (#23038718)

I only have anecdotal evidence to back this up, but:

I used to live in Minneapolis. There, yellow lights are relatively long, and there is almost always a delay between signal changes. You know what happened? People figured out there was a delay and were willing to run an even redder light. Eventually, they lengthened the delay, and people just ran the light even further. Last I checked, people were almost always egregiously running red lights as many as several seconds into the red, enough that 1 or 2 cars usually go through after my signal has turned green.

On the other hand, here in San Francisco, very few lights have delays before the next signal is green. Yet, I usually only have to wait for 1 or 2 cars once my signal has changed.

In both places I have to watch carefully before entering, because it's still not impossible for some idiot to blow through the light long after I'd be in the middle of the intersection if I didn't stop and look

Exactly what happened here... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23038936)

Charging through on the red becomes the norm.

In a particularly ironic case, an acquaintance of mine was rearended because he actually stopped for the red when the guy behind expected him to race through with enough time for him to follow inches behind!

They ARE for safety! (1)

PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) | about 6 years ago | (#23038720)

People always complain about traffic stops, speeding tickets, etc. Sure, they police make money off them, but if you're breaking the law, they're well within their right to ticket you - it is the law where you live. If you don't like it, then a) change the law, or b) move.

Red Light Cameras have drastically decreased the death toll through traffic collisions in toronto, canada.

On the other side, they increase rear end collisions, which is why the state of florida is avoiding them - rear end collisions tend to be very damaging to senior citizens.

Re:They ARE for safety! (1)

harrkev (623093) | about 6 years ago | (#23038834)

The point of this article was that the "yellow" light timing is too short to be able to reasonably stop in all circumstances. What if the law is designed so that you break it (no breathing on Sundays) or something like that. It should always be a choice to break the law. If it isn't, then it's a problem.

Re:They ARE for safety! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23038918)

If you don't like it, then a) change the law, or b) move.
yellow lights aren't permission to speed in order to avoid a red. they're warning to slow down. If you can't stop at the speed you're going, then you're speeding.

Re:They ARE for safety! (1)

kalirion (728907) | about 6 years ago | (#23038958)

rear end collisions tend to be very damaging to senior citizens.

Especially if they're still driving Ford Pintos.

Link to the original article. (3, Insightful)

singularity (2031) | about 6 years ago | (#23038750)

A link to the original article [motorists.org]. Techdirt links to a Leftlanenews site that in turn links to the original article.

The cities involved are Union City, CA, Dallas and Lubbock, TX, Nashville and Chattanooga, TN, Springfield, MO.

As others have pointed out, if the government were truly interested in safety and not revenue, they would put up signs well ahead of the intersections. They would do the same with speed cameras - find where people are driving to fast for conditions (with accident data to back it up), put up a speed camera and then put up a sign .5 miles beforehand warning of the speed camera.

Of course, if safety were actually a reasonable cause for speeding, we would have speed limits actually based around the 85th percentile and other statistically proven safe policies.

Instead we have the police using tickets as a revenue source.

It's not even good money. (1)

StreetStealth (980200) | about 6 years ago | (#23038768)

Ok, Let's see, here.

1. +$50,000 in increased ticket revenue for 2008.

2. -$50,000,000 class-action settlement in 2010.

Even to some sad misanthrope on the city council without the slightest regard for human life and the suffering of others, didn't at least this occur to them?

How it is in Arizona (1)

moore.dustin (942289) | about 6 years ago | (#23038792)

Here in Arizona we have as many cameras for speeding as we do for red lights. Some of the red light cams in Scottsdale also double as speeding cameras too. If you go through an intersection to fast you will be popped. To make the issue even worse, if you have a questionable yellow light and you speed up to not get the ticket for the red light, you'll get one for speeding instead. I am not sure if the speed camera is working when the light goes yellow, but I would guess that is able to watch both at the same time.

Now we also have speed cameras on the highways too. Those have been on and off several times for different reasons, but the general rule is, when on, if you go 11 over (not 10), you will get popped. If they lowered that by 3-4 for even a day they would get countless tickets and would anyone really suspect anything?

Yellow Lights Rock! (3, Funny)

PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) | about 6 years ago | (#23038794)

Yellow lights just tell me to go faster, or I'll hit the red. So when I see one, I speed up... and I usually make it through.
Sometimes I don't make it before the red light, but thats okay - I havn't hit anyone yet!

Re:Yellow Lights Rock! (1)

GeigerBC (1056332) | about 6 years ago | (#23039012)

I hope there is at least a second of all red at the lights in your location for others' sake.

In other news, the sky is blue! (1)

imyy4u1 (1222436) | about 6 years ago | (#23038796)

Most...obvious...article...ever.

Does anyone actually think they were installed to promote safety?! A quick Google search will show that at intersections with cameras, accidents AND fatalities have gone up in 90% of the cases, and in the other 10%, the fact they were reduced is probably a coincidence or related to some other factor.

Other "schemes" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23038814)

In my town (Austin, TX) they recently created a large network of toll roads that cuts travel time across town by a lot. However, with the advent of the toll roads, I've noticed the "access" roads (the non-toll roads that run alongside the toll roads) have not only gotten MORE traffic lights installed, but they aren't in synch at all. Matter of fact (and more often than not) one can find themselves at a red light along the access road, and as soon as the light turns green the next light a little further up ahead will just be turning red. Now one could possibly argue it's to control traffic congestion, but I wonder if it isn't the state's way of mentally pushing drivers onto the toll roads in order to garner more revenue.

Dallas bucks the trend (5, Interesting)

RobertB-DC (622190) | about 6 years ago | (#23038832)

Dallas recently installed red-light cameras. I'll testify that red-light runners were a major problem here, but I didn't support the cameras because of the potential for abuse. There was concern at City Hall, too, especially from the city's most with-it councilperson, Angela Hunt [angelahunt.com].

To the surprise of just about everyone, the cameras worked! People actually started slowing down in time to stop if the light turned yellow. The city became safer.

But there was an inevitable downside... the cameras' revenue no longer supported their operating cost.

Once again, the unexpected happened. Dallas did NOT tweak yellow light timing to generate more tickets. Instead, they turned off some of the cameras. Apparently, the contract with the third-party camera operator has a clause that reduces the monthly charge from $3,800 per camera to "a fraction" of that cost (blame the Morning News for failing to tell whether that fraction is 1/10 or 9/10). So they're turning some of them off, noting that "most motorists won't realize this and behave as if the cameras are operational."

Which is what we wanted all along.

The city of Dallas is mired in several messes of its own making, resulting in high-profile FBI probes and even a suicide pact [dallasmetropolis.com] between two of its best-known (and most-troubled) behind-the-scenes power brokers. But in this case, the city comes shining through. And the Rangers won a double-header last night, too. Wonders never cease.

More info available from the Dallas Morning News [dallasnews.com] article.

More info NOT available from "theNewspaper.com", a self-described "journal of the politics of driving" that never hesitates to pass on a story of red light camera *abuse* [thenewspaper.com]. I sent a link to the DMN story, but it never showed up. Agenda much?

More information (2, Interesting)

jrmcc (703725) | about 6 years ago | (#23038836)

I like driving when the intersection has a pedestrian countdown, 3..2..1, I know when the yellow light is coming and can stop/dash.

Give enough information to make an informed decision whether I can make it or not.

Lawsuits galore (1)

BigGar' (411008) | about 6 years ago | (#23038848)

Anyone injured in an accident at an intersection, in those cities, now is going to be looking very hard at the light timing and if it contributed to the accident. Is the city culpable? Let a jury determine. Is the company that set the timing culpable? Let a jury determine. And on, and on.... This could get interesting.

Original article ( closer, anyway ) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23038878)

Maybe I'm new here ( after a decade ), but it seems to me that referencing a blog that's giving out information not only second hand, but maybe third-hand isn't helping much. I tracked the links to Motorist.org, that's as far as I'm going. Here's the article I found that appears to be relevant:

http://www.motorists.org/blog/red-light-cameras/6-cities-that-were-caught-shortening-yellow-light-times-for-profit/ [motorists.org]

This also appears to be a blog, but gives attribution to TheNewspaper.com's archives as the source material for their commentary.

What?! (1)

Itninja (937614) | about 6 years ago | (#23038884)

Are you telling me the evolution of public law enforcement agencies into de facto for-profit corporations has a down side? Say it ain't so!

I know you like your seperate governments and all (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23038916)

but for crying out loud, HARMONIZE YOUR ROAD LAWS, there's nothing more likely to cause accidents than different people expecting roads to work in the same way as other roads which look pretty much the same, when they infact work differently. There is no reason why individual cities should be able to set the length of the amber light AT ALL. There's no reason to have some states where you can turn on a red, and some states where you can't, red should mean the same thing everywhere. When driving you need as little distraction as possible, and that includes having to apply local interpretation to the traffic signals and road markings.

Illinois (2, Informative)

dragonsomnolent (978815) | about 6 years ago | (#23038950)

I had to double check this, and it's probably going to get modded down, but nonetheless:

According to the 08 Illinois Rules of the Road: Yellow Light -- The Yellow light warns when a light is changing from Green to Red. When the red light appears, you may not enter the intersection.

This seems to be the way to go IMHO. You can't ticket someone for running the red light unless they entered the intersection when after the light turns red. I know in Missouri, however, it is the opposite, if any part of your car is in the intersection after the light is red, you can be fined. (This was something I had to remind myself of when I moved to St. Louis, and something I had to remind my wife of when we moved into IL). Just one reason I prefer IL to MO.

Phantom Plate/Photoshield covers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23038960)

Try a set of Phantom Plate or Photoshield license plate covers.
(Don't bother with the spray, though; it doesn't work.)
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