Red Light Camera: The Ugly

By Automotive Staff | April 01, 2008
City councils across America are taking on one much debated, highly charged issue with increased frequency. Tax rates? Urban sprawl? Whether residents can shoot rifles in their back yards? Think far, far more controversial a subject... red light cameras.Loathed by commuters and civil rights activists, lauded by safety advocates and police, red light cameras are an increasingly frequent agenda item for city councils nationwide. Trial programs are springing up across the country, modeled on other cities that have already implemented programs. Question is, do they really work? Even the experts can't agree of their actual effectiveness. One study concludes they actually increase traffic accidents, while another conclude they're so effective they are losing the ability to financially self-sustain the program. Regardless of the central debate regarding the cameras' actual purpose, profit versus safety, and effectiveness, decreased accidents versus increased revenues, some cities have apparently opted to exploit their ability to generate cold hard cash. The National Motorists Association has collected a number of newspaper stories from around the country reporting how several cities have increased revenues by illegally shortening yellow light times at key intersections with cameras, trapping motorists in the "red zone". Yellow light minimum timing is set initially by federal standards, which factor in approach speed and total roadway width. States have the option to modify that timing to make it longer, but not shorter. According to the article, at intersections sporting red light cameras, the cities in question fudged those standards just a bit outside those mandatory standards, as well as compared to other intersections within their city limits. Sneaky, effective, and being successfully challenged in court. So far six cities have been caught red handed, or yellow handed as the case may be.