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Cities See Red In Red-Light Cameras

There’s something about red-light cameras that irritates people. You’d think the use of these cameras would be a simple calculation. Do they work? Do they make intersections safer? Are they cost effective when you consider the citation revenue and the money paid to vendors who operate them?

Red-light cameras are automated systems that photograph cars running red lights. Tickets are issued based on the license plates in the photographs. Sound controversial? They sure are!

Time and again I’ve seen an emotional aversion to the work of these robotic cops. And that’s showing itself again in some California communities.

The, a “journal of the politics of driving,” reports the city of Westminster put a referendum on the ballot asking voters to ban the use of red-light cameras. There are no red-light cameras in Westminster, located in Orange County, but the city council apparently wants to make sure they never arrive.

In San Bernardino County, the Grand Terrace City Council voted to terminate its contract with Redflex Traffic Systems, the Australian company in charge of issuing automated tickets. There, the justification seemed to be a simple cost-benefit analysis.

"There was an expectation that citation revenue would cover the cost of the program and provide some additional revenue for the city, which never came to fruition," wrote City Manager Betsy Adams. "This coupled with the increased workload the program created for the finance department and the sheriff's department is the fiscal reason for not extending the program."

The politics of, incidentally, are clearly anti-camera. Read it yourself and I think you’ll agree.

The city of San Diego currently has red-light cameras at 15 intersections. I recently reported that the City of Oceanside planned to double their allotment of red-light cameras after finding their existing cameras had have made intersections safer.

But what do the people think? Voters in Anaheim, and other cities, have chosen to ban the use of red-light cameras. But a new survey done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that two-thirds of drivers in 14 big cities, with red light camera programs, support their use.

In November of 2012 we’ll find out what the people of Westminster think.

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Avatar for user 'RogerJ'

RogerJ | July 20, 2011 at 6:23 a.m. ― 5 years, 8 months ago

Before opting for a red light camera system, first decide "Is there a problem?" Use collision data to show a higher than expected collision rate. If so, employ all modern engineering strategies. Better signage, extended yellow lights, dedicated turn lanes requiring only a Yield and not a Stop. Extending yellow lights just 1/2 second longer than the minimum will reduce red light running by nearly half. Once done, a camera system will only generate enough revenue to pay for itself if cameras cite "California Rolling Stops." These infractions do not pose a significant danger. Straight through violations which cause T-bone accidents occur well after the light has been red for 2 seconds. Cameras do not dissuade these violators.

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Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | July 20, 2011 at 8:32 a.m. ― 5 years, 8 months ago

I know the "California stop" is a problem at stop signs but I wouldn't imagine it applies to traffic stoplights, where you have to wait for the green light before you proceed. Anyway... the question "Is there a problem?" is open to debate. Some people would argue that any intersection that has one collision a year is a "problem." My bottom line on red-light cameras comes back to the questions I posed at the top. Do they work? Do they catch people who are violating the law? Is the photographic evidence responsibly evaluated by law enforcement officers? Do they make intersections safer? And are they cost effective, relative to what they're able to achieve? If the answers to all those questions are yes, then they are worth having.

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Avatar for user 'Derek'

Derek | July 20, 2011 at 10:44 a.m. ― 5 years, 8 months ago

RogerJ wrote: "Straight through violations which cause T-bone accidents occur well after the light has been red for 2 seconds. Cameras do not dissuade these violators."

The Federal Highway Administration disagrees. They found that red-light cameras reduce those collisions, saving $50,000 in collisions per intersection per year in medical and repair costs:

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