Monday, August 16, 2010

Red Light Cameras :: Safety First or a Cash Grab?

image :: red light cameras in East Bay, CA,

ABC News ran a story on pushback on red light cameras that give drivers tickets for moving violations. Several issues are surfacing. One is the constitutionality of the cameras that put the recipient in the position of proving their innocence, rather than the state showing evidence of guilt. Another is the lack of public input or voting on the matter. Jurisdictions are often quick to point out the safety factor and the fact that running red lights tends to lead to T-bone {perpendicular} crashes with a greater tendency to be deadly. The research points to muddier waters, where T-bone crashes were reduced, but rear-end collisions increased. Websites such as are using crowdsourcing to create maps of the locations of red light and speeding cameras. Finally, some are arguing that the red light cameras are a cash grab being used by municipalities in need of revenues. The article notes that in some parts of Texas, the red light violations are a civil, NOT a criminal violation. In Toronto, the situation is similar, with no demerit points taken from a camera violation::
Q: What is the penalty for running a red light based on evidence obtained by a camera system? 
A: As of January 1, 2010 the set fine for running a red light detected by a camera system was increased to $260., plus a $60. victim surcharge and a $5. court cost. The total payable is now $325. Prior to this increase, the set fine was $155., plus a $35. victim surcharge, for a total payable of $180. Demerit points are not issued with violations detected by the red light camera system.  
Q: What is the penalty for running a red light if caught by a police officer? 
A: The set fine for running a red light when caught by a police officer is $325.00. Failing to stop for a red light where a police officer issues a ticket results in three demerit points.
The same policy is in effect in Hamilton and Ottawa. So, getting caught on camera can be an expensive lesson, although one that won't affect insurance rates through demerit points on one's driving record. This seems to set a precedent where technology-based enforcement is categorically different than when an officer is present and issues a ticket.

Toronto goes to great lengths to defend the use of the cameras, which cost $100,000 to install, but I'm wondering if there's a better solution to reducing the running of red lights. Here's a map of Toronto's cameras and a listing from the city website.

Years ago, when I was driving in the lower mainland of British Columbia, I recall flashing amber lights warning drivers that a green light was about to change to red::

image :: The City of Richmond website

I found this to be quite helpful, particularly on roads with higher speed limits, and just like the sign says, it prepared me to stop. From a safety perspective, I see value in installing these "prepare to stop" flashers and it would be an interesting and relatively low cost experiment to see if these reduce the number of red light violations captured by the cameras. I'm in favour of good policy and/or traffic design that addresses the actual safety concerns, as opposed to using technology to snare violators.

As it turns out, even from a cost perspective, the red light cameras aren't necessarily a license to print money. Some jurisdictions are pulling them, which may be due to not being cost effective or questions about their legality. According to, 15 states have banned them. 

Song:: Dead Kennedys-"I Fought the Law"

Twitterversion:: [blog] ABC story on red-light cams w/constitutionality concerns & allegations of cash grabs, but is safety the real issue? @Prof_K

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