I know it’s been quite a quite long time since I’ve posted a blog post but what the heck. Here goes.
My biggest concern in thinking about this issue is that we cannot put revenue concerns over safety concerns. While some have claimed that red light cameras are implemented to create revenue at the expense of safety, I don’t believe that is the case. I believe that red light cameras provide a cost effective way to enforce traffic laws related to red light violations.
The concerns I’ve heard about red light cameras and my thoughts on these are below.
Adding time to the yellow phase – One idea I’ve heard is that we could improve safety by adding 0.7 seconds to the yellow phase. I found out from City staff that we employ a one (1.0) second all-red phase at intersections where we have red light cameras instead. This seems to be an even more effective safety measure than extending the yellow time. Our yellow times are in conformance with industry standards (MUTCD). The all-red time is in addition to these standards.
Decreasing the amount of the fine – Another complaint I’ve heard is that the fine is too steep. It is indeed a very large fine, nearly $500 which is very hard on most people. However, the amount of the fine is set at the state level. The City is not at liberty to set the amount of the fine.
The cameras are a cash cow for the City – The City does make approximately $250,000 a year on the cameras. This is after the cost of paying for the cameras and accounting for staff time involved in reviewing the data provided by the cameras. Officers review all of the evidence before sending out any tickets. While this is a net plus for the City, it is a very small percentage of the City’s budget. The positive revenue we are getting for this is not the main incentive for the program. I would likely be in favor of continuing the program if the revenue dropped to zero or even if it went slightly negative.
The cameras invade one’s privacy – I don’t believe this is an issue. If you are driving at an intersection the public at large can see you and there is no expectation of privacy. If the information about where you were is somehow used against you (i.e. you told your spouse you were someplace else), that’s not the City’s problem.
In short, we need to enforce red light laws as a matter of general safety. The cameras provide a cost-effective and objective method for enforcing these laws. Having a police officer manually enforce these will pull them away from other tasks. It is also dangerous as the officer often has to run a red light themselves in order to catch the offender. The Fremont Police Department likes the cameras because they are such an effective enforcement tool.
Several years ago I got a red light ticket via a camera. The objective evidence captured by the camera made it very clear that I ran the light. That was a few years ago and now there is video evidence making it even more convincing. The good news is that the experience has changed my behavior for the better and I haven’t gotten another ticket since then. The data from the police confirm that my experience is typical of most drivers.
I’ve learned that if you simply don’t try to “go for it” in those iffy situations, you will not get a ticket.