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Shamed Traffic Law Violators or a Shamed City Pride? The Battle Over Red Light Cameras Saving Us Less in the Long Run, Part 3

This article is part 3 of 3. To read parts 1 and 2 see the links below.

David M. Chapinski

There are a number of reasons motorists might have difficulty seeing traffic lights at intersections. Making traffic lights more visible decreases red-light violations and intersection accidents. Here are three simple things that can be done to help all motorists see traffic lights better:  Make the lights bigger. With AAA of Michigan’s help, Detroit installed several new lights that were 50 percent larger. This small change helped to decrease both accidents and injuries at problem intersections.  AAA Michigan helped prove one of NMA’s points relating to red light running. AAA Michigan has used relatively inexpensive structural changes to dramatically cut crashes at problem intersections without the use of camera enforcement.  AAA Michigan worked with Detroit city engineers to identify problem areas. They focused on high-crash intersections. The problem intersections were identified, and then specific improvements were decided upon and implemented. Improvements such as enlarging traffic light lenses by 50 percent, re-striping left turn lanes with pavement markings, re-timing the traffic signals, and adding an all-red clearance interval when you leave both sides red for a second or two while the signals are changing.  In particular, adding metal backers to lights is especially important for lights that face either east or west and can be easily affected by glare from the sun during certain parts of the day.  Remove any other obstructions. If an intersection has above-average red-light violations or accidents, transportation officials should make sure that no signs, trees, transit stops, or buildings obstruct motorists’ view of the traffic lights.

Improve intersections for motorists?  How?  Anything about an intersection that confuses or frustrates motorists increases red-light violations. Communities can do all of the following to make intersections safer:  Repaint lane markings at intersections, especially turn lane markings. This alone had a major impact in the Detroit trial project mentioned above.  Improve signage. Signs should clearly indicate that a signal is ahead and which lane(s), if any, are for turns only.  Add traffic lights at certain intersections, especially those that rely on only one light suspended in the air to direct all traffic.  Build new turn lanes, especially on roads where development has added a significant amount of new traffic volume.  Provide advance warning lights at high-speed intersections to notify motorists of pending light changes.

Re-Time Traffic Signals?  How?  Engineers can adjust the timing of traffic lights to reduce the number of red lights a driver encounters. This process of signal optimization reduces congestion, travel time, gas consumption, and driver frustration. It also helps to reduce red-light violations. An informational report from the Institute for Transportation Engineers concluded that the process has a benefit to cost ratio of 40:1.

We must realize that Red light cameras are touted as devices that increase intersection safety. However, information is quickly surfacing that shows the inaccuracy of that belief.  One source that is highlighting the increase in accidents is the media. Because so many studies are showing an increase in collisions at red light camera intersections, various news outlets are conducting their own studies in this phenomenon.  A small sampling of these reports includes Los Angeles | KCAL TV, a local TV station fact-checked the city’s claims that their ticket cameras reduced accidents and found that the opposite was true. At 20 of the 32 intersections studied, accidents increased and several intersections tripled their accident rate.  This report showed an overall increase in accidents at red-light camera intersections of 107 percent.  However, in 2009 Washington D.C. was voted number 1 by Allstate Insurance on a list touting it as the Riskiest Driving City from among it may be no coincidence that DC is both the most dangerous city to drive in and that “DC also has more red light and speed cameras than almost any metro area in the country. Indeed, DC has nearly 10% of all the traffic cameras in the United States.” Mean time between collisions does not seem to account for rate of miles driven over time. I’m a licensed and insured driver but I only drive about 1000 miles a year. Other people might drive 30,000 miles a year. Isn’t it possible that the people in the top ten list simply drive a lot more than the people in the bottom ten?

Finally, we have to be cognizant of what a proposal like Red Light Camera installation really means against the backdrop of a city populace adamant about sticking to their time is money routine.  As of October 2011, 150 red-light cameras the city already had in an effort they believe will make the streets safer by deterring speeding.  Under the proposal in NYC: If you travel 5 to 10 mph over the speed limit the fine is $50  10 to 30 mph above the limit and the fine goes up to $75   More than 30 mph too fast the fine doubles to $150.  Another benefit in these tough fiscal times: the cameras free up cops for other things.  Twelve states and Washington, D.C. already have them and now New York City wants them  cameras to catch speeding drivers, with fines “accelerating” to $150.  Instead of “the check is in the mail,” city drivers could soon find “the ticket is in the mail” if they step on the gas pedal too hard.  I firmly believe that having speed cameras used right will save lives.

To read part 1, click this link: Shamed Traffic Law Violators or a Shamed City Pride?  The Battle Over Red Light Cameras Saving Us Less in the Long Run

To read part 2, click this link: Shamed Traffic Law Violators or a Shamed City Pride?  The Battle Over Red Light Cameras Saving Us Less in the Long Run, Part 2

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About David Chapinski

Ph.D. Candidate, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey: Newark *2nd Year*
School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA)

Adjunct Professor at:
Felician College- Rutherford Campus
Rutherford, NJ 07070

Long Island University- Rockland, Hudson Campuses
Orangeburg, NY 10962

St. Francis College- Brooklyn Campus
Brooklyn Heights, NY 11201

My research interests include studies of public economies: Multi-organizational, Multi-level Institutional and Risk Analysis. What, for example, might the organization and governance of more complex protected areas have in common with complex metropolitan areas like New York City, Washington D.C.

One Response to Shamed Traffic Law Violators or a Shamed City Pride? The Battle Over Red Light Cameras Saving Us Less in the Long Run, Part 3

  1. James C. Walker Reply

    November 27, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Mr. Chapinski is on the right track.

    Red light cameras often DO increase the accident rates. Just out today is a New Jersey report showing just that negative effect with the cameras.

    It is simply impossible to call a red light camera program that raises the accident rates a “safety program”. It is not, it is a revenue program.

    If DC, NYC, Chicago, and every other city wants to genuinely reduce accident rates and risks at intersections, they must FIRST do all the steps from the Detroit program. They must set the yellow intervals at least long enough for the actual approach speeds of 85% of the vehicles (NOT per the speed limit which is often posted below actual travel speeds). And they must not use cameras to ticket safe slow rolling right on red turns, an action that is responsible for about 0.4% of all accidents.

    A great deal of the unbiased research is on our website (research done by people NOT in the revenue stream from ticket cameras).

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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