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Red Light Cameras: Solutions Require Cities To Use Common Sense

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On: Fri, Oct 30, 2009 at 12:48PM | By: Clay Ritchings

Red Light Cameras: Solutions Require Cities To Use Common Sense

In my last post on RLCs I talked about how when a city decides to install these devices their concerns are not about safety because the studies show that they increase the chance of accidents. If you have any doubts, ask yourself why would a city install the RLCs and then reduce the yellow light timing to less than the federal or state guidelines unless they wanted only to produce more red light violations. In order to get the cameras installed, the city has to write the ordinances so that the violations do not put any points on drivers’ licenses. Why would the city decriminalize a violation as serious as running a red light? It's really not that complicated. Red light cameras are used only to create a revenue stream for the incestuous relationship between money-hungry cities and money-grubbing RLC companies.

Enough about that; I don’t want to be one of those people who complain, complain, and complain, without offering any suggestions on how it can be fixed. My first thought on making traffic lights safer: increase the yellow-light time; this is an easy way to reduce red-light violations. It has been effective from Virginia to California in preventing accidents and saving lives and you do not have to install anything. Critics of longer yellow lights claim there is no long-term benefit because the public will grow accustomed to the longer lights, but research shows this is not the case. A study by researchers at the Texas Transportation Institute and Virginia Department of Transportation illustrates the positive safety impact of even a modestly longer yellow light. They note a significant decrease in violations at an intersections when the yellow light was lengthened by paltry 1.5 seconds. That sounds pretty simple to me; why was this not done first?

How about an all-red clearance interval? A yellow light allows drivers who cannot safely stop to pass through the intersection before the light turns red. Occasionally, even safe and attentive drivers may misjudge the time it takes to make it completely through an intersection. Adding an all-red clearance interval (a brief period where the lights in all directions are red) after the yellow-light phase reduces unnecessary accidents. AAA of Michigan and the city of Detroit partnered to make intersections safer and they found an all-red clearance interval to be effective.

Let's try to retime traffic signals. Engineers can adjust the timing of traffic lights to reduce the number of red lights a driver encounters. After all, that is why those eggheads went to school for all those years, and they can’t figure this out? This process of signal optimization reduces congestion, travel time, gas consumption, and driver frustration. It also helps to reduce red-light violations. Maybe try to 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.

All the previously mentioned solutions require the use of common sense, which is the exception and not the norm for most cities and their politicians. It's simple. Over the long term, cameras are proven moneymakers. Why on earth would anyone accept all the downsides of camera use in return for more injury accidents? Because the camera contractors, like Dallas-based ACS and Australia-based Redflex, take as much as 90 percent of the revenue from paid citations, that’s why. In every single case, they profit quite handsomely. The legislature should let the failed red-light camera experiment expire.

Students in Maryland have found a way to trick the local speed cameras into sending other people tickets. They just print up a copy of another person’s license plate on high gloss photo paper, using the correct “license plate” font and tape the copy over their existing plate. Then they speed past the camera and the police department does the rest. A few days later, the victim gets ticket in the mail, which they have to either pay, or spend time and money to fight. Until such a time that we can get rid of the RLCs I would suggest you avoid the areas that have them or look at ways to protect yourself. Here is what I found…

I briefly looked at “Plate Blockers” which included putting something over your license plate that obscures it only to speed cameras. After watching Mythbusters, Episode 73: Beating the Speed Camera, where they tried glitter license plates, lenticular plastic covers, plastic wrap, hair spray, and even the commercial plate blocker spray that claims it reflects the powerful photo flash back at the camera, overexposing the image and rendering the license plate invisible. In all attempts the camera was able to render the plate successfully. All these items are successful in separating you from your hard-earned cash. Do not waste your time or money. The only thing that was successful for the Mythbuster crew was the plate flipper that rotated the plate out of view, but such a device would easily get you pulled over by a cop with or without the speed camera, and since my whole goal is to be a safer driver and not a criminal, that was not an option.

There is a new device from Whistler called the Red Light Camera Detector. It costs about $200, plus $19.95 per year subscription for updates that are applied by connecting the detector to your computer via USB. It probably works but I do not need another suction-cupped device on my window since I already have my Garmin GPS there. Plus I am doing this on the cheap and do not want to spend the $200+.

Probably the best legal alternative was already stuck on my windshield. My GPS can be loaded with data that can actually save you from RLC tickets. It’s legal, it’s easy, and in some cases you can download the data for free. Armed with this knowledge I went online and found phantomalert.com and proceeded to purchase the database and installed it on my GPS device. The GPS will now alert me whenever I am approaching a red light with a camera, speed traps, dangerous curves, school zones, and more. The database needs to be downloaded regularly to get the latest, greatest data. The phantomalert system relies on its users to go online and rate the locations to cull any inaccurate locations. I have been using the system for 2 weeks now and have been pleasantly surprised.

If you are concerned about getting tickets and you own a GPS, you may want to look into this or any other database that will alert you to the RLC dangers ahead of time. You know a cheaper solution? Restraint. You aren't Jack Bauer; you're just a few minutes late to pickup eggs at the grocery store. It'll be OK.

Safe Driving…

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