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Of Red Light Cameras

All around town, as new traffic lights are installed at major and not-so-major intersections, infrastructure is being put in place for cameras which will snap a picture of the license plate of a car that runs a red light. The devices are causing a great hue and cry to rise up from the roadway, which is in some cases justified, but mostly, not so much.

I have a very simple suggestion for avoiding getting a ticket from a red-light camera. It will work every time.

Don’t run the light.

This seems to be great sport here more than any place I’ve lived, or maybe I just notice it more. Particularly on a protected turn at times of heavy traffic. The light will turn green for my lane of traffic ostensibly meaning that I can proceed through the intersection, but for three … four … five … sometimes as many as six cars that will continue to use the turn lane after the light has turned red. And you know, because of the way lights are timed, that the arrow turned red 3-4 seconds before giving the green light to the opposing lanes, because traffic planners know people are going to run the light.

They’ve tried to make it safer, and yet, either we have one of the highest concentrations of colorblind drivers in the nation, or people just don’t care.

I know how frustrating it is to have sat in a long line of traffic only to be the first car in line to wait for another green arrow. But in reality, it’s only two minutes at the most. 120 seconds. By running the light, at least in that instance, what you’re saying to the people who have to wait for you is “my time is more valuable then yours.” Perhaps true, but not likely.

But far more dangerous is the driver who, when he or she sees the light turn yellow, hits the accelerator rather than the brake. We’ve all done this. It’s very tempting to try to judge whether you can make it through on the yellow rather than stop for the red. But seriously, I’ve seen drivers accelerate to 50-60 miles an hour on Atlantic and Beach Boulevards and blast through a light that has long-since turned red. And maybe I feel so strongly about it because I came within a second or two of being killed by just such a driver on 3rd street at the beach.

I was waiting to cross 3rd at Florida on my bicycle going towards the beach. We get around a lot on bicycles at the beach, so drivers should be aware of them. There was a pickup truck beside me to my left. Our light turned green to cross 3rd street, and both the truck and I started into the intersection. The only thing that saved me was that I saw the truck stop short. A large, black SUV blasted through the light doing about 50 traveling south on 3rd street. And yes, I’d looked, but the SUV was so far back when the light turned green for me it didn’t even occur to me that it wouldn’t be stopping. With no policeman in the area, the driver of the SUV continued blithely along 3rd street either not knowing or caring that he had come within a breath of potentially killing two people. Had the driver t-boned the truck, it would have been pushed into me. If I hadn’t stopped when I saw the truck stop, I’d have borne the full brunt of the 4,000 pound SUV. My plastic helmet wasn’t going to be of much use in such an instance.

So yes, I have mixed feelings about red light cameras. I agree that there are potential issues concerning who was driving a vehicle when the violation was committed, and there’s that whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing as well. I also understand that a red-light camera is something of a robo-cop, and does not allow you to face your accuser in a court of law should you decide to challenge the ticket. It’s impersonal. But (and I know I’m pretty much whistling in the wind here), if you don’t want to get a ticket for running a red light, don’t run the light. To those who say it’s just a scheme to add revenue to the city coffers … beat them at their own game and … don’t run the light. Meanwhile, be careful to whom you loan your car.

Other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians will thank you.

8 Responses »

  1. I have lived in cities where red light cams are already installed and used. Thoughtless drivers still run red lights
    and get fined. Careful, patient drivers wanting to avoid collisions AND tickets don't run red lights. As a Senior Citizen, I drive very little and am a good driver with a good record because I respect and try to obey civil laws.
    As a pedestrian, however, I can honestly tell you it is scarey trying to cross most Jacksonville streets because
    it doesn't seem to matter what color the traffic lights are, many thoughtless drivers still run red lights. No one wants to be hit by a moving vehicle of any type. It's bad enough there are impaired drivers on our streets 24/7, even worse is the the tradedy of killing a child or anyone crossing the street. Outside of true emergencies, if a person is always running late and always in such a big hurry in traffic, why not just plan your trips and leave a little earlier to as not to be running late. As a careful driver, I have often seen other drivers hurry through yellow lights only to be sitting next to me at the next red light. It's not a race. No one wins in a collision.

  2. I think Mr. Patton's views are right on. No one likes to get a ticket but in this day of distracted and aggressive driving, red-light camera enforcement is a valuable pro-safety tool. I like his point about the attitude that many drivers have that "my time is more valuable than yours." It seems like there is a lot of that out there.

  3. In case you are unaware, Collier County may be removing its cameras. They are banning tickets for right on red, which was 85 percent of the tickets, meaning they may not make enough to pay the vendor. They came close to deciding to end them completely but decided to first try renegotiating the payment contract to match the new state law and see if it works. See the Naples News for information.

    You need to do some additional reading. The cameras will not achieve the goals you hope for. Lengthening yellow lights and having all four reds will. See the Texas A&M study on this. This can be done at all intersections, providing far more safety for drivers than a few red light cameras.

    You also need to read the Univ. of South Florida study on red light cameras as well as the 2005 Washington Post article on the results of their study of cameras. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/03/AR2005100301844.html

    http://tinyurl.com/3f4qnd

    At this link, see "Is It Intentional" from the Office of the Majority Leader where they say that until the year the cameras came along, the recommendation was to lengthen yellow.lights. http://blog.motorists.org/red-light-cameras-increase-accidents-5-studies-that-prove-it/

    Nobody wants accidents due to red light running. The way to solve the problem is to use effective methods. Red light cameras are NOT the most effective method. People start avoiding those intersections which is one reason violations magically drop. People unfamiliar with the intersections are the ones most likely to get tickets. Area businesses suffer from reduced traffic. Rear-end accidents increase, with the fragile elderly suffering broken bones that can lead to early death. Toddlers and infants in back seats can be severely hurt for life. The slower, more cautious driver is likely to be caught in an intersection when the light goes red, whereas the younger speed demon flies through and doesn't get caught, but if he collides with someone he is more likely to do the most damage.

    If you are going to write columns on this subject you need to do your research. Put a Google Alert on your account with key words red light camera traffic and see what you get every day. The result will be far far more negatives than positives about these cameras. After 2 months, THEN write your column.

    The camera companies admit that there is a continually growing backlash which has cut into the incomes of some of them already. Elected officials who voted the cameras in are being voted out of office. Petition drives are going on all over the country. All this is not because people love running red lights, it is because this is an unfair system and there are cheaper and more effective ways to prevent accidents at intersections and the people of this country are just not going to stand for cameras as a solution.

    It won't be too long before you are writing about a petition drive for a constitutional amendment to ban photoenforcement in the state of Florida and to require longer yellow lights and all-four-reds at all intersections to make Florida a safer place to drive at EVERY intersection on EVERY road where there is a traffic signal.

  4. Now if there would be speeding cams - you speed you receive a ticket. Idiot cams for driving like an idiot - another ticket. I once read a story about the best traffic idea. Everyone is given five hood mounted plungers with flags on the top of them. When you see a bad driver you shoot a plunger onto his trunk. Four plungers on a car and the cops pull you over and ticket you. However, if you use up all your plungers (shooting too many cars) the police ticket you for bad plunging.

  5. GREAT article. So many good points! Your time is definitely not more valuable than mine. People need to slow down and think about their driving actions, let's hope the cameras force at least a few to consider this.

  6. As Tom says, if you don't run the red light, you have no problem. Sorta simple yeh!

  7. If you believe in traffic cams at stop lights, what will you do when they put speed cams along JTB, I95, Roosevelt Blvd? You speed, you get a ticket. Remember the traffic cams are for raising revenuue not personal protection

  8. Red light cameras kill. Wait until the person in front of you decides not to go through a yellow light at a poorly designed intersection, and you end up in their backseat. Careful driver or not, it's hard to correct 100% of the time for the shortsighted stupidity of the way cities (and Jacksonville in particular) handles some of their intersections.

    Tom obviously hasn't lived in a city with cameras, or he'd present a different set of facts. The reality is that they interfere with the driving habits of law-abiding citizens and don't stop reckless drivers whatsoever. They're also prone to errors, and do away with the due process we've all (apparently only theoretically) come to expect when dealing with traffic laws.

    Red light cameras are a serious pain in the ass, and they will soon be one in yours. You've been warned!