Red Light Cameras: Government's 'It's For Public Safety' Lie

-By Warner Todd Huston

Red light cameras are a mixed bag across the USA. Big cities love them, small cities increasingly less. But one thing is universal where ever they are tried. The whole thing is about revenue generation, not public safety. Most city administrations try desperately to hide their greed behind hoary claims of safeguarding the public, but at least Toledo, Ohio has dispensed with some of that subterfuge and is admitting straight out that making money is a main goal.

We here in Illinois are once again being confronted with public officials contemplating more red light cameras. They claim it is for “public safety,” but we all know it is just because politicians are greedy for more money. At least Toledo officials were more honest than Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Last month Toledo’s finance director told the city council that they were installing 11 new red light cameras with the expectation that the project would “raise” $320,000. What did the city need that new revenue for? More government spending, of course.

Oh, and it’s for the children, too. Toledo Councilman Steve Steel was excited to get the new revenue. “It does restore the biggest thing we were looking for, which was giving kids something constructive to do in a positive atmosphere,” he crowed.

So, now officials will berate you if you stand against these useless devices that are just a means to give government more money to spend on pet projects because, darn it, it’s for the children! WHY do you hate kids, taxpayers?

Unfortunately for Toledo’s city fathers, red light cameras are increasingly failing at both revenue generation and public safety. Many cities that once had them have pulled them out because revenues dropped over time while maintenance costs continued to rise not to mention that some cities have found that the red light cameras actually cause more accidents instead of improving driver safety.

Worse, some cities have played games with the cameras in order to keep revenues flowing into their profligate hands. At least six cities were caught shortening yellow light times in order to catch more drivers running red lights.

But we don’t even have to stray from Toledo to show that new red light cameras won’t bring in a never ending stream of spending cash. Ohio native Maggie Thurber notes that Toledo has already seen revenues fall from other red light camera installations.

The problem, as I’ve detailed previously, is that the more people get used to red light and speed cameras, the less the revenue there is from violations. Since 2009 when the city added speed cameras and negotiated a higher percentage of the fines, the revenue has steadily decreased. This means that the city, in order to continue to collect their targeted budget amounts, must constantly expand the big-brother-type surveillance.

Yet, here they are trying for more red light cameras. Why? Because they imagine a pot o’ gold under every red light in the city. When politicians get dollar signs in their eyes its hard to shake them from the dreamy dream of more cash to spend on their pet projects. If it’s all about bringing in money they can spend. It has zip to do with safety.


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  • Red light cameras (indirectly) block emergency vehicles - because cars stopped at a camera hesitate to get out of the way! Other side effects: Rearenders, $$$ sent to Oz, AZ or Goldman-Sachs, where it won't come back, and tourists and shoppers driven away.
    Worse, a false expectation of safety, because cameras can't stop the real late runners, who cause the accidents. (If cameras worked, camera sellers wouldn't have the crash videos they supply to the media.)
    Want safety, no side effects?
    To cut car/pedestrian accidents, train your kids not to step out just 'cuz the walk sign came on.
    To cut nuisance running (a fraction of a second late), lengthen the yellows. It's cheap to do so can be done all over town.
    The dangerous real late (multiple seconds) runs won't be stopped by the mere presence of a camera, because the runner won't know (a tourist) or won't remember (a distracted or impaired "local") that there's a camera up ahead. They're not doing it on purpose! To cut these real late runs, improve the visual cues that say, "Intersection ahead." Florida's DOT found that better pavement markings (paint!) cut running by up to 74%. Make the signal lights bigger, add backboards, and put the poles on the NEAR side of the corner. Put brighter bulbs in the street lights at intersections. Put up lighted name signs for the cross streets.
    Who needs cameras and their side effects?

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    It's a very sleazy elected official who uses law enforcement as a means of generating revenue. It’s especially foul to delegate the heavy lifting to a private business. If city bosses really believed cameras reduce accidents, they’d issue citations to drivers instead of owners. If safety is their main concern, they’d consider making red lights slightly longer for opposing traffic so if a driver does blow through, there’s a longer interval before other drivers proceed. And they’d lengthen yellow light intervals.

    They’d also ensure that all videos are reviewed instead of only those that are appealed or not paid. They’d insist on reviews by police officers instead of vendor employees who clearly have conflicts of interest. And at the very least, they’d send certified mail to ensure alleged criminals actually are notified. The people aren’t stupid and it looks like most already realize this is NOT the kind of world free humans want, a world in which our superiors and their police remotely monitor our actions to ensure approved behavior.

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    As if Pat Quinn ever gave a damn about public safety. A seemingly small issue in Rockford exposes a statewide problem that Mike Madigan, Lisa Madigan, Pat Quinn and John Cullerton have been working very hard to hide from the public to keep the banking industry happy. Every so often, someone is forced to give up their PIN and ATM card and then killed so the killer can clean out their bank account. Data from the Rockford PD shows that somewhere between 3 and 6% of all murders in Illinois involved this crime pattern. That’s 22 to 44 murders in 2010. In order to protect the ATM business model, they’ve blocked legislation that would expose the problem and put out false reports on it. As the matter is exposed in other states, people will start asking how it could have gone like this for so long, and the only conclusion is pretty ugly.

  • This is a great summation of the red light/speed camera issue. Don't forget that the city of Chicago has routinely lowered yellow light times to 2.5 seconds which is proven to be unsafe and cause more collisions to occur.

    Why would they do this? Unsurprisingly, that change was made in intersections with red light cameras, which then creates more violations and drives up revenue. The camera systems, in fact, make roads more dangerous because in order to be profitable they must exist in unsafe conditions in order to be profitable.

    When you're reading stats released by municipalities or police departments, remember that they typically have a financial interest in proving that there is some type of decline in accidents so that their cash cow, the cameras, remain just palatable enough that the motoring public doesn't revolt.

    For the true affect, you must find independent and university studies. Watch out for anything with ties to insurance companies as well, because they are able to raise rates based on photo tickets which would have never been issued by police officers.

    Thanks for pointing out the ties that American Traffic Solutions to Goldman Sachs. This is often ignored, but proves the type of care they have for the public trust, which is none!

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