Florida TV Station Busts Red-Light Camera Myths
Accidents are reduced and yellow lights aren’t shorter.
Few motorists like red-light cameras. But an estimated 165,000 people are injured each year as a result of red-light crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System. Such accidents caused 762 deaths in 2008.
That’s why many cities install cameras to snap pictures of the license plates of red-light runners, then send tickets via mail to the registered vehicle owner. But critics contend that any reduction in accidents is offset by an increase in rear-end crashes caused by motorists stopping suddenly to avoid a violation. Many also suspect that red-light sequences are shortened to nab more violators and therefore to generate extra revenue for municipalities.
After analyzing traffic records in five Florida cities, a TV station in Orlando, Fla., refuted critics' claims of more rear-end accidents caused by red-light cameras. The station also showed that red-light cameras do help reduce accidents, and that shorter yellow lights are a myth. Researchers came to a similar conclusion.
Station WFTV pored through Florida crash-data records and found that rear-end accidents dropped as much as 57 percent, and deadly right-angle “T-bone” crashes dropped even more since the installation of red-light cameras. The belief is that drivers’ aversion to a pricey ticket is causing more people to brake on a yellow light, rather than hit the gas to try to avoid stopping on red.
Several scientific studies showed similar outcomes. A study of seven communities in 2005, funded by the Federal Highway Administration, found that cameras help decrease right-angle crashes by 25 percent -- but increased rear-end crashes by 15 percent. Cochrane Collaboration, an international public-health organization, conducted a controlled before-and-after study and didn’t find a statistically significant change in rear-end injury crashes. The organization also noted an estimated 13 to 29 percent reduction in all types of injury crashes, and a 24 percent reduction in right-angle accidents when cameras were in place.
As for the argument that yellow-light times have been reduced to catch more drivers running red lights and help fill city coffers, Florida, like most states, has regulations mandating minimum light times. WFTV timed lights and found that intersections with cameras met or exceeded the state’s minimum standards.
Interestingly, the station also discovered that the camera’s ticketing software rejects any citations issued when a light’s timing falls below the state's guidelines. It also found that Orlando reported a 22 percent drop in red-light tickets.
Another myth busted: A University of Cincinnati researcher discovered that the longer a yellow light lasts, the more inclined drivers are to try to beat it.
These devices represent something we should avoid. If we can compromise our rights for perceived safety then there are many more intrusions to be made using that justification. As an example, in Florida nearly 4 times as many people die due to domestic violence than running red lights. Based upon that justification, we should put cameras in everyone's home. A simple solution again- just don't beat your spouse.
1. The law makes the owner, not the driver, guilty until they prove themselves innocent via a permissible excuse or finger another as the driver. When our country was founded, the founders had first hand experience with a justice system where the government (King) could compel confessions. They decided against doing so. Of course, there were no traffic tickets in the late 1700's, so the 5th Amendment is for criminal cases only- which allows the local governments to sidestep the issue since these tickets are non-criminal. The principle remains the same. This is an Un-American concept. Some will say the same system is used for parking tickets, so what's the problem? Moving violations like running a red light are as different from parking as murder is from loitering. People are not hurt or killed by over-meter parked cars.
2. The punishment differential for the same conduct is unconstitutional. The 8th Amendment, which unquestionably applies here, prohibits excessive fines. What the camera law here has done is make police-issued regular tickets unlawful since they carry a higher fine and points as well as increased car insurance. Incidentally, if the camera tickets were really about safety, they would likewise carry points- a rating system used to ID unsafe drivers.
3. The lack of due process on the camera tickets violates the 14th Amendment's right to due process before the government takes property (money). There is no way to obtain a hearing from the mailed tickets. A defendant must fail to pay the fine and then receive a regular traffic ticket so they can have due process. Of course, now we are back to the higher fine and points.
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