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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Speaking of those red-light cameras...

Our post of yesterday about Portland's plan to expand the city's red light camera program prompted some interesting responses. One alert reader pointed out that unlike Oregon, Pennsylvania prohibits the private contractors who run the cameras (the biggest being an Australian outfit called Redflex) from being paid a percentage of the ticket revenue. Is that what's going on with Portland's current program (in which the contractor is an outfit called ACS State and Local Solutions, formerly known as Lockheed Martin IMS)? And is that the way we want the new contractor to be paid? What do you say, Commissioners Fritz and Fish? Is this a public safety program, or a revenue program? We don't pay our police officers or judges by the ticket -- why do it with these guys?

We also came across a 2005 KATU story (scroll down) that showed a steep increase in rear-end collisions at the Portland intersections at which the cams were installed. And Portland isn't the only place reporting this unfortunate side effect.

In Florida, the legitimacy of the cameras is headed to court. Meanwhile, in Maine, Montana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and West Virginia, they're forbidden by state law.

Meanwhile, people are finding their own ways to fight back. First of all, as one might suspect, iPhone users have the ubiquitous "app for that" -- a program that alerts users when they are approaching a red light cam or known speed trap. Elsewhere, one outfit is selling a spray called PhotoBlocker, which claims to make one's license plate illegible to the red light camera.

But the best story of them all: In New York City, a red light cam gave a ticket to a rowboat. I am not making this up.

Comments (20)

Having come very close to killing my dog breaking hard at the Hollywood speed camera I don't doubt that they can increase rear-end collisions. Having said that, we only have so many police officers and some people insist on jumping red lights which frequently leads to injuries and deaths. I would prefer that they were owned by us and used purely for safety but that's because I'm a wacky lefty who thinks that government (we the people) can do things.

Is this a public safety program, or a revenue program?

Do you really need to ask that question?

Me, the fact that the private contractor doing all the work is in for a cut doesn't bother me near as much as the overall concept.

Back in 2007, I wrote a post entitled "Why I love red-light cameras". Here's the relevant grafs:

I love red-light cameras. And let me tell you why.

In short, they're egalitarian enforcement. If you run a red light that's enforced by a camera, you're going to get a ticket. The camera doesn't care if you're young, or old. It doesn't care if you're a shady-looking dude, or a hot blonde with big boobs. It doesn't care if you're a rich and powerful pillar of the community. It doesn't care if you're "driving while black." And it doesn't care how good your excuse is - and it isn't affected by your skill in talking your way out of a ticket.

There are all kinds of situations where a little human intelligence - a police officer's judgment - is best applied. But running a red light is an either/or thing. Either you ran it, or you didn't. There's NOT any judgment to be applied... and a red-light camera does a great job of nailing everybody. And best of all, there's proof. There's no arguing with the camera, "but I swear it was only yellow!"

So, let's have more red-light cameras.

And our police officers can get to work applying themselves to jobs that require actual humans.

And yeah, we ought to buy the machines outright - or pay a monthly rental fee to the contractors; not pay a percentage. (In part, because that'll encourage 'em to put the cameras in places that need 'em for safety purposes; rather than for revenue purposes.)

But in general, red-light cameras are a good thing.


No further comment necessary, except to point out the traffic hazard of the short yellow.

I agree with the commentator who loves red light cameras. Why not penalize those who break the law and risk the lives of those who are driving safely. While were at it, why not have more (and concealed) photo radar to reduce the incidence of speeding? Neither infraction is protected under free speech or any other constitutional framework. Those who wail about Big Brother just want to break the law and get away with it!

I share Kari's view on red light cameras. That said, if the government pays a private company to run such a simple extension of traffic signals, we should vote them all out because this is part of their jobs. Land speculation and subsidizing sports teams is not. If they resort to dirty tricks to increase ticket revenue, they should be criminally prosecuted. It's sick to think that the only reason they even need to resort to tricking the public is that they stupidly gave away a big cut to outside contractors. If they spent a tenth of the time they spend on soccer on this, we wouldn't need any outside contractors.

Having come very close to killing my dog breaking hard at the Hollywood speed camera I don't doubt that they can increase rear-end collisions.

Yes, surely this had nothing at all to do with speeding and tailgating.

These cameras have been placed at a small number of intersections with long histories of people blowing red lights. Personally, as a Hollywood resident, I'm pretty pleased to be able to cross Sandy Blvd. at "the Hollywood speed camera" without having to be hypervigilant for people running the red light on Sandy to get onto I-84 westbound, say. (Now I only need to be hypervigilant about people cars and bikes running stop signs by the Hollywood branch library.)

Low-tech is easier. Just put a piece of paper over the camera at the intersection.

Actually, folks -- and especially the self-referential, red-light-loving Mr Chisholm -- in OR there is no difference between a yellow light and a red light. Thanks to the Legislature, you must stop on a yellow light. The fine for not doing so is the same as for not stopping on a red light: $242.

As a judge might counsel you in the courtroom: "I know that many of you come from other states where you do not have to do anything when a light turns yellow; but in Oregon, you must stop. I know what it says in the Driver's Manual, but you must stop. And the Legislature has allowed very little leeway to reduce the fine."

Do we know whether the "red light cameras" are programmed for OR law?

A clerk at the courthouse advised me that there had been an increase in rear-enders following passage of the stop-on-yellow law.

"Yes, surely this had nothing at all to do with speeding and tailgating. " It really didn't. Driving 35 with nobody in front of me I just found myself in two minds and ultra wary of the camera. My final decision was to brake and the next thing I know a labrador is bouncing off the net behind me.

One solution is to put your front license plate under your floor mat. If you happen to get pulled over, just gently pull it out and place the license plate in the front window.

Safety and not revenue??? we shall see, but not until too late.
This is only the start. Go to London and you cannot go anywhere in public without being on camera. This is not about safety.

See the link which provides some history on other cities red light experiences.


The present system, at least in Portland, allows for deals. Someone I know.... got picked up on the camera, and, as she has a great traffic record, she got to go to "traffic school" for a day, and upon completion, the case was dismissed. So the school got her $50, and she got bored out of her mind for 8 hours, but nobody else got money. This all happened because the cop was willing to allow the deal (successfully complete school = no conviction = no fine.)

I can see how this system could be undercut by a corrupt cop and corrupt contractor, but that doesn't seem to be Portland-style.

I too support the red light camera, particularly when I'm on my bike.

In sum, if you get tagged, and have a good record, show up in court and be nice and maybe you can get the deal from the cop. The court can't do the deal, it has to be the cop. PS Bring a small, easily hid, book to traffic school

In a pilot program Virginia DOT found that rear-end crashes increased about 27 percent at intersections with cameras. But "angle crashes," in which a car runs a red light and strikes another car at an angle, decreased 42 percent at the same intersections. Overall accident increase was 12 percent. Injuries increased 18 percent.

See the following link:


The data are averages -- averages hide a lot. For example, the intersection a half mile from my home experienced large increases in rear end accidents and essentially no change in angle accidents. It was and is a notoriously dangerous intersection.

New state legislation requires engineering study of intersections and decision, from safety perspective, whether cameras make sense case by case.

Amazing that a consultant report results in more consultant work, eh?

Breaker, Breaker One Nine, there's a fake bear bot cam at the I-sect of Main and 4th shoot red light district photos.

Seriously, I hate red light runners as much as anyone. However, I hate revenue scams more and contractors should be paid a flat fee for their services. X dollars for adminstrivia and y dollars per camera. The percentage thing of ticket revenues just begs for abuses. And LMCO, well, their history of unethical behavior should speak for itself. See link:


George Orwell was right. Big Brother (not"our" government) is watching. And that's a bad thing. Another reason to stay out of Portland whenever possible.

Oh my god!
Red light camera's!

I believe the overall statistics for these intersections prove conclusively that the number of accidents has dropped substantially!

In other words, they work.

It's easier to just stop then to "stay out of Portland"!

In case you folks are interested, we'll be talking about this issue tomorrow morning on "Think Out Loud" on OPB:


If it ain't about the money, then donate the profits to charity.

It's about the money.

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