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Crime Government Transportation Technology

Los Angeles To Turn Off Traffic-Light Cameras 367

Posted by timothy
from the we-too-love-ponca-city dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The LA Times reports that the Los Angeles Police Commission has voted to kill the city's controversial red-light camera program, rejecting claims that the system makes streets safer while costing the city nothing. The police department says the cameras help reduce accidents, largely by deterring drivers looking to run red lights or make illegal turns while critics of the technology question officials' accident data, saying the cameras instead cause rear-end collisions as drivers slam on their brakes and liken the cameras to Big Brother tactics designed to generate revenues. More than 180,000 motorists have received camera-issued tickets since the program started in 2004 but the commission estimates that the program costs between $4 million and $5 million each year while bringing in only about $3.5 million annually. Members of the public who attended the meeting urged the commission to do away with the cameras, which trigger seemingly boundless frustration and anger among drivers in traffic-obsessed LA. 'It's something that angers me every time I get in my car,' says Hollywood resident Christina Heller. 'These cameras remove our fundamental right in this country to confront our accuser. And they do not do anything to improve safety.'"
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Los Angeles To Turn Off Traffic-Light Cameras

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  • by G3ckoG33k (647276) on Friday June 10, 2011 @07:17AM (#36398708)

    Does this mean that LA is or was a large red light district?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 10, 2011 @07:21AM (#36398736)

    These cameras remove our fundamental right in this country to confront our accuser.

    Whatever the other arguments are, this one is stupid. It's a photograph of you running a red light. What's to confront? She either means that it removes your right to try to intimidate (or otherwise coerce) an officer into not issuing a ticket, or that it removes your right to most of the time get away with dangerous driving. Neither of these is a right.

    • by headhot (137860) on Friday June 10, 2011 @07:28AM (#36398808) Homepage

      1. Its not a picture of you. Its a picture of a car and its license plate.
      2. The plate is read with OCR, sometimes its wrong.
      3. How do you know the camera is set up correctly? How do you know the timing is correct?
      4. How about extenuating circumstances. In DC, I moved out of the way of an ambulance, into the intersection. That triggered the red light camera. Then I was blocking traffic, so the safest thing to do was continue with an illegal right on red. I got 2 tickets. The camera could not testify to any of this happening, where a cop would have been able to.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by cdrudge (68377)

        1. There are multiple videos taken. Intersection/context of the violation (you crossing the line with the light red), front (including face), rear, and of the red light. If you still feel that it's not you driving the car, then you fill out the affidavit of non-liability on the back of the ticket that is mailed to you.
        2. Then challenge it. If the plate doesn't match, or is ambiguous enough that the OCR is incorrect, other evidence likely supports it. While statistically still possible, the likelihood th

        • by stewbee (1019450)

          2. Then challenge it...

          Usually you can't challenge until later. This is the problem with the cameras (at least where I live in Chicagoland). You are essentially guilty by default. They expect you to pay no matter what without a trial. You can appeal, however it is already after you have paid the ticket. I think that they get around the whole PITA 6th amendment thing because it is not a 'crime' per se, but rather an administrative issue when you are caught. If you choose not to pay the fine, then they will

          • by cdrudge (68377)

            You post bail in the amount of the fine. You go to trail. If you win, you get your bail back. It's no different then any other traffic court fine.

          • by hedwards (940851)

            Which is sort of like parking tickets. If your car is parked somewhere that results in a ticket, you're expected to pay by default. There isn't really anything fundamentally different about this. A parking enforcement officer could also screw up reading the plates.

            The technology isn't perfect, but neither are forms of enforcement that involve people.

            Ultimately, this sounds a lot more like people that are mad about no longer being able to endanger other people's lives by running red lights without having to

        • by DinDaddy (1168147)

          The cameras in LA do not shoot video. They take 1 or 2 still shots of the car and its plate and their relationship to the boundary line of the intersection. There is no context.

      • by cowboy76Spain (815442) on Friday June 10, 2011 @07:58AM (#36399052)

        1. Its not a picture of you. Its a picture of a car and its license plate.

        I do not know of USA, but here if the driver cannot be identified then the owner is legally responsible of the fines. Of course, if he can prove that someone else was the driver it then gets passed to the driver. Apart from theft, it is pretty sure to say that the owner knows who was driving the car and can discuss the matter with him.

        2. The plate is read with OCR, sometimes its wrong.

        I am pretty sure you can ask for the picture to check it yourself and correct the OCR. It would be better if the fines were served with a printout of the picture attached to it, to simplify things (I do not know if this is done or not).

        3. How do you know the camera is set up correctly? How do you know the timing is correct?

        The only thing that should really matter if is the camera is only triggered while the light is red (v.g., by the cable that powers the red light runs through the camera and activates it). Way better if the camera is set so you see in the picture both the car and the red light.

        About the settings, I think these cameras must be networked. And if not, when the crew in charge of downloading the pics come, they must check that evertything is ok. Anyway, if the camera date/time is incorrectly set, it can only benefit you ("but your honour, if the date/time is not set correctly I can not verify this proof so it must be invalidated").

        4. How about extenuating circumstances. In DC, I moved out of the way of an ambulance, into the intersection. That triggered the red light camera. Then I was blocking traffic, so the safest thing to do was continue with an illegal right on red. I got 2 tickets. The camera could not testify to any of this happening, where a cop would have been able to.

        I agree with that, a limitation of automatic systems is that they do what they are programmed to do, without any common sense. For your case it might have been possible to ask for the previous pictures from the camera to check your story, but even winning that would mean a lot more work than explaining to a cop (provided that the cop had not seen it himself).

        • 1. Its not a picture of you. Its a picture of a car and its license plate.

          I do not know of USA, but here if the driver cannot be identified then the owner is legally responsible of the fines. Of course, if he can prove that someone else was the driver it then gets passed to the driver. Apart from theft, it is pretty sure to say that the owner knows who was driving the car and can discuss the matter with him.

          In the USA, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt". The defense is under no obligation to prove anything. Most defenses consist simply or raising doubt. Here, there is a presumption of innocence. "Innocent until proven guilty."

          Therefore, any "reasonable doubts" raised and believed by even one reasonable person on a jury of peers, usually 12 people total, (and here, a jury can be called for any matter more than $20) will fail to result in a guilty verdict.

          So, if the prosecution cannot prove that I am the driver, they would have a harder time winning a case if I took it to jury (IANAL). If I had an alibi, or even the suggestion that "I leave my keys on the counter and often let my neighbor borrow my truck," and have no recollection of what happened on that particular day, I could use such information to sow doubt to be found not guilty without even proving that I'm innocent. I'm sure 1001 explanations could be found, none of which I have to prove, but my lawyer can merely suggest as "reasonable doubts".

      • 4. In California, most yellow lights are set to be illegally short - there are laws governing how long a yellow light must last depending on the speed limit. Additionally, many speed limits in California are illegally low (this is bizarre, but true). Taking a video of the yellow light, time-stamping the beginning and end of it, and bringing it to court will get people out of most tickets where the light just changed, but the amazing thing is that the judge won't order for the yellow light to be lengthened

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sargon666777 (555498)
      I cant speak for LA, but I know in Philadelphia the move on most of the lights between green - yellow - red was roughly 1 second of yellow... its almost impossible to not run a red light there...There actually are several cities other than Philly who have intentionally shortened duration of the yellow light to get more of these tickets.
      • by owlstead (636356)

        Or have they shortened it because *everybody* for whatever reason is running through the orange light right up to the end, making it almost* useless to begin with? I'm a rather sceptical guy, but sometimes you have to wonder if you are skeptical or paranoid - is there really a conspiracy to get you fined? Maybe you should check with the people that represent you what has been discussed before jumping into conclusions like this.

        When I was living in Ireland, the orange lights were on for much shorter and the

    • Ironic that such a comment was from an Anonymous Coward... ironic because Red Light cameras are essentially Anonymous Cowards, too.

  • "the commission estimates that the program costs between $4 million and $5 million each year while bringing in only about $3.5 million annually."

    So it's not making money. Surprising and rare (since red light cameras are generally a cash-cow), but I'd guess that's the main reason to kill it. If it were making $10 a year I bet they'd keep it going.
    • I think it is a cash cow for the traffic light camera companies and not the cities, and that more and more cities are just now waking up to that fact.

      I'd like to say that some cities are doing away with traffic light cameras because it is the right thing to do, but the reality is that they really don't make much money (if at all) from the system.

    • by CraftyJack (1031736) on Friday June 10, 2011 @08:03AM (#36399120)

      So it's not making money.

      I'm not really clear on why that's part of the decision. Since when does anything the police do have to turn a profit?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by IMightB (533307)

        Since the entire system was pitched to them as a way to

        1) Increase revenues
        2) Reduce police workload
        3) Make intersections safer

        It does none of those things and evidently costs the city money annually on top of that. The only things that they do seem to do is

        1) Make money for operators
        2) Piss off everyone else.
        3) Erode your rights

        • by Thelasko (1196535)

          1) Make money for operators
          2) Piss off everyone else.
          3) Erode your rights

          4) Tie up the legal system.

  • by j00r0m4nc3r (959816) on Friday June 10, 2011 @07:25AM (#36398784)
    the cameras instead cause rear-end collisions as drivers slam on their brakes

    So which is better, a rear-end collision outside the intersection, or a broadside collision inside the intersection?
    • A better question, in this context, would be: Which is better, fifty rear-end collisions outside the intersection, or five broadside collisions inside the intersection?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eam (192101)

      It's a bullshit question. Read-end collisions are caused by idiots hitting you from behind. It's not like they wouldn't have hit you if you stopped for some other reason.

      However, ultimately the question is not whether they prevent accidents, bring in revenue, or make the sun shine brighter. The only question to answer is do the voters want them. If the majority of people (not the majority of people complaining, but the majority of people voting) want them, then they should stay. If they don't, then the

      • by danbert8 (1024253)

        Another person who believes in democracy. I don't know what local and state laws are, but most are set up as a republican form of government. In other words, it doesn't matter how many people support something if it violates your individual rights. I don't care if 99% of people support censorship if it's forbidden in the constitution. So the real question is, does having red light cameras violate your individual rights?

    • Re:tradeoffs (Score:4, Informative)

      by Ichijo (607641) on Friday June 10, 2011 @09:23AM (#36400216) Homepage Journal

      So which is better, a rear-end collision outside the intersection, or a broadside collision inside the intersection?

      The Federal Highway Administration found [tfhrc.gov] that red-light cameras increase rear-end collisions but reduce more severe right-angle collisions, saving $50,000 in collisions per intersection per year in medical and repair costs.

  • by cdrudge (68377) on Friday June 10, 2011 @07:26AM (#36398796) Homepage

    'These cameras remove our fundamental right in this country to confront our accuser.

    The accuser is the local government. The evidence is the red light camera's photo.

    If you robbed a bank, or shot someone, and it was photographed or recorded, you wouldn't be arguing that the evidence was inadmissible because you couldn't challenge the camera.

    • by Spad (470073)

      The problem with red light cameras is lack of context; the camera triggers because you were in the intersection during a defined time period, but it doesn't know and cannot see *why* you were in the intersection at that time.

      • by cdrudge (68377) on Friday June 10, 2011 @08:33AM (#36399424) Homepage

        From LA's Photo Red Light FAQs [lapdonline.org]:

        How does the red light camera enforcement work?

        The system uses multiple cameras placed at the intersection to record video evidence of the red light violation. The cameras capture evidence of the vehicle, the license plate and driver"s face.

        What do the video cameras photograph?

        The first video monitors vehicles approaching the intersection and provides a context view of the violation. The second video, recorded simultaneously, provides primary evidence of the violation. The third video captures images of the front and rear of the vehicle, including the driver"s face and the license plate.

        It would seem to me that there is plenty of context as to why you were in the intersection. And from the same faq it says that you can request a review with an actual officer.

        • by cdrudge (68377)

          Damnit. Last sentence was mine. Not the FAQ.

        • by Solandri (704621)

          It would seem to me that there is plenty of context as to why you were in the intersection. And from the same faq it says that you can request a review with an actual officer.

          No, that shows what you were doing at the exact moment you were passing through the intersection. The problem is you get the ticket in the mail a week or two later. Can you remember what exactly you were doing at the time? The camera has perfect recollection of every person who drives through the intersection. You however do not h

      • by hedwards (940851)

        Doesn't matter why you were in the intersection, you still have to clear the intersection before the red light. The only way in which this could result in somebody getting a ticket would be if they were turning left and couldn't get clear the intersection because some asshole was trying to run the light themselves.

        • by cdrudge (68377)

          Apparently not always...

          From here [lapdonline.org]:

          What is a red light violation?

          A red light violation occurs when a vehicle travels across the limit line when the traffic signal is red.

          It is not a violation if the vehicle has already passed the limit line at the time the signal turned red. At no time will a citation be issued if the vehicle crosses the limit line while the traffic signal is still yellow.

    • If your robbed a bank or shot someone the photograph would be 1 piece of evidence. If I sent a picture of a guy holding a gun inside of a bank, that alone is not enough evidence to convict, it would involve the testimony and a few witnesses. Context is key in any situations and charging people for crimes that are detected through an algorithm and a single still photograph, is not a fair system.
      • by cdrudge (68377)

        If someone broke into a store at night and there was video evidence of the burger's face, front and back of his car, and him breaking the window, you don't think that would be enough to convict?

        I'm not in favor of the cameras, and luckily my town doesn't use them. But I wouldn't say that it's not a fair system unless there isn't mechanism in place to dispute the ticket. In LA's case at least, there are multiple levels that it can be disputed between signing an affidavit that it's not you, asking for an of

      • crimes that are detected through an algorithm and a single still photograph, is not a fair system.

        As has been stated many times it isn't a single still photograph, it is multiple video feeds.

        As provided by another poster:

        From LA's Photo Red Light FAQs [lapdonline.org]:

        How does the red light camera enforcement work?

        The system uses multiple cameras placed at the intersection to record video evidence of the red light violation. The cameras capture evidence of the vehicle, the license plate and driver"s face.

        Wh

    • But there would be OTHER evidence. And no one was robbed or shot, this is about a minor traffic offense.
  • Traffic Light Safety (Score:5, Interesting)

    by trout007 (975317) on Friday June 10, 2011 @07:29AM (#36398820)

    I always thought a good idea would be to put a yellow line in the road before a traffic light to indicate that if you are travelling the speed limit and are beyond this line and the light turns yellow you can safely make it through the light. If you have not passed the line than you should stop for the light.

    • Where I live I have found that a good rule of thumb that accomplishes this. If you are going the speed limit (or close to it) and the light turns yellow if you are passed where the turn lane starts go through, otherwise stop. There are some cases where this doesn't work because of extremely short or long turn lanes, but for probably 95% of the streets I drive on it works perfectly.
    • by PhxBlue (562201)

      You'll see caution signs at some intersections that say, "Prepare to stop when flashing." That's basically what you're thinking of, only the flashing light on the sign is a guarantee that you're not going to make it through the intersection before the light turns red, so you might as well take your foot off the accelerator now.

  • Makes Sense (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WankersRevenge (452399) on Friday June 10, 2011 @07:32AM (#36398840)

    I moved to Los Angeles in the late nineties and left before these traffic cameras were operational. When I first arrived, I noticed that people would collectively pause at a green light. It would be a one or two second delay which completely baffled me. In New England, we'd jump the greens like a drag race.

    The answer came rather fast. In a lot of the intersections, there were no green arrows so in some places the only way for people to get across the street was to run a red light. And not just one person would run the light, but four or five. It was crazy but in time, it made complete sense to me and soon I internalized it. So I can imagine the outrage if there were now cameras placed at intersections. It's like paying a toll to cross the street. Maybe things have changed since then, but it seemed pure insanity not to have green arrows considering the amount of people in the area.

    • I've been in plenty of LA and NYC traffic where the only way to move forward is to block the box and get caught. How many times have you seen three directions feeding into the forth. When that forth has congestion your stuck ending up mid intersection on a red in bumper to bumper traffic or not moving as the far side will never be clear. Hell if you do not move immediately traffic will flow around you to fill that void.

      My favorite traffic camera was I got a ticket for my black sedan when I was nowhere ne

    • by gfilion (80497)

      In a lot of the intersections, there were no green arrows so in some places the only way for people to get across the street was to run a red light. And not just one person would run the light, but four or five.

      I spent some time in LA last year and it was still like that. I remember the first time the light turned red when I was waiting to turn left, drivers on the other side of the street waved at me to go on the red light. It's really counterintuitive at first but it makes a lot of sense after a few times.

      It's just important not to continue doing this outside LA.

  • Yet too many cities buy into the sales pitch about the revenue side. The revenue of course only lasts until people become accustomed to the lights and suddenly, surprise surprise they don't run the lights anymore which fulfills the lie used to sell them to the public while at the same time ending the revenue which was the selling point for the officials to put them in.

    We have them at two intersections I drive through regularly and since your used to them you know to not expect people to run them, including

  • I can't speak about L.A., but when they installed traffic light cameras in my city they shortened all the yellow lights as well. This makes it blatantly obvious that it is nothing more than a revenue generator.

    • by prefect42 (141309)

      The period of time on amber should be legally defined. If it's greater or equal to that, it's fine. If it's shorter than that, it's illegal and you'd be able to contest the fine. If the legal minimum period is insanely short, the rules need changing.

  • by GeigerBC (1056332) on Friday June 10, 2011 @07:38AM (#36398890) Homepage
    In general the data seems to suggest that yes, total crashes at the intersection will decrease (CMF = 0.8). CMF stands for Crash Modification Factor. Right-angle crashes will decrease (CMF = 0.67) and are generally more severe than rear-end crashes. Rear-end crashes may increase though (CMF = 1.45). Both groups generally tend to loudly argue their own point and both may be correct without listening to the whole safety argument. See http://www.cmfclearinghouse.org/about.cfm [cmfclearinghouse.org] and then search for "red light" and you'll see what I mean. All of this doesn't sort out the monetary costs and privacy aspects of the programs, but the safety data is reasonably easy to figure out so they can stop arguing over it.
    • by Malc (1751)

      You're talking too sanely. This sounds like a case of too many narcissistic people not taking enough responsibility for their own actions. If there's a rear-end collision because somebody braked approaching a junction then it means the person behind was following too closely, not paying sufficient attention, driving too quickly, etc, etc. Having driven in LA I can attest to a culture of tail-gating and trying to drive too quickly for the conditions. Up the penalties if people won't or can't take respons

  • ... that if it's not making money then it's working.

    All other arguments to one side (I appreciate there are other reasons why it's suggested the cameras should be pulled) but public safety isn't supposed to be profitable, is it?
  • As much as I am opposed to private companies getting cushy deals to run red light cameras, and using "civil fines" to get around rules protecting peoples' rights, I am actually for red light cameras. And I'll tell you why. They save lives. Oh, I'll admit that the total number of accidents increases slightly, but the types of accidents are important. The serious accidents, people getting t-boned when someone runs a red light, (the kind of accident that often leads to serious injury and death, not to me
  • I'm guessing the majority of nasty accidents at intersections result from people trying to catch the tail end of the light... esp when combined with people who are getting a jump on the green.

    1) Long yellow-light durations. You'll speed through a light that's just turned yellow, but you'll stop at a light that's been yellow for a while. My hometown (Fremont) found that adjusting this setting reduced red-light running by much more than installing intersection cameras: http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/34/343 [thenewspaper.com]

  • by ledow (319597)

    Would somebody like to point out that they don't CAUSE accidents because people slam on their brakes - that's due, exclusively, to already-bad drivers (of the kind that the system is designed to catch / remove / discourage) having insufficient braking distance between them and the car in front and is a phenomenon that will happen even if the red light didn't exist (e.g. if a child ran out into that road every two minutes or whatever).

    So the police's response is to abandon the cameras? Don't catch one kind

    • by Legion303 (97901)

      "Would somebody like to point out that they don't CAUSE accidents because people slam on their brakes"

      I was getting ready to do just that, but as you've beat me to it I'll just rant here.

      Attention stupid drivers: if the car in front of you came to a sudden stop at the very limit of its mechanical ability, would you be able to stop before hitting it? If not, you're TOO FUCKING CLOSE.

      (Also, if you're actually reading this while driving, you should probably be paying more attention to the road.)

    • by squizzar (1031726)

      I've seen red-light cameras go here in the uk - but very rarely and due to idiots. I've seen plenty of junctions where I wish they had them because people repeatedly run the red lights. I don't think they have slowed the yellow light time down in the UK, which seems to be the biggest grievance. That's like putting speed cameras in that trigger below the proscribed limit...

    • by horza (87255)

      Would somebody like to point out that they don't CAUSE accidents because people slam on their brakes - that's due, exclusively, to already-bad drivers

      In theory yes, in practice not necessarily so. If people do something completely unpredictable then there is additional brain lag to comprehend that the person is not touching their brake and continuing as you would expect but coming to a complete stop for no apparent reason.

      One time I was on a motorway in the middle lane, following a car at 130km/h, and the g

  • Christina Heller. 'These cameras remove our fundamental right in this country to confront our accuser. And they do not do anything to improve safety.'"

    Bzzt!!! Wrong. It is common practice that each ticket is signed by a real person who has reviewed the evidence gathered by the camera. That person may be called to the stand. The staff that maintain the cameras may be called to the stand to discuss how they are maintained. Experts can be brought to the stand to discuss how the cameras work. Each camera has

  • by wickerprints (1094741) on Friday June 10, 2011 @09:29AM (#36400334)

    And I can state the following observations:

    1. Different areas of the greater LA area show different driving habits. Some areas have a (well-deserved) reputation for aggressive drivers, such as the Westside, compared to more sparsely populated, remote suburbs. Higher traffic density seems to correlate with more reckless driving.
    2. Some yellow lights are abnormally short for the size of the intersection, but not all.
    3. Some drivers are willfully reckless/stupid. Just last night, I was in downtown LA for an event that included street closures as well as a heavy police presence. Due to the crowds, traffic was very bad. Despite the presence of police who would try to regulate the traffic flow when they were watching, drivers would allow themselves to get stuck in the intersection (driving ahead when the light was about to change, while seeing there was no room for them to exit). The police didn't cite them for blocking traffic.
    4. I've seen a lot of broken red light cameras--they would flash when no violation occurred. This has actually happened to me personally; I'd go through a clear green light with the flow of traffic, and get flashed. No ticket was ever generated, but the kind of distraction and anxiety that this sort of thing produces is abusive and might actually cause some people to panic and hit the brakes.
    5. The fines are insane--$475 or more in some cases. Thankfully I've never gotten one. I've seen the posted fine rise steadily in a few short years, and it seemed completely arbitrary. It also has little or no deterrent effect on the wealthiest Angelenos, who tool around Beverly Hills and Hollywood in their luxury vehicles and consider that kind of money to be chump change. It would be like telling you, "oh, you broke the law, now you have to pay a fine of $0.25." Meanwhile, they endanger everyone else around them. But if you are relatively poor, $475 could crush you.
    6. The cameras are not everywhere. I've seen people reroute around them, causing changes in traffic patterns that may actually increase accidents because more cars are being directed to intersections that aren't able to handle the traffic flow, or have more pedestrians. Many drivers roll through four-way stops around here.

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