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Los Angeles To Turn Off Traffic-Light Cameras 367

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 Anonymous Coward on Friday June 10, 2011 @08:21AM (#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 cdrudge ( 68377 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @08:26AM (#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 headhot ( 137860 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @08:28AM (#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:Protip: (Score:2, Insightful)

    by alen ( 225700 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @08:38AM (#36398894)

    that's why we have yellow lights to warn you of a red light coming up. of course if you're going 20 over the limit it means you have to slam your breaks

  • Re:tradeoffs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by eam ( 192101 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @08:46AM (#36398954)

    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 they should go.

  • by CraftyJack ( 1031736 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @09:03AM (#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?

  • by FatAlb3rt ( 533682 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @09:08AM (#36399158) Homepage
    Physics fail. It has nothing to do with vehicle size and weight. If you're traveling at 45 mph and you reach the yellow line when the light goes yellow, you can make it through the light before it turns red. If your truck is too big to stop that fast.... you shouldn't be driving that fast.
  • by Bill_the_Engineer ( 772575 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @09:25AM (#36399336)

    It shows you can't trust studies from Insurance companies: "A few studies show a decrease in accidents, funded by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a trade group for the insurance industry. Insurers tend to profit from red light cameras, because revenues go up with increased citations and accidents." - They also profit by claiming speeding is dangerous when it's not the speeders that cause accidents (it's the reckless lane changers that drive like it's a race).

    Insurance companies are in the business of betting against having to pay a claim. In order to prevent these payouts, insurance companies routinely look for ways to make improvements in safety and survivability in crashes. The IIHS not only encourage better law enforcement in order to lower the number of careless drivers, they also lobby against bad automotive designs like those spare tires that hang on the back of SUVs which causes large dollar amount damages if the SUV was involved in a parking lot fender bender.

    This isn't some shadowy conspiracy group. It just so happens that what benefits the insurance companies also benefit us.

    As for your other assertions, I haven't seen any data that explicitly states that speeding is safe. I have seen data that shows that speeding is one of the causes listed for auto accidents. Insurance companies profit from red light cameras because the total of accidents at intersections is predicted to go down which lowers the amount of money they have to pay out. They get way more profit from not having to pay on an auto policy during that fiscal year than they could ever collect from that single driver with a higher insurance rate. Not to mention, higher insurance rates occur after the insurance company paid a claim and therefore this higher rate is used to not only compensate for a loss in investment (it is a numbers game) but also apparent increase in risk. My auto insurance policy does not automatically increase in cost after an accident. My daughter totaled one of my cars, so I am thankful for that. Anyway, I just don't see how this "red light conspiracy" could even be profitable.

  • by Gadget_Guy ( 627405 ) * on Friday June 10, 2011 @09:28AM (#36399356)

    Your argument is incredibly naive or indicative of some sort of bias.

    What a moronic statement. The original complaint that you can't confront your accuser is the statement that shows bias. Why on earth would anyone feel the need to confront an inanimate object? Do you think the camera might have it in for ethnic minorities? Or perhaps it might have been distracted by something happening behind it and it wasn't really looking?

    Confronting an accuser makes sense if the accuser is a human. If it is a camera, then it can be calibrated and regularly tested. We don't need to ask questions to find what a camera really saw, because it keeps a perfect record of this. But perhaps the picture doesn't see all the factors involved? Well neither does a pair of human eyes watching the same scene. But I would still place my bets on a camera recalling an incident better than any human.

    The people who argue against traffic cameras are probably the same ones who also argued recently [] that knowing the locations of DUI checkpoints somehow makes the streets safer. These people really just want to protect their "right" to break the law.

  • Re:Protip: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by countertrolling ( 1585477 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @09:56AM (#36399786) Journal

    Rear end collisions are caused by one thing.. following too close. I don't care if the guy in front hits a brick wall, If you keep your three seconds distance and pay attention, you won't rear end anybody.. The war ended 65 years ago. There is no need to keep such a tight formation

  • Re:Protip: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hobo sapiens ( 893427 ) <ELIOT minus poet> on Friday June 10, 2011 @10:39AM (#36400490) Journal

    people who run red lights suck and all, but this isn't about safety. If it were about safety, the cameras would go into places where your safety is most likely to be compromised. For example, cameras would be on parking lots, etc, where people are robbed, abducted, attacked. The placement of red light cameras suggest that their purpose is to make money. They are put in places where there is a high probability of catching you doing something ticketable.

    The red light camera companies are in it to make money off you. Where I live, a majority of the money goes not to the city, but to the company operating the red light cameras. They are heavily interested in making money by taking it from you. And guess what? Dishonest people who run the red lights and get camera tickets don't pay them. The only people who pay them are honest people. So these companies have found yet another way to extract money from hardworking people who perhaps misjudged a traffic light.

    If a cop pulls you over for running a red light, that's one thing. He has an interest in preventing crime. The police officers I have talked to about this usually tell me that in most cases, unless the person was being reckless or was suspect (or treated the cop like a jerk), the person would be let go with a warning. He isn't getting richer by pulling you over. The police officer can make a judgement call. Many police officers are reasonable people who aren't trying to ruin your day.

    The companies who run the red light cameras have the power and the incentive to be as harsh and unreasonable as possible. They want your money. It's all done via an automated process so there is no face to face contact with anyone, so no judgement call can be made.

    If the local governments were in charge of operating the cameras I think many people would feel differently. I know I would. I mean I don't like the idea of the cameras, but at least the money isn't just making someone rich.

  • Re:Protip: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Friday June 10, 2011 @11:38AM (#36401504) Homepage Journal

    If it were about safety, the cameras would go into places where your safety is most likely to be compromised.

    No, if it were about safety, they would not be putting up cameras at all, but rather would be doing the one thing that has actually been proven to reduce red light violations: making the yellow cycle longer. Instead, they put in cameras to raise revenue, then make the yellow cycles as short as they can to maximize revenue. They also write tickets for provably safe violations like a rolling right turn just as the light turns red. And so on.

    Want to improve road safety? Raise the minimum yellow cycle length to 7 seconds, or 10 seconds on roads with speeds of 40 MPH and up. Add a countdown timer above the light in large numbers that tells how long before the light turns red. Finally, add a minimum two-second all-ways-red cycle before the light in the other direction turns green.

    It's about like the county Sheriff in Cupertino, CA ticketing people as they "jaywalk". It's a highly traveled corner, and despite not having a true pedestrian island, there are places that a pedestrian could go if they get stuck in the middle. People therefore walk halfway out while the left turn light is on. This allows them to be halfway to the other side when the light turns green. This is provably safe because (ignoring people turning right on red) no vehicle can legally cross that pedestrian crossing at that point in the cycle. In short, it's pure revenue generation.

    And they ticketed my boss for not stopping long enough at a stop sign. The guy claimed that you need to stop for a full 5 seconds. If I stopped for 5 seconds, the people in the other direction would assume that I was yielding the right of way, and they would start driving the moment I did, and we'd probably have a wreck. I guarantee that the cop wouldn't have spent five seconds at that corner.

    Ultimately, what needs to happen is this: police should not see one penny of traffic ticket revenue, and neither should cities. The state is licensing drivers, so the state should collect all of the revenue, and should distribute it proportionally by population. That would eliminate the incentive to write tickets for things that are not truly unsafe, and more to the point, would eliminate the incentive to reduce yellow cycles to unsafe levels to increase traffic camera revenue.

"An organization dries up if you don't challenge it with growth." -- Mark Shepherd, former President and CEO of Texas Instruments