If history is any judge, speeding cameras will be crooked
In the single court case that has occurred thus far, Chattanooga's city traffic engineer John Van Winkle testified that the yellow signal light should be (and was) turned on for the 3.9 seconds necessary to meet basic safety standards. The judge in question ordered the claim verified, and discovered that the light was only set for 3s—significantly less than the 3.9 second minimum. ...
In Dallas, yellow lights at the city's
revenue generatorscamera-enforced intersections were timed for just 3.15 seconds, or 0.35 seconds less than the Texas Department of Transportation minimum. In this case, a third of a second may make a substantial difference in revenue—theNewspaper reports that most (80 percent) red light tickets are issued less than one second after the light has turned to red. ...
Springfield has a similar story. There, residents voiced concerns last spring after the city announced its intention to slash yellow lights by one second at multiple intersections. Again, evidence from the investigation indicated that longer yellow lights actually reduce the number of accidents at busy intersections. The only problem is, long yellows also have a negative impact on revenue, which can make the cameras cost more than they're worth.
Adding urgency to tales of the corruption inherent in the implementation of red-light cameras is a report from the Florida Public Health Review that the cameras are actually dangerous and counter-productive.
"The rigorous studies clearly show red-light cameras don’t work," said lead author Barbara Langland-Orban, professor and chair of health policy and management at the USF College of Public Health.
"Instead, they increase crashes and injuries as drivers attempt to abruptly stop at camera intersections. If used in Florida, cameras could potentially create even worse outcomes due to the state’s high percent of elderly who are more likely to be injured or killed when a crash occurs."
Why is the fiddling of red-light cameras relevant to proposals to dot the state's highways with radar-activated speeding cameras? Because officials who are capable of trimming yellow lights to manufacture "red-light runners" are equally likely to jimmy speeding cameras so that they'll record folks as traveling at just a few miles per hours faster than their (untampered) speedometers indicate.
The temptation is obvious: money. While traffic cameras have often been sold as safety measures, they've been very openly embraced as revenue generators by government officials unwilling to cut spending and equally leery of openly embracing higher taxes. Governor Napolitano has explicitly pushed speeding cameras as a means of raising money that the state government doesn't have, but wants to spend anyway. The existing speeding cameras along Loop 101 are generally described in terms of the funds they generate.
While photo enforcement vendors and government agencies have stressed the program is about safety and not money, it has brought in revenue to both the city and the state.
The freeway program has collected $5.4 million in state surcharges, $2 million for the city's general fund and nearly $1 million more for Scottsdale's court enhancement fund, according to city figures through February.
Speeding cameras won't succeed as revenue generators if they actually deter speeders. They'll meet revenue goals only if drivers continue to speed and get caught -- or can be tagged as violators, anyway, no matter the speed at which they actually drive.
If the urge to pick pockets is strong enough to drive officials to tinker with traffic-light timers, it will certainly inspire them to set radar cameras a little ... err ... "creatively."