Stop-Light Cameras: Safety Feature or Revenue Stream?


Recently, cameras positioned to catch potential red-light runners have come under fire from cities and local municipalities. From Dallas, Tex. to Mill Creek, Wash., city governments are discovering that red-light cameras don't make as much sense.

In Mill Creek, for instance, the cameras do not catch enough red-light runners to make the cameras worth the cost. In Dallas, where the cameras have in some intersections accounted for a 50% reduction of drivers running red lights, the city has idled over one-fourth of its cameras. The system is too expensive to maintain and the revenue has come in at least $8.6 million short of the city's initial projection.

This raises the question: What is the purpose of the cameras? Are they meant to actually improve safety, or are cities simply using them to increase revenue through fines? Or both?

As we previously reported, several studies have shown that stop-light cameras can actually increase accidents because drivers who spot the cameras tend to slam on their brakes and end up getting rear-ended. Couple this with a Tennessee judge who ruled that the city of Chattanooga had to refund paid red-light tickets because the yellow lights were improperly timed, and one begins to see the problem.

Even though numerous studies have shown that longer yellow lights decrease traffic accidents, the yellow lights had been reduced from 4.5 seconds to three seconds without any authorization.

We have to ask: Do cities simply see traffic-light cameras as a means to pad floundering budgets? Let us know what you think. Have you ever gotten a ticket from a traffic-camera?

By Stephen Markley | April 11, 2008 | Comments (14)
Tags: Safety



I think that if the cameras were posted in a handful of troublesome spots, that's ok (a challenging intersection, for example). But to post cameras light after light after light (like in Mill Creek), that's just an attempt to gain revenues. In that situation, once the light turns yellow, people are going to slam on brakes, and then you've made the situation worse than it was before.


here in philly, the state gave the red light camera control to the parking authority after taking the parking authority from the city and putting it under the control of state republicans. as a result, all our red light revenue goes to patronage jobs for republican political cronies. the system works!
That said, we have them in intersections that are among the top 5 most dangerous in the country; the rear-ending was temporary but the long-term safety has continued.


It would depend on the violation going against the driver's insurance and license.

In Ontario Canada, they used photo radar for speeders. The ticket was issued to the registered owner of the car. The problem was that they could not prove who was driving the vehicle so there weren't any points assessed to anyone's license. Without apprehending the speeder in person they were not able to get the driver's insurance company information so they were not notified of the violation.

It was basically a fee to speed with no repercussions beyond the fine.

The program was withdrawn by the new provincial government because they felt that it provided revenue but didn't reduce unsafe driving. They put more officers on the highway and took a zero tolerance attitude in place of the cameras. Pulled people over for no seat belts, and lane changes without signaling etc.

It was found that an actual police cruiser with an officer reduced the average speed on the highway. Whether that equals more safety ...?

Almost all traffic tickets are given out to generate revenue. If a police car is parked in clear view of an intersection or on the side of the highway the majority of drivers will behave while insight of the police car. For that very reason most police cars are hidden out of plain sight while on a stop light or speeding campaign, they do not want to stop the behavior they want to create revenue. Understanding that if you drive a particular stretch often and see people pulled over all the time you would mind yourself. If you saw a police car there everyday in plain sight you and everyone else would be on you best behavior.

Here in LA they are multiplying like crazy. The signs are almost never posted in advance or are blocked by something. Even when you beat the ticket you have to pay a court cost to cover the 3rd party costs of the people who run the traffic light cameras, they are not run by the city.

I have a car without ABS and I have to avoid those streets totally. They are also starting to put them on (10 lane) wide intersections with big, pot hole lined drainage ditches along the main streets. You almost have to stop on the far side as to not wreck your car or bottom out, the crown is so high on those streets. The yellows are not set long enough, they need to flash the greens at the end of the cycle or something. I've resorted to sometimes using the cross walk timers. They count down why shouldn't the traffic lights. Here you can't cross them on turns when someone is in them even if they are 9 lanes away until the light turns yellow. People are always trying to run across when the red hand is flashing and they should get a photo of them too. Again, at least they have a timer.

You can also be sighted for failure to yield right of way and impeeding the flow of traffic your choice.

In Europe these cameras are everywhere. Also automatic radars as well. You speed and then get mail - ticket for speeding at this location with picture of your license plate.


@null, what has ABS got to do with it? If your car can't stop for a red light, you've got big problems with your brakes, and ABS won't help you. Stopping for a red light requires a lot less braking than an emergency stop - unless you turn it into an emergency stop by approaching far to fast, trying to accelerate through it then changing your mind, or not paying attention in the first place.

I don't see any relevance to how many lanes there are, or drainage ditches either.


I happened to be talking to friend who is a city councilman last Sunday (city is near Phoenix AZ). He stoutly insisted the cameras just installed were for safety not revenue.

He said the city didn't actually get the money, it went to the court system and police (yeh, I guess it isn't actually revenue then).

Meanwhile our Governor included new cameras to bring in $93M to help balance the next budget. ($93M from memory but is probably right). At least she acknowledges that money is a factor.

Once cameras are in place it is hard to see how they wouldn't cover operating costs. So why would they be turned off? Granted they might not be covering capital costs but that is sunk money after they are in place.

The police in my area constantly write BS tickets. I got one after a policeman with a radar gun jumped out from behind a bush and wrote me up as 3 miles over a 25 mph limit.


The argument for red-light cameras being effective, even if they lead to more rear-end collisions, is that they prevent T-bone collisions, which tend to be more serious.

Until today, I'd never heard of Mill Creek, Washington. It must be a suburb of Seattle.

A few years ago, in another city in Washington state, my sister-in-law ran a red light, struck or was struck by another vehicle, and crashed into a house at the corner, killing a person sleeping on the couch inside. As far as I know, although it looked like she might face prison time or at least a lot of legal trouble, she skated without even a ticket. It may have been that the the signal timing was improper, and that a trial would have brought that to light (so to speak), resulting in more trouble for the city or the responsible jurisdiction than it was worth.


I live in Philadelphia and it's true that the Republicans took over the Phiadelphia Parking Authority, but that was allowed as per the PA State Supreme Court when a suit against corruption was brought by the PA Governor, Ed Rendell, who is a Democrat. When Rendell was the Mayor of Phila it was he who had the cameras put into place. Now that he has moved from Mayor to Governor he apparently didn't want to leave the Parking Authority camera program revenue stream behind.

I love the internet as it allows anyone to post falsehoods like Rob did in post #2. The Dem Gov of PA, Rendell, ultimately owns the Phila Parking Authority, however to his credit they have issued less tickets in the past few years as they have increased the number of warnings v. first time tickets.


I just got a red light traffic ticket in the mail. What I can't figure out is how I could have possibly run this light. I drive a company car and am extremely careful of how I drive, especially with these cameras at intersections. What I think happened is that yellow light was so short I couldn't stop in time and the photo shows what looks like me braking and stopped just over the intersection line. The white stop line can hardly be seen as the paint has mostly worn away and there is a huge tree branch blocking the view of the traffic light. This one I will fight although I can afford to pay it, it is just wrong not to give adequate time to stop your car when the light turns yellow and not take care to paint the intersection markers adequately and trim the trees out of the street.

the fucken cameras

i was told that the cameras are a way to make more money, they dont save life


I just got mine in the mail yesterday from when I ran the red light two weeks ago..I mean technically it was yellow when I went for it, but whatever. They're just a bunch of money hungry pigs!!!!


There have been many news reports on this issue and the companies which contract with the cities will only install the system if they can reduce the yellow light time. By law they yellow should be long enough for the average stopping distance in the rain at 5% mph over the speed limit. It is an easy calculation. If the city does not have the yellow at that limit all you have to do is write the city and inform them of the danger. Now that they have been informed in writing anybody who gets in an accident can sue and easily win. When you write them just say that you have now been informed and they are now liable for the safety condition. Most areas like mine will be out in less than a week to fix the problem. Write the City officials, Police and public works. Do this for any safety concern.

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