Coming to an Intersection Near You

By JD Adams
February 27th, 2008 at 20:37:12

UPDATE – The data is in about red light cameras – many studies prove that they don’t improve traffic safety. And municipalities confess that they’ve become addicted to the income so the timing of the amber light is often manipulated to increase citations. The following is an article I wrote several years ago when I realized there was no clear standard on the timing of traffic lights and that it had become a deadly game where your right to safety was being infringed. The link to ODOT was mysteriously disabled after a short period of public scrutiny.

Two weeks after the republication of this article a biased study was hastily circulated by insurance companies in support of red light cameras. Totally ignored were accidents occurring just before the intersection, and the fact that short amber lights are the cause of accidents.

Salem will soon have red light cameras installed; Portland has had them for some time. A sense of outrage about the practice is building momentum, to the dismay of bloated bureaucracies that have come to depend on Oregon’s drivers as a cash cow. It might come as a surprise to learn that the timing of traffic lights has no clear standard, in particular, the time that the amber light stays on. Here’s some background information on the problem.

In Corvallis, for example, an amber light in a downtown intersection is only about three seconds long, barely enough time to react and stop the vehicle. In Salem, an amber light at the same kind of intersection might be 4-5 seconds long. The concern here is that the time can be manipulated to increase the number of citations, without any regard for the safety of thousands of law-abiding citizens who pass through the intersection every day. Traffic analysts have concluded that insufficient amber light times are the cause for running red lights in many cases. Decreasing amber light times is gambling with your safety – and on top of it, you pay for it with unnecessary citations and more traffic accidents. It’s easy to browbeat the average driver into submission; after all, you’re driving around scott-free, listening to music, and maybe you’ve never thought about the fact that you have rights as a driver. You have the reasonable expectation that safety considerations are foremost in roadway design, and you should be able to pass through an intersection without being pressured or blinded by strobe lights. If Thomas Jefferson were to gaze upon the downtrodden, silent masses scurrying to the frenetic beat of photo-strobes, he would say “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all drivers should have the basic rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Amen.

From Wikipedia:

In some areas, a device usually called a red light camera has come into recent use. A camera is connected to the triggering mechanism for the corresponding traffic light, which is targeted to photograph any vehicle which crosses against the light. The driver or owner (depending on local laws) of a vehicle so photographed can then be fined for violating traffic laws.

Such cameras have evoked controversy on a number of fronts: in some jurisdictions, the fine cannot be contested, and is therefore seen by some as a violation of due process. Opposition has also stemmed from the practice of paying commissions to the companies which process the photographs from these cameras, as this is seen as an incentive to falsify images. Some have accused municipalities of purposely shortening the yellow-light intervals on intersections equipped with cameras in order to generate more fines.

The length of yellow lights can differ state to state, for example in many states the length of an yellow light is usually 5 seconds, however in some cities or states the length of an yellow light may be as little as 2 or 3 seconds considerably reducing the reaction time of the driver.

In this ODOT publication, Traffic Signal Policy and Guidelines, try as you might, you won’t find any information on what the optimum amber light time is to save lives. That’s been ignored, prioritized underneath the ability to generate money. Of course, Big Brother doesn’t want any dialog about rights, or safety, not when there’s money at stake.

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