Red Light Cameras Coming?

At a forum on the topic last night, the merits of red light cameras were debated among a crowd that included the chiefs of police of Charlottesville and Albemarle, both 25th District Senate candidates and Delegate Mitch Van Yahres. Proponents argue that it would make busy intersections (think Rio and 29) safer, but opponents fear 1984-style government. Van Yahres intends to support a bill in the upcoming General Assembly session that would permit localities to install the cameras, a move that was supported by both chiefs of police. Jane Maddux said that she didn’t know enough about it to have an opinion, and Creigh Deeds expressed reservations of the assumed-guilty-style policing that is inherent with automated ticketing systems. The story is in today’s Progress.

23 thoughts on “Red Light Cameras Coming?”

  1. “I’d like to think Americans have become a little less philosophical

    and a little more practical since Sept.11.” — Chief Timothy Longo

    Chief Longo is comparing the devastating attack on America to his desire

    for a mere convenience for the police departments? I thought the prevailing

    thoughts/feelings since September 11 have been to celebrate and preserve

    our freedoms, hence the war, rather than seek to infringe on our personal


    Will this eliminate the “innocent until proven guilty?” Will those accused

    have as “efficient” a manner to fight the ticket as the police have to

    send them out, or will they have to laboriously struggle through the

    court system?

    If the police were so concerned with trying to maintain the safety of

    its citizens, then perhaps their officers would be more visible at Hydraulic

    Road and Rio Roads. Rather, I have never seen one.

    Jim D.

  2. ‘a little less philosophical’…? Aren’t our philosophies what caused the attack in the first place?

    Regardless, this is an interesting idea. If implemented, I hope law enforcement has studied other urban areas with such red light cameras. I was looking at Greensboro before moving here – they have red light cameras. I read in one of their weeklies an account of how a former police chief went before City Council to protest a ticket he’d received. According to the paper (I wish I remembered the name, sorry) this man has been rear-ended and his car subsequently pushed into the intersection while the light was red. :click: As you can imagine, he was issued an automated ticket.

    I’m not making this up…the story continued that the former chief had a wife who was ill in the hospital. He had to take time off from caring for her to appear before Council to explain his situation and urge them to come up with a more expedicious system for those who are truly innocent of running red lights.

    I hope that made sense; you really had to read it first-person.

  3. If the police were so concerned with trying to maintain the safety of its citizens, then perhaps their officers would be more visible at Hydraulic Road and Rio Roads. Rather, I have never seen one.

    I couldn’t agree more. Though I’ve lived in Charlottesville proper for the past few years, I used to come in from Free Union every day, and would consequently hit a few lights on 29. The red light-runners infuriated me, but what more consistently bothered me was the complete lack of police presence there. Would it not be sufficiently profitable to just put a police officer on duty there for an hour or so most mornings? If it costs $20/hour to put a cop there, and a red light ticket is, what, $50?, wouldn’t that prove quite profitable?

    The worst part of these red light cameras is that they’re almost always owned and operated by private corporations. At $55,000 a pop, they almost have to be. They take the images, extract the license plate number and forward the data — with a bill for a chunk of the proceeds — to the police.

    I don’t know about y’all, but law enforcement by cameras operated by a private corporation just doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.

  4. IIHS has a FAQ that’s clearly pro-camera, but still quite useful.

    Republican Dick Armey (I can’t believe I’m citing a Republican to support a position of mine :) has two essays on the topic, “The Red Light Camera Danger” and “The Truth About Red Light Cameras,” which are both quite anti-camera. The latter article is especially interesting — it reveals that the private corporation running the cameras in San Diego were intentionally mistimed, ticketing innocent motorists. Worse, the cameras weren’t even placed at dangerous intersections, but instead at intersections with poorly-timed lights. Oh, and his office has also produced “The Red Light Running Crisis: Is It Intentional?,” which claims that red light cameras do little to solve any problem that tweaking of the light timing wouldn’t accomplish.

    Brock Meeks has an extensive opinion piece on MSNBC entitled “Red Light cams be damned,” which is plainly opposed to red light cameras, and mostly summarizes up everything in Dick Armey’s articles, though it makes for more engaging reading. :) He does point out, interestingly, that the IIHS (see the top article)…well, just see this quote:

    “But, but, but … there are studies showing that RLCs work at improving safety!” I can hear the hue and cry now. “I read it every other day in the newspaper,” you’ll tell me.

    The reports are cooked. Those reports, which looked at only two jurisdictions, are written by a former New York Transportation Department official who is dubbed the “father of the red light camera in America.” He now works for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

    The Institute for Transportation Engineers is “actively involved in lobbying for and even drafting legislation to implement red light cameras,” Armey says in a report by his office on RLCs. “They are closely tied to the IIHS, which in turn is funded by companies that stand to profit handsomely any time points are assessed to a driver’s license.”

    An article about a San Diego judge’s ruling that the cameras are legal, Constitutionally-speaking.

    A more recent article about the San Diego judge that threw out the tickets, declaring the camera evidence to be “so untrustworthy and unrealiable that it should not be admitted.”

    Mulvihill’s site. Mulvihill Electrical Contracting Corp. is a long-time installer and maintainer of red light cameras. They describe the features of their system, methods through which municipalities can start using the cameras, and even list the cities that they’ve installed cameras in and the cost of the contract. Perhaps most interestingly, they provide a photo sequence demonstrating how the system works.

    And that’s all I have time to find. :)

  5. In Great Britain, London police sent a photo and citation to one motorist showing him running a red light. The motorist in turn sent the police a

    photo of a check for the citation.

    Not to be outdone, the police then sent the motorist a photo of handcuffs. He quickly paid in cash.

    The photo is almost always of such poor quality, that it is impossible to determine who is driving the car, you, a car theif, someone you loaned the car to, etc. In addition, it doesnt prove the light was red when the photo was taken. All it proves is that a car with your license plates was in that intersection at some point in the past. With photoshop one could easily replace the driver with the cheif of police’s face, and replace the license plate number with his. If you have a color printer, you could print a new license plate and put it on the front of your car. A camera cant tell the difference between a piece of paper with blue ink on it and a real plate. A police officer probably could tell the difference.

    I’ve never seen anyone run a red light in cville. If people are stupid enough to risk their lives to save a few seconds, they’re probably not going to be deterred by a ticket.

    As a side note, does anyone know whats up with the traffic cameras at the intersection of 5th st. and I64? They are full motion video cameras, in both lanes. They were installed recently, and there is a large silver box on the side of the road that contains a B&W monitor and some other equipment.

    What gives?

  6. In Great Britain, London police sent a photo and citation to one motorist showing him running a red light. The motorist in turn sent the police a photo of a check for the citation.

    Not to be outdone, the police then sent the motorist a photo of handcuffs. He quickly paid in cash.

    I think this is likely an urban legend, but Snopes thinks this might be true, although from California.

  7. “I’ve never seen anyone run a red light in cville.”

    !! Are you living in Charlottesville, Virginia?! People here run red lights more than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. The worst places for it seem to be 29 at Hydraulic, 29 at Rio, and Emmett/Barracks. What needs to be addressed more than cameras at the intersections is the timing of the lights for proper traffic flow at certain times of day.

  8. “‘a little less philosophical’…? Aren’t our philosophies what caused the attack in the first place?”

    Which of our philosophies caused the attack? Was it our freedom, or our desire for the freedom of others?

  9. Other places to watch red light runners:

    Down at Jefferson Park Avenue on Main/University and any light on Main Street/University Avenue, esp. at 5pm. Gridlock lovers unite — they are there in groves blocking green lights, pedestrians. Of course, when the weather is good and they have their windows down, I take a chance and yell at those who nearly run me down just to get one car length in the middle of the intersection….

  10. Oh yeah, I can’t wait for that…I can just picture the runaway tractor trailer in my rearview mirror threatening to squash me as I desperately try to accelerate down one of those massive hills on 64. Eek!

    Or how about the day the Microsoft-powered Smart Roads decide to malfunction and set the speed limit on Route 250 to 15mph?

    Ah, the possibilities are endless! ;)

  11. “I’ve never seen anyone run a red light in cville.”

    Either you a) are blind, b) never leave your house, or c) have only lived in Cville for 3 hours. :) Seriously though, Charlottesville is really bad with red light runners. I used to think it was just C’ville, but now I’ve been in Raleigh a few months and it’s even worse. I’ve seen people go through a red light up to 2 to 3 seconds after it changed. It just blows my mind.

  12. Yes, I haven never seen anyone run a red light ONCE, however, when traffic downtown is snarled at rush hour, the intersection is regularly full because the road ahead is blocked. This is not running a red light, its running a green/yellow light, then sitting in the intersection when it changes.

    I havent seen it, but that doesnt mean it doesnt happen. A friend of mine was crossing 5th st. at Harris, at about 2am on a weekend. He said that a car ran the red light just as he was pulling out, he honked at the car because it almost hit him and he had a green light. And get this… it the driver TURNED AROUND AND STARTED FIRING A SMALL CALIBER PISTOL AT HIM! He fled and made it home without any holes in him or his car. The police said there was no need to file a report, since they were fairly sure they knew who it was.

    The moral of the story? Dont honk at ANYONE.

    AFAIK Virginia is listed at the bottom of the list of traffic fatalities caused by red-light running.

    Also, if we have one $200,000 camera, it cant be everywhere. And it wont stop anyone unless they know its there. And if they know its there, then they know it is not someplace else, and red light running will INCREASE in those areas.

    People running red lights doesnt appear to be a problem for me. What does appear to be a problem is that no one knows what the rules of the road are. Its been ages since I’ve seen a turn signal, or someone who understood right of way.

    The rest of the world doesn’t have time for your consideration. Generally speaking, people think that they are terribly polite when they allow someone stopped at a side road to pull out ahead of them. Usually when this happens, there is a green light involved. Their thinking is that by being such a generous soul, they will be paid back ten-fold. Though the beneficiary of their courtesy has probably been held up by that intersection for mere moments, they are treated as if they’ve been waiting for years.

    As the result, what could have been a 5 minute wait has suddenly become a 30 second wait and, for a moment, that person is grateful. To show their gratitude, it is proper to give the “thank you wave”

    In theory, this method of generosity works well. Two people have a brief moment to realize that there are, in fact, nice people somewhere in this cruel, cruel world. In actuality, however, the oh-so-generous-and-thoughtful person has failed to recall the long line of people behind them who are in a hurry. The key here is that the light is green. When an outside car is allowed to enter the long line of traffic without paying his dues, it prevents a minimum of two cars from “making” the green light. (The reason that at least 2 cars are inconvenienced is that so much time is spent waving and grinning.) The issue of the green light, I think, is what makes this method of kindness so moot. The kind soul, in allowing one car to go through, invariably irritates several people who have been sitting in line for what seems like years. Meanwhile , this jerk who was at a stop sign for less than a minute makes the green light.

    The obvious remedy to this situation is to obey this very simple rule when doing your good deed for the day: Don’t let anyone pull out in front of you when the light ahead is green. If you need to be generous, wait for a situation where the light ahead is red or turning red. This will prevent pain for those behind you . By the same token, you will still get the points for being a terribly nice person.

    There are simple laws regarding the stop sign. First of all, with a 2-way stop and situations like a 2-way stop (as in, a 4 way stop but only 2 people are there and they’re across from each other), the rules follow this order:

    a.Whoever gets there first goes first

    b.If you both get there at the same time, the person going straight has the right of way.

    c.If neither of you are going straight, the person turning right has the right of way.

    d.If both of you are turning right, there is no problem.

    e.If neither of you are going straight or turning right, that means you are both turning left and if you cut the turn properly, there should be no problem with both of you going at the same time.

    Very simple rules. There are similar ones for a 4-way stop.

    a.Whoever gets there first goes first

    b.If two or three people get there at the same time, the person on the right has the right of way (keep in mind that the situation described for 2-way stops in the only one in which no one is on the right).

    c.The “person on the right” rule holds true for all people on the right.

    d.If 4 people arrive at the same time (very rare), this is the only time to use the “you go ahead” wave.

    Again, very simple rules – but no one seems to understand them. People are constantly confused about these rules. Someone is always trying get points for a good deed by waving me on at a stop sign intersection. I don’t appreciate their kindness (though I still give the obligatory “thank you wave”) because it’s completely unnecessary. Things would flow a lot more smoothly if they understood and obeyed the rules. In the amount of time it takes that person to wave me on, he could have gone anyhow and I wouldn’t be stuck with feeling guilty for thinking that “that guy is an idiot”. Not to mention the energy used to lift up my hand for that “thank you wave”.

    I cant figure out why people dont GO when the light turns green. They’re either looking intently at that light wondering what it means (not very likely), or doing their hair, or applying lipstick, or reprimanding the kids in the back seat, all at someone else’s expense. They feel that a stop light is a good time to read a book, or ponder the meaning of life. They simply don’t find it necessary to pay attention to the light and notice when it turns green. Perhaps they think that some telepathic signal will be sent when it is time to go. Maybe they’re waiting for the sky to fall.

    Stop lights are not the time nor the place to pontificate or to meditate. They are a necessary evil to allow smooth traffic flow. And a green light doesn’t mean “sit for a minute, get your composure, slowly remove your foot from the brake and proceed forward at a very slow and safe speed”. It simply means “go”. The more people who understand that, the happier the drivers of this country will be. Why am I the only person who gets up to speed within a few seconds? Most people are arriving at the speed limit right when they get to the next light. Forcing me to miss the timing.

    I’ve even had POLICE OFFICERS wave me on when THEY had the right of way. So I’m thinking to myself, this is a trick! He’s going to wave me on and then pull me over for it, or maybe he’s just an idiot. How are these people supposed to enforce the law if they dont understand it? It seems to me if its not printed on all the tickets with a little checkbox next to it, cops have no idea if it’s legal or not.

    Please, if you dont know how to drive, learn.

  13. Gosh, I’m sorry that I wait when the light turns green — I’m usually waiting for someone to run the red light.

    Come down to the “Corner” and watch people run the red light without hesitation, mainly because they are “tired” of waiting in line for traffic — so they get in the intersection when the light is green/yellow, knowing that they aren’t going anywhere. This snarls up the traffic on the other side and when their light turns yellow, someone will do the same thing — block traffic.

    Whether you’re right or wrong about the rules of traffic, one thing is clear. You can lighten up when people are being “kind” and beckoning you to go ahead and take the right of way. It reminds of a limerick I once learned as a child (this is a variation):

    This is the grave of Mike O’Day

    Who died maintaining the right of way

    He was right, his will was strong

    But he’s just as dead as if he’d been wrong

    So if you’re behind me and I don’t immediately take advantage of my “right of way” kindly keep your fingers to yourself, OK?

  14. The flip side to this is that those “kind and beckoning” people can be a major safety hazard. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen someone driving down the right lane of a four lane road, slow down, wave someone to turn in front of them, and then watch that person almost get mowed down by someone driving by in the left lane. One of the reasons we have “rules of the road” is for consistency’s sake, so that everyone has reasonably similar expectations of what everyone else on the road is doing. I don’t want to have to guess whether I’m being waved at or someone is simply picking their nose. I *do* want to know that I can take my left turn once there’s no oncoming traffic, and that people will go at green and stop at red. If you REALLY want to be polite on the road, follow the rules!

  15. There has to be at least 50 intersections in Charlottesville that already have the cameras installed. Since the city has the right to install equipment that isn’t even legal to use, then we should be able to remove our front license plates.

  16. hey, and let’s get rid of that uninsured motorist fee. As someone who’s been hit by an uninsured motorist…why on earth do they pay DMV? Sorry, off-topic.

  17. There has to be at least 50 intersections in Charlottesville that already have the cameras installed.

    I don’t think that’s true — not only would that be illegal (as is your point), but horrifyingly expensive. And somebody would have pointed out by now that they’d gotten an electronic ticket, which hasn’t happened. I suspect that these cameras — should they be cameras — serve a purpose other than ticketing.

  18. Anti-Photo/Laser License Plate Cover

    Just put that in your google and you will find $20 to $40 plates will render expensive photo-red cameras WORTHLESS. And they are perfectly legal!

    If you can’t change the system then alter the system’s reality.


  19. Here’s one. That’s fascinating — I’d never heard of such a thing. The idea is pretty simple: from straight-on, the licence plate is viewable. (I’d bet that it’s visible from horizontal angles, too.) But from above, from the camera’s perspective, it’s impossible to read the plate. Sort of like horizontal window blinds, if that helps any.

  20. I for one am in support of red light cameras. Many accidents (and deaths) are caused by people running red lights. If people are worried about their freedom with these cameras, perhaps we, as citizens, should take names and kick ass of those we see running red lights and report them.


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