From the cache of  retired Congressman Dick Armey's former red light camera website

The Red Light Camera Danger
by House Majority Leader Dick Armey
July 17, 2001

Red Light Running Scam

Government is increasingly turning to a new weapon in the fight to protect motorists from dangerous roads and highways. Fifty cities across the country have, with the help of the federal government, deployed red light cameras to monitor the streets in the name of safety. After all, it is the duty and responsibility of government to ensure the security of its citizens.

The more closely one examines the safety promise of red light cameras, however, the more one finds they may actually diminish safety. From the federal government on down, sound engineering practices have been scrapped in favor of camera-friendly regulations. One wonders if the concern for safety has given way to a greater concern for profit.

As long as this is allowed to continue, we're all at risk.

It all started a little over fifteen years ago, about the time New York City first began experimenting with red light cameras. Officials responsible for writing national transportation guidelines decided to tell cities that they should shorten yellow signal times at intersections. That's right, they told cities to reduce yellow times. And the cities that followed these guidelines quickly discovered that they could catch more motorists entering intersections on red. In other words, it is no accident that this weakening of the signal timing rules coincided with the so-called "red light running crisis."

That's because the duration of yellow signal time is one of the most important factors for intersection safety.

Simply put, shorter yellow lights mean more people enter on red. When yellow time is inadequate, a condition develops where individuals approaching an intersection are unable either to come to a safe stop or proceed safely through the intersection before the light turns red. Engineers call this condition the "dilemma zone" and it's something that the old formula for calculating yellow times was specifically designed to avoid.

That has all changed. The new formula produces much shorter yellow times-as much as 30 percent shorter, depending on the particular intersection involved. You can compare for yourself the differences between the 1976 Institute of Transportation Engineers formula and the current formula. [See section V. of Armey's May 2001 report, "The Red Light Running Crisis - Is It Intentional?"]

Of course, these changes were made in the name of safety. But even if you grant that they were made with the best of intentions, the policy of shortening yellows has been a complete failure. Intersections are less safe as a result. Nonetheless, many within the transportation bureaucracy cling to reduced yellow times because it is extremely profitable.

Each time a red light camera snaps a photo of a license plate, government hits the jackpot. The District's budget assumes its camera program will collect $16 million in fines. Montgomery County wants to triple its camera revenue by increasing the red light ticket fine to $250. It's no wonder that cities are finding camera-based enforcement attractive.

But there is another way out of the so-called red light running crisis. Consider this example. The city of Mesa, Arizona added about a second of yellow time to several intersections. The result was a 73 percent reduction in red light entries and a corresponding reduction in accidents. The safety effect was so dramatic that the red light cameras became money losers and the city recently decided to retire the devices.

Another intersection in Fairfax, Virginia experienced an average of one red light entry every 12 minutes until the Virginia Department of Transportation decided to extend its yellow time about a second-and-a-half. Once the yellow time was extended, the problem virtually disappeared.

The evidence is clear. Almost no one disagrees that longer yellows are safer. That's why I offer the following challenge to cities across this nation that currently employ red light cameras: increase the amount of yellow time you provide motorists and see what happens.

Another second or two of yellow would have very little impact on the smooth flow of traffic, but it has a demonstrated impact on safety. The jurisdictions that say they are only concerned about safety should find the potential loss of millions in revenue acceptable.

I suspect, however, that over time those who accept the challenge will, in fact, go the way of Mesa and begin dropping cameras once they become money-losers. And that's the right option.

Red light cameras are judge, jury and executioner all in one box. And once we start down the road of letting machines do work that should be done by human law enforcement officers, it will be very hard to turn back. Europe started using ticket cameras almost a decade before we did. Already in downtown London, there's a camera on every intersection that tracks who enters the city and when, and where they're going. You can't go anywhere without Big Brother watching.

Let's try a proven solution to intersection problems instead of resorting to machines that are unfair, unsafe, and un-American.