Article by Phil Berg of AOL Autos
Television images of cars being T-boned at intersections are impossible for viewers to ignore. That’s great news for shows such as ABC’s Good Morning America, which aired such video a few weeks ago in a story about the auto insurance industry’s study claiming automated “red light cameras” saved lives. These devices activate if a vehicle enters an intersection when the traffic light turns red, record the license plate, and mail the vehicle owner a citation with a substantial fine. A percentage of the proceeds from each ticket goes to private companies who sell the devices to local governments and then operate the devices. This percentage is typically one-third of the ticket revenue, which can annually total $1 million even in small municipalities.
In reality, however, the incidences of cars speeding through intersections when the light is red is rare; just two percent of all highway fatalities occur during red lights in intersections, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Fewer are caused by cars intentionally running red lights.
This small slice of traffic enforcement, though, is creating big headlines. There is a fervor in many state legislatures and in regional referendums to ban “red light cameras”. The reason is that in some cases the devices seem to cause an increase in accidents at intersections.
How’s that? Most of the cars ticketed by the “red light cameras” are those that entered the intersection when the light was yellow and on the verge of turning red, many state legislators from Washington state to Florida have discovered. When motorists fear a photo ticket in these intersections, they tend to slam on their brakes, increasing the number of rear-end collisions, and possibly deaths.
The state of California suggests that yellow light duration be no shorter than 4.2 seconds, while the national highway constructors industry says 3.8 seconds should be the shortest duration. Texas requires 4.7-second yellow lights on roads with speeds of 50 mph and higher. However, yellow lights in intersections equipped with “red light cameras” are often set to last only 3 seconds, according to data from court cases. In one recent case in Glassboro, New Jersey, a motorist who had been issued a ticket discovered that the yellow light duration was only 3 seconds, while New Jersey law says that the minimum yellow light time must be 4 seconds. As a result, a reported 12,000 tickets worth $1 million were thrown out.