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July 13, 2010 > Letter to the editor: Red Light Cameras

Letter to the editor: Red Light Cameras

Fremont Police say that when determining the placement of a red light camera they look at accident data, vehicular and pedestrian traffic volume, citizen and officer complaints, potential violations and overall construction of the roadway. A very careful process.

Yet, in 2005, after the first five years of operation two of the red light cameras were shut down. Why? Not because they had done their job (these two cameras were located at two of the three intersections with the greatest number of injury accidents), but, because these two cameras were the lowest revenue producers, so the police say. It is more about the money than safety.

You would think that after 10 years and over 90,000 tickets, violations would be down, way down. Not so. Of the cameras where straight-through violations can be measured, these violations have increased 20 times, year over year. The totals did go down 29 times; hardly compelling evidence that cameras are changing driver behaviors. The numbers of violations go up and they go down, never consistently, always about the same, on average.

What can we do to reduce red light running? Simply extend the yellow light intervals like what was done last year statewide in Georgia and in Loma Linda, California... with astounding results. Towns in Georgia reported an immediate 80% reduction in violations by adding one second of time to their yellow lights: Loma Linda - 92% by doing the same. Data from camera companies show 40-50% of straight-through violations occur in the first half-second of a red light and 80-90% within the first second.

Accident reductions are starting to be reported in Georgia since yellow light extensions 15 months ago. The downside, however, is that revenue from fines is far short of what it costs in fees to operate these cameras. Towns are either scrapping the cameras or renegotiating their fees with camera companies. Some are looking at new ways to increase camera citation revenue again.

Extending yellow light times has been suggested to our city council members as well as to the engineering and police departments. The most common reason for denial of a test is that Fremont's yellow light times are in accordance with the state mandated minimums. There is nothing in the state code, however, that says we cannot increase the yellow light durations. Some additional conjecture has been offered that any test of this engineering change might confuse motorists or expose the city to some liability. The claim is made that benefits will be short-lived; that motorists will once again try to beat the light and violations will rebound to previous levels. These opinions have been refuted in various studies. The benefits are lasting.

Let's conduct a test in Fremont. Add a half-second to one second of yellow to a photo enforced approach. Results will be measurable after one month. Include another intersection. There is much to gain and nothing to lose. I am speaking of the very same safety improvements touted by the camera companies: reduction of red light running.

Roger Jones

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