Red Light Cameras Part 3: Brutal Honesty, Please

In parts 1 and 2 you should have gotten a crystal clear understanding that safety and red light cameras, RLC, are not connected. Communities are removing them as others are putting them in. The ones that are pulling them out are doing so because the facts and evidence don’t support the claim that RLC make people safer.

It’s always about the money

Insurance industry lobbyists spend big bucks and lobby hard to get RLC legislation passed. The insurance industry contributes in some way to the election campaigns of almost every county, state, and federal elected official.

Illinois legislators that allowed this to begin here did so cautioning that the ticket is a civil penalty and does not go on your driving record, and does not lead to your insurance going up (yet). We’re just doing this one little thing, don’t get all upset, we’re just taking one small measured step to see if we can improve intersection safety and save a couple lives for gosh sakes. Sound familiar?

When the IL Senate denied expanding their use this year, Dan Cronin voted against allowing more counties to use RLC. Kirk Dillard did not bother to vote. So one of our local elected senate officials understands what the real deal is.

What RLC do, in the right intersections, is raise revenues for the government agencies that install them at intersections. When revenues start falling, typically the yellow light time is reduced to “enhance driver safety” and allow more tickets to be issued, and also creating more rear end collisions. Three seconds is a very short yellow light, and trafic study after study has shown re-timing lights with longer yellows and “all stop” red intervals significantly reduce violations.

The other unspoken fact is where RLC revenues come from. In all places with RLC, noise is made that officers or technicians review every ticket to eliminate any questionable tickets. That said and that done, 80% of all RLC revenue comes from “right on red” legal turners that do not stop behind the white line, or do not come to a complete stop, rolling very slowly until they proceed. The turn is legal; how the driver actually does often it is not. This is one of two main drivers behind Bolingbrook’s decision to pull cameras; safe driving behavior that technically broke the law (plenty of front edges of bumpers over the white line, in Bolingbrook’s case) caused Mayor Claar so much grief he pulled them.

Sometimes it works, especially at heavily traveled intersections. Culver City, CA rakes it in: 12 intersection raised over $1.9 million last year. Seattle WA’s six cameras issued 16,359 tickets and generated over $1.1 million in fines. NYC nabs $14 million a year wit RLC, and has the short yellow’s to keep revenues up.

Sometimes it doesn’t pay off at all. Drivers pay attention to cameras at intersections, resulting in fewer ticketable violations and ever-shrinking revenue from fines. That shrinking revenue usually comes after the over anticpated revenues are spent in the budget.

To help balance the Columbus, OH budget, city council included $1 million in anticipated fines for 2006. they took in a bit over $160,000 that year, issuing 6,000 citations. L.A. is losing money each year they keep the program running. The other main reason Bolingbrook ended their red light camera program was that statistics showed a 40 percent drop in ticketable offenses.

So in the end, safety is not what RLC are about. RLC are about revenue. In other parts of the US, RLC benefits revenues of some government units, and all insurance companies. Here, they don’t yet enhance insurance company revenues directly for red light runners, although the increased rear end collisions that take place will raise your insurance rates. In some communities they make money, in some they don’t.

But what about here?

The Downers Grove Police Red Light Camera System Report

On April 8, 2008, over five weeks before council began musing about red light cameras and asking for information on intersection safety the following report was written. Which came first, the report or the request, is obviously not in question here.

I asked for a copy of the report. As usual, the village staff was polite and prompt and sent me this, the report that council has been given.

Read the report here.

If you can’t or won’t, here’s the summary:

– The only sources cited to support RLC safety is the IIHS reports, already shown to be misinformation with a hidden agenda.

– RedSpeed Illinois, a RLC supplier based in Lombard IL, is cited as a source for at least some non fiscal and fiscal benefits to DG and the DGPD cited in the study.

– RedSpeed Illinois is the company the Police Department would lease equipment from, and we would get part of each ticket processed.

– DGPD would have an officer review each and every ticket.

– It is not a revenue sharing agreement where the RLC camera company and the PD split the ticket money according to some agreed formula. That’s illegal in Illinois. Instead, there is a transaction fee for each ticket that RedSpeed will get, and DG would get what is left over. If you think that this arrangement effectively shares revenue according to an agreed formula, as is illegal in Illinois, you’d be wrong. I’d be hard pressed to tell you why, other than to note the old saying “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…” rarely applies in Illinois politics.

– Oh, and RedSpeed Illinois? A proud member of the Illinois Association of Police Chiefs.

Note to our government hired and elected officials

Please do not insult our intelligence by maintaining the position that RLC in DG are for our safety. They are not. Is there an accident study for the intersections you propose RLC for in the study of RLC itself. To be blunt, the study itself is a marketing brochure for RedSpeed Illinois.

Should you choose to be open, transparent, and honest with taxpayers and voters, and discuss this as strictly a revenue enhancing opportunity (which is all RLC have ever been), there is a much higher chance RLC will be implemented correctly in DG. Every tax and fee that could be raised was raised last year, and that is not enough for the spending needs of our local government. To cover every revenue need, DG either needs to spend less or take in more money, and RLC may provide a temporary income to help satisfy that hunger for money.

If you are looking for a definitive conclusion here, I don’t have one. I look at goofy drivers at the following intersections:

  • Finley and Butterfield
  • Highland and Butterfield
  • 75th and Main
  • Belmont and Ogden

DG could work on light patterns, try ‘left after red’ instead of ‘left before green’ left turns, or all red timing pauses to let traffic clear the intersection, or longer yellow, or several other proven engineering ideas that would make intersections safer.

But to be blunt; there’s money to be made there, especially at those intersections. Each current light cycle generates at least one or two red light runners, especially on left turns. Most right on red turners do not stop where they need to, or come to a complete stop at all. At some of those intersections the white stop lines aren’t even visible anymore. These are also intersections at the corners of DG. We could snag some income from out of towners by using RLC at these intersections instead of pounding just resident taxpayers who have already seen all of their taxes go up dramatically.

All I ask of council, is one small step, one minor thing. Not a sea change or massive new direction for gosh sake, just a little tiny measured step:

Be honest, discuss the issue honestly, drop the pretense of safety, and get on with it.

I use the phrase “brutal honesty rather than artful deceit” in my business. It means I give you a straight answer. My accounts appreciate that.

Good or bad, honesty and accuracy are deserved. Residnets/taxpayers/voters/drivers have earned it.

Talk the BS safety talk, or walk the honest revenue walk. The choice is waiting.


One Response to “Red Light Cameras Part 3: Brutal Honesty, Please

  1. dermal Says:

    how about the city makes some contributions to its citizens, versus a timed light trap.

    they make money off those red light runners..
    but what happens when a child is walking across the street?

    not worth it.

    give something to the people that MAKES THEM WANT TO SUPPORT THE COMMUNITY. not by imposing fear.

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