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Morning Lineup – December 18

Tuesday Morning – Watch the Light

One of the sleazy stunts that a lot of the bigger cities have been doing in the past few years is installing what they call "red light cameras."  These devices are aimed at traffic light-controlled intersections and take photos of vehicles that drive through red lights – usually trying to sneak through as the light is turning from yellow to red.  Their public explanation for this is to "promote safety" by making people more aware that they might get caught if they cheat on the light.  When they are installed, there is usually a big press conference extolling the gadget and how it is being placed in the intersections with the highest accident rates along with claims how this will cut down on crashes and make life wonderful again.

But the real goal is for the cash-strapped cities to raise revenues, sometimes great amounts of revenue, without having to raise taxes.  And the cameras have been quite successful at that.  It has been pointed out that often – and without telling anybody – the light cycles are altered at the same time to reduce the length of time that the yellow is displayed before it switches to red.  A mere three seconds is enough to boost revenues significantly.  Suddenly, law-abiding citizens begin receiving $200 tickets in the mail.  In a few places the local press or tv stations have demonstrated this trick and the city council was shamed into setting the timer back to what it was.  But some of the more corrupt cities just ignore the outcry and carry on with their highwayman holdup scheme.

The Pelican Post, for example, reported last year:  The New Orleans Annual Operating Budget indicates that the city government has increased its reliance on revenue from red light and speed cameras to cover holes in the operating budget. Revenue from red light cameras, for example, has increased from $3.4 million in 2008 to a projected $18 million in 2011, an increase of 419 percent.  Suffolk County, New York, has just approved doubling the number of redlight cameras on their streets and they make no secret of the fact that it is purely for revenue gains, hoping to increase their yearly take to $20 million.  You don't hear anything about "safety" any more.  They want you to bust the light.

Since 2007 Houston has generated more than $24,000,000 in fines from the cameras.  Columbus, Ohio, grabs more than $1 million annually from their cameras and that's after paying the vendor who operates them.  Most of these devices are owned by, installed and operated by a firm in Texas that collects a little more than half of the fines that range from $200 to $600+ in some areas.  The Texas company sends the pix of all the redlight runners back to the municipality and – so they claim – the photos are first reviewed by a police officer for validity who then issues the official summons.

And the catch here is the "official review" which is the weak link in the program.  In many cities this has been mostly a rubber-stamp procedure in the hopes that the violator just pays it without contesting it, but more and more the "violators" are pushing back.  This guy in Baltimore was cited for running the light when the camera plainly shows that he was stopped, not moving, and his brake lights are on.  His citation said that he was clocked at 38 mph going through the intersection  You can even see the cross traffic passing by in front of him:

 

So all that phoney-baloney about the photos being carefully reviewed is a flat-out lie.  Currently there are 542 communities using redlight cameras and you can look to see if any around you have them HERE.  San Diego, California, plans to dump their camera enforcement program entirely when their current contract expires at the end of January.  Read more about their experience HERE.

By the way, the communities that  are truly concerned with safety have found out that by merely extending the yellow light by three seconds significantly reduces collisions at controlled intersections.  And before you ask,  No, I have never gotten one of these.

Now let's safely travel to the apparatus and get it checked out for the day.  See you back in the day room in a little while.   More coffee will be ready by then.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Rayr49

    Sioux Falls, SD had a red light camera installed and collected several million dollars over a few years. One violator has sued and it is now at the state supreme court. One of his employess had run the light in a company vehicle and the owner got the ticket in the mail. He appealed that it wasn’t him driving so he should not be responsibile for the ticket. The city denied the appeal.
    He next sued because the city had changed a criminal offense (misdemanor for running a red light) to a civil penalty and thus violated the state constitution. Only the state legislature can change the law.
    If the supreme court rules in his favor, the city may have to refund all the fines they illegaly collected.